Who’s Afraid of Co-reviews?


Co-review is a common practice in DEB (and across NSF), but questions from the community suggest that having a proposal co-reviewed makes some of you apprehensive. In fact, you may ask yourself whether co-review will decrease the likelihood of getting funded. Not to worry – here are the basics:

Which proposals are co-reviewed? Projects that stand to advance the science funded by multiple programs are most commonly co-reviewed. Almost always, these are integrative or interdisciplinary studies.

How does co-review work? Typically, the program to which the proposal was submitted (i.e., the primary program) determines that there is significant overlap with other program(s) and invites the relevant program(s) to participate in the review process. This participation may range from simply suggesting ad hoc reviewers to taking the proposal to their own panel.

Can I decide where my proposal gets co-reviewed? At submission, you are welcome (but not required) to suggest other programs you believe to be relevant for co-review; you do so in the Cover Sheet portion of the proposal. We encourage you to discuss your research idea prior to submission with a Program Officer from each program that you regard as relevant for a potential co-review. Often, they can provide explicit guidance as to whether co-review is warranted, and with which programs. After submission, the (primary) program then decides whether to request a co-review from the programs that you’ve suggested.

The only exception to this process is the Rules of Life track, which requires that you specify a co-reviewing program in a BIO Division other than DEB and that you explain how your proposed work bridges the two programs.

What happens after co-review? If the proposal is favorably reviewed by one or both programs, either or both programs may choose to fund the project. Thus, one of the advantages of co-review is that multiple programs might be willing to help fund the proposal. Funding contributions can vary, but co-funding often allows DEB to support more principal investigators and more individual projects.

But, isn’t it risky to expose my proposal to scrutiny by so many reviewers? As we all know, an important aspect of promoting the progress of science is getting fair, constructive feedback. For a subset of the proposals we receive this can really only be achieved by expert input and discussion reflecting the breadth of topics covered in the proposal (hence the co-review).

But, what about the funding rates of co-reviewed proposals? As part of our award recommendation process, we regularly monitor funding rates of co-reviews, and we have no indication that co-reviewed proposals fare less well than non-co-reviewed proposals.

If the science truly does straddle multiple programs, projects may be more likely to be completely and fairly evaluated if experts from multiple disciplines can offer feedback. Even if the proposal is not funded, the advice from a diverse array of reviewers should help you strengthen any resubmissions.

More questions about co-review? Contact a Program Officer! We’re happy to talk about your proposal.