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:
What is co-review? Co-review is when more than one program (or cluster) reviews a proposal, generally in panel but occasionally using ad-hoc reviews.
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 another program or programs 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. You can do this by writing a 1–2-page description of what you have in mind and emailing it to a Program Officer in the cluster you think is most relevant. POs like to hear what PIs are thinking about and they’ll help you figure out where to submit. 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.
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 only be achieved by expert input and discussion reflecting the breadth of topics covered in the proposal (hence the co-review). A study on the outcomes of co-review at NSF was completed and found that success rates do not decrease as a result of the co-review process.
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 are more likely to be fairly evaluated when experts from multiple disciplines can provide feedback. Even if the proposal is not funded, the advice from a diverse array of reviewers should help to strengthen any future submissions.
More questions about co-review? Contact a Program Officer! We’re happy to talk about your proposal.