Once again I write my update from the Omaha Airport. Today I fly to Washington, DC, for a study section for the Veteran’s Administration research program. Physicians and scientists with appointments to a VA hospital can apply for grants to support research that betters the lives of veterans. Since veterans are generally people, much of this work will benefit everyone.
The process began several months ago with an email. I had finished a regular term on this study section last May, but they needed me again for the session tomorrow. Over the next couple of months I signed agreements about confidentiality, ethical conduct, and travel reimbursement. I then received a spreadsheet with information about who submitted a proposal and what it was about. Based on that information, I could declare a conflict if I had collaborated with someone on the grant. I could also indicate applications I really wanted to review and those that I did not wish to consider. About 2 months ago I received my assignments and the current scoring guidelines.
I generally read all of my applications through once for a general feel about them; you might be surprised how well this first impression correlates with the final score generated by the group! Then I read each in more detail and evaluate each of the following areas:
- Significance: Does the study address an important problem? If not, then why should limited resources go to it?
- Approach: Will the proposed experiments address the problem? Are they the best way to address the problem?
- Innovation: Are the studies novel, or do they merely replicate earlier work?
- Investigators: Are the investigators well-trained and capable of performing the experiments based on their prior accomplishments?
- Environment: Does the VA Hospital and associated university have the facilities necessary to perform the studies?
- Feasibility: Can this be done?
- Overall Evaluation: Will the proposal lead to important new knowledge? Do its significance and strengths outweigh any identified weaknesses?
- Ethical/Safety Issues: Could anyone be harmed by these studies? Have appropriate institutional oversight procedures been followed?
After writing up each of my assignments, I then assigned them a score from 1-5 using defined criteria. Three of us reviewed each proposal and posted our scores and critiques on line. On some of them, all three of us gave nearly the same score; others have a bit of spread that will have to be resolved when we discuss them face-to-face tomorrow.
Study sections can be inefficient and unfair, but thus far they are the best system we have for doling out limited funds. I am proud to participate.
I hope the people reviewing my current proposal today and/or tomorrow feel as positive as I do right now.
Piggybank image courtesy of PhotoXpress.