Peer review at the MRC
We use a two-stage peer review process for grants and fellowships. In the first stage, external reviewers provide an expert assessment of the proposal. The second stage is the board or panel’s assessment and funding decision. This usually involves two steps: a sift (triage or shortlisting) to select those proposals which should go through to the next stage and a meeting where the final funding decision is taken. The sift decision is based on external peer review and board/panel member assessments.
The peer review process for intramural centres, units and institutes follows the same principles but has a slightly different process.
Animation of the MRC peer review process
Flow diagram showing normal peer review process
Summary of peer review process
1. Eligibility of research proposal (application) is assessed. If ineligible for funding, proposal is returned to research organisation.
2. Proposal is peer reviewed by specialist UK and international experts in the area of science of the proposal. The reviewers use scheme and generic assessment criteria.
3. Reviewers provide comments on the proposal and score (1-6) using the peer reviewer scoring system.
4. A shortlisting (triage) meeting takes place for most, but not all, funding calls.
5. If a proposal is not suitable for funding it will be rejected.
6. Proposals suitable for funding will be considered at a board/panel meeting and scored (1-10) by board/panel members.
7. Proposals ranked above the budget cut-off position will be considered for funding, taking into account strategic priorities.
8. For research boards only, proposals ranked below the budget cut-off position will be rejected or, in certain circumstances, may be taken forward to the next meeting if the Board deem the proposal worthy of funding.
The assessment of any research proposal is based on three core criteria:
- Importance: how important are the questions, or gaps in knowledge, that are being addressed?
- Scientific potential: what are the prospects for good scientific progress?
- Resources requested: are the funds requested essential for the work, and do the importance and scientific potential justify funding on the scale requested?
Further detailed criteria for the different schemes we operate can be found at Assessment Criteria.
We also ask reviewers to consider other aspects of the research, including the potential impact and pathways to achieving this, ethical issues, appropriate use of animals and/or human tissue, methodology and experimental design and data management plans.
Each of the different funding schemes we operate will have a set of more detailed criteria and you should read and consider the set for the scheme you are reviewing for. The scheme will be specified within the proposal form.
Integrity of peer review
The integrity of peer review is of paramount importance. This means that any personal interests as a reviewer must never influence, or be seen to influence, the outcome. We consider that a conflict of interest exists where:
- The applicant is a close friend or relative
- You are directly involved in the work the applicant proposes to carry out
- You may benefit financially from the work (for example if you are involved with a company acting as a project partner)
- You work in the same research organisation as the applicant(s), co-applicant(s) or project partners
- You work closely with the applicant(s) (eg as a co-author or PhD supervisor) or have done within the last five years
If you have one of these conflicts of interest you should decline to review the proposal. This list is not exhaustive, so if you consider that you have a conflict of interest you must declare it. If you have been asked to review through Je-S then you should do this by completing the Declarations of Interest section. This will allow us to decide whether your review is eligible. For reviewers invited directly by the MRC, or if you are unsure whether a conflict exists, please email to discuss with the board or panel team involved.