Reviewers—the unsung players in health research

Faculty of Medicine
Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology
Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Faculty of Medicine

By Jessica Sinclair

Research Writer, University of Ottawa

A newspaper with a magnifying glass
CIHR recognizes outstanding reviewers, and the Faculty of Medicine launches its call for Internal Review participants.

Six uOttawa professors have received CIHR’s Outstanding Reviewer designation this year in recognition of their ongoing dedication to advancing peer review. Of the six, five are from the Faculty of Medicine—Drs. Bernard Thébaud, Jean-Marc Renaud, Kristin Baetz, Thomas Lagace and Morgan Fullerton—with Dr. Vanessa Taler of the Faculty of Health Sciences also garnering recognition.

In the context of granting, a reviewer looks at submissions to determine whether the project idea is novel and important, and whether the team can get the job done. A project might be poised to answer a burning question in biomedical science, but if the team lacks the chops on their CV and the tools in their facilities, they are unlikely to be funded. The best reviewers are able to communicate both green lights and red lights in a fair and supportive way that offers the applicant insightful, constructive takeaways.

The practice of evaluating reviewer quality is part of a movement within the research community to build a culture of high reviewing standards:

“Reviewing is probably the most critical aspect of the entire funding infrastructure. It’s so important that this is done thoughtfully, very rigorously and without bias,” says Dr. Kristin Baetz, interim assistant dean of Research at the Faculty of Medicine and a professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology. “Over time CIHR has recognized that outstanding reviewers are not just great scientists, but that you need to be trained to do it.”

CIHR assembles dozens of grant panels, with members serving three-year terms, and each panel has its own criteria for grant success as well as its own miniature culture that influences the qualities it values in a project. The complexities of this process led the Faculty of Medicine to create the CIHR Project Grant Internal Review to guide uOttawa candidates before they ever submit their grant.

An internal review offers reflections and advice on the concept, study design, feasibility and originality—and helps the researcher select the best panel for their project. When a researcher participates in the Internal Review process, the Research Office works to build a mentoring team that includes internal reviewers who have recently served on their target panel.

Members of the College of Reviewers commit significant time and effort participating in the peer review process and thinking about which projects represent vital contributions to the field. Given that faculty members have a lot of work on their plates already, some might think twice before committing to becoming a reviewer.  But the insider view of the granting process is invaluable. 

“It’s true that it’s a lot of work, but it’s really worth it to get on out there. You’re not just helping CIHR, you’re helping yourself because you’re always learning something. We’re also hoping you can bring those skills back to help all of your colleagues,” says Dr. Baetz.

The deadline to declare intent to participate in FoM’s Internal Review program for the CIHR Spring 2021 Project Grants is January 8, 2021. Researchers will be asked to submit drafts of their complete summary and research proposal by February 26th. Contact the Research Office ([email protected]) for a registration form and instructions.