What makes a good ACS PRF grant proposal reviewer?

Hi, I'm Thomas Clancy, Program Manager for the American Chemical Society's Office of Research Grants.

One of my primary duties as Program Manager is obtaining external reviews for our Petroleum Research Fund Grants program. The external reviews are a significant aspect in evaluating the merit and suitability of a proposal for the ACS Petroleum Research Fund. Although these reviews are considered by the Petroleum Research Fund Advisory Board, the ultimate decision is still determined by the board.

In the application for all of the Petroleum Research Fund Grant types, the instructions call for the Principal Investigator to suggest at least six reviewers for the proposal. What makes a good reviewer? Key aspects include impartiality, knowledge of the subject area and a willingness and ability to provide a review.

In order to avoid any conflict of interest, these reviewers must not be former research mentors, students, collaborators or colleagues at the Principal Investigator's current or former institutions. Also, the Principal Investigator should not suggest any reviewers whom they have previously suggested in an ACS Petroleum Research Fund proposal within the last four years. We use software data checkers to help us detect some of these conflicts of interest.

Reviewers will occasionally recuse themselves because of some current or past association or other conflict of interest. It is also important that all the suggested reviewers not be closely affiliated with each other or be close collaborators, which might lend to a monopoly of opinion on the topic.

It is very important that any suggested reviewer be qualified to review the proposal. This can be a challenge when the proposal is interdisciplinary or involves multiple aspects, such as a theoretical and an experimental component. Often, we find that a suggested reviewer attests to no expertise in any aspect of the proposed research. In some cases, the suggested reviewer cannot understand why they have been chosen to review a proposal.

It is also prudent to consider a range of potential reviewers. Often, a few very senior researchers are repeatedly suggested as reviewers. Since we do not send more than one review request to anyone in a given proposal funding cycle, such potential reviewer can quickly be expended. By suggesting only very popular reviewers, a situation may arise that no one will be available to review the proposal.

By carefully choosing suggested reviewers, Principal Investigators submitting a proposal can greatly contribute to the review process and help ensure that their proposal is reviewed accurately and expertly. Such expert analysis greatly assists the decision making process for the ACS Petroleum Research Fund.