Tuesday, January 23, 2024
Anna Stanhewicz

When Anna Stanhewicz, assistant professor of health and human physiology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was preparing to submit a grant application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Fall 2022, she remembered hearing about the external grant review program from the Research Development Office and decided to utilize it.

The result? Stanhewicz received a five-year, R01 grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute totaling $3.035 million to support her research into gestational diabetes. The external review program is one of many tools the RDO and the Office of the Vice President for Research offer to support investigator success.

Stanhewicz feels that the RDO program “made the difference” in her proposal being funded on the first submission.

“I got really important feedback on where there were gaps in the justification or where there were gaps in the explanation of the science, where they might be some major concerns,” she said. “I didn’t revise the science for the study, but I revised the framework and the presentation for the science.”

Stanhewicz recommends that faculty who are considering using the program plan ahead to receive the greatest benefit, since they must contact the RDO 10 weeks in advance and send the draft proposal to the reviewer six weeks before the submission deadline. She says, “The more complete the grant is, the better the feedback. Because I had the whole grant ready to go, I felt like I got an NIH review for free, instead of going through the review NIH cycle and having to resubmit.”

The RDO asks the investigator to select and rank potential reviewers for their proposal, then RDO staff facilitate arrangements with one reviewer, whom the RDO compensates with an honorarium for their time. Stanhewicz advises faculty to choose those names strategically. “I chose people who had served on the study section previously and were familiar with the type of science that I do but didn’t have intimate knowledge of the techniques I was using,” she said.

While researchers can and often do have scholars in their network informally review proposals prior to submission, Stanhewicz found benefits in the formal structure, in which the reviewer writes a summary statement, gives a preliminary score, and writes a critique. “The program created a structure that allowed me to feel confident asking people outside my close circle.”

Stanhewicz plans to be a repeat user of the program. She says, “I know I can use this program once a year. I will use it again next time!”