The internal peer review process is designed to strengthen systematically the scientific rigor and presentation quality of a proposal before it is submitted for review by a funding agency. A peer review committee consists of 3-4 senior researchers affiliated with the center/program or a scientific consultant with relevant expertise; at least two members of a review committee will have experience serving on review committees. Fellows developing grant proposals typically undergo 3 formal, internal peer reviews. The first is held about 5 months before the submission deadline, whereby the mentee submits a document detailing the primary aims and a detailed outline of the study design; the peer review committee provides constructive feedback regarding selection, prioritization and wording of aims, as well as critiques—including pros and cons of possible alternative options—to ensure that the design positions the investigator to achieve the aims in the most rigorous and feasible manner. The second peer review is held about 3 months prior to the submission deadline, whereby the peer review committee reviews a draft of the entire main narrative to elucidate potential “fatal flaws;” means and mechanisms to increase the scientific rigor; and constructive feedback on strengthening the presentation regarding the significance, approach, innovation, and qualifications of the PI; and additional resources necessary to ensure the proposed work can be completed in a timely manner as well as maximize the quality and quantity of study deliverables. The third peer review is held around 4 weeks prior to submission, with the emphasis on refining and strengthening the existing proposal, or recommending the mentee postpone submission based on serious concerns and/or large-scale revisions needing to be implemented.
Mock Reviews simulate an actual meeting of a study section, except Fellows are allowed to observe the proceedings. Mock Reviews will be held during training Institutes. Fellows submit drafts of grant applications. Mock reviewers replicate the initial scoring, discussion/critique, and final scoring process in view of mentees. After final scoring, the “fourth wall” is broken and observers/mentees are allowed to ask the mock committee members questions, discuss their critiques and constructive feedback, answer questions, and collectively consider additional questions, suggestions, and options.