MRC boards and panels usually undertake a triage stage 5-6 weeks before the funding meeting. The purpose of triage is to:
- Ensure proposals discussed at the funding meeting are of scientific and strategic interest to the board or panel
- Ensure the number of proposals assessed at each meeting is manageable and conducive to effective discussions
- Identify, at an early stage, those proposals that are uncompetitive and therefore unlikely to be awarded funding. Rejection at the triage stage is considered beneficial for applicants unlikely to be successful as it enables them to take account of external peer reviewer comments at an earlier stage.
Triage is conducted by seeking board or panel members’ critical evaluation of each funding proposal aided by the comments provided by external peer reviewers. Should expertise be required from another field, guest introducers are invited to contribute. These evaluations are then discussed at a triage meeting, where the final ‘triage in’ (proposal proceeds to funding meeting) or ‘triage out’ (proposal rejected) decisions are taken.
Board and panel members consider each proposal based upon its quality, impact and productivity, as detailed in the ‘Scoring matrix for board and panel meetings’. If the proposal has the potential to be fundable and any concerns can be addressed in the PI response, members recommend: ‘triage in’ and provide comments to justify this. If the proposal does not have the potential to achieve a fundable score at the funding meeting or presents concerns which cannot be addressed at the PI response, members recommend: ‘triage out’ and again provide justification.
Board and panel members are required to comment on information relating to the justification of methods, statistical analyses and experimental design aspects of the proposal. Members note if suitable and sufficiently detailed information is provided to convince the board or panel that the proposed experiments will be carried out appropriately to produce robust and reproducible research.
4.1 Unconscious bias:
Board and panel members must maintain objectivity in their assessment and be aware of the potential for unconscious bias and the impact this may have on review.
All board and panel members are encouraged to attend MRC-led unconscious bias workshops specifically designed to:
- Explore the way in which unconscious biases can impact funding decision making
- Learn to identify the types of bias that impact peer review
- Undertake techniques to help members protect funding decision making from bias
- Discuss the implications of this for the different stakeholders involved in funding
4.2 Responsible use of metrics
Reviewers should not use journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist’s contributions. This is in line with our commitment to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment.
4.3 Career breaks and flexible working:
The assessment of MRC proposals frequently involves an appraisal of the applicant’s track record. In making this appraisal, members consider time spent outside the active research environment, whether through career breaks or flexible working.
4.4 COVID-19: Disruption & impact
UKRI recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities and are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career(s) such as breaks and delays, disruptive working patterns and conditions, the loss of on-going work, and role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic.
When undertaking your assessment of the research project, you should consider the unequal impacts of the impact that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal, and you should focus on the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing. Any comments made by reviewers relating to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic which negatively impact their assessment of the applicants should be disregarded.
4.5 COVID-19: Considerations when reviewing proposals
UKRI acknowledges that it is a challenge for applicants to determine the future impacts of COVID-19 while the pandemic continues to evolve. Applicants have been advised that their applications should be based on the information available at the point of submission and, if applicable, the known application specific impacts of COVID-19 should be accounted for. Where known impacts have occurred, these should have been highlighted in the application, including the assumptions/information at the point of submission. Applicants were not required to include contingency plans for the potential impacts of COVID-19. Requests for travel both domestically and internationally could be included in accordance to the relevant scheme guidelines, noting the above advice.
When undertaking your assessment of the research project you should assess the project as written, noting that any changes that the project might require in the future, which arise from the COVID-19 pandemic, will be resolved as a post-award issue by UKRI if the project is successful. Potential complications related to COVID-19 should not affect your assessment or the score you give the project and you should disregard any comments made by reviewers that go against the guidance supplied by UKRI.
MRC Head Office communicate triage decisions within 10 working days of the triage meeting.
All applicants receive peer review comments following the triage meeting. Applicants may also receive additional feedback from the triage panel. In most cases (excluding DPFS and some managed mode calls), applicants who have passed the triage stage have the opportunity to respond to all comments either ahead of or at the funding meeting.