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Review Panels Critical to Proposal Process

Peer review panels, composed of faculty that mirror the disciplines in an applicant pool, are key to the research enterprise at UT. Dozens of funding opportunities require an internal review process, including limited submission competitions, UT’s internal research seed programs, and red team reviews specifically for large and complex proposals.

Kimberly Eck, assistant vice chancellor of research development in the Office of Research and Engagement, encourages faculty to participate when asked to serve as a reviewer. “The process is beneficial to both the applicants and the reviewers, who have a chance to see what makes a strong proposal from an objective perspective.”

Hannah Schmidt, research development coordinator, manages the limited submission process and notes that, increasingly, federal funding agencies are limiting the number of submissions received by a single institution. One such program is the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship. It is up to the university to choose the top 1-3 proposals to further develop and submit.

Once a limited submission opportunity is published by the funder, or sometimes prior to the release of the solicitation, Schmidt will issue a request for ”Notifications of Interest” through the limited submissions digest, targeted department-wide emails, and the Funding Opportunities Digest. If she receives more than the limited number of applications, Schmidt initiates an internal competition.

Schmidt creates proposal instructions for the applicants along with a scoresheet based on the funder’s criteria through InfoReady, a portal for internal submissions. She then reaches out to potential reviewers who have subject matter expertise related to the funding opportunity and internal applications received. If the panel’s recommendations are unanimous, she authorizes those faculty to proceed. Otherwise, the review panel gathers to discuss the proposals and come up with a consensus as to which proposals should move forward.

Following a similar process, Schmidt’s research development colleagues coordinate the review process for internal research seeds. This year, four research seed competitions are under review: Collaborative Humanities Research, Community-Engaged Research, Expanding Horizons, and Interdisciplinary Research. Based on the subject matter of each proposal, research development staff recently recruited faculty members to review them.

Reviewers are also involved in UT’s Scholarly Activity and Research Incentive Funds (SARIF), managed through ORE. Eck convenes review panels for SARIF funds when she anticipates the funds will be oversubscribed. In some cases, the university’s Research Council brings faculty together for a review panel for situations like requests related to equipment and summer graduate research assistants.

Schmidt notes that all reviewers remain anonymous, and the panel discussion is strictly confidential. If internal applicants want feedback from the review, she summarizes reviewers’ input for applicants.

If faculty members are interested in serving as a reviewer in the future, especially those who have not done so in the past, they should contact Hannah Schmidt (hschmidt@utk.edu).