Guest blog

Blog – What actually happens at funding committees?

Blog from Dr Clarissa Giebel

Reading Time: 4 minutes

For the past 18 months now I have been sitting on an NIHR funding committee. It’s a time-intensive commitment, several days a year attending 2-day funding committees, sometimes additional ad hoc ones because of the amount of grant submissions; screening grant applications; reviewing applications; preparing to present applications and then contributing to the decision making process.

It is a great learning opportunity to understand the process of grant decision making, how to craft a strong application, and learning that even if all the ingredients are right, it may still not get funded sometimes.

How did I even get involved? The NIHR (as do other funding bodies and committees) has a website where opportunities to join committees get advertised on a regular basis. I saw one that was of interest, also because they were actively seeking for social care researchers, so I applied. Shortly after I received a confirmation email that I had been accepted onto the committee. Of course, you have to enter quite a bit of detail about yourself, your track record, what you could add to the committee, and more.

Once you got that email, you are being invited to attend the next upcoming committee meeting and shadow this, to understand how the committee works, its structure, review and scoring system. It was certainly novel to see how the cogs are turning once you’ve hit that enticing ‘submit’ button on your grant application.

Whilst obviously having to strictly adhere to confidentiality, and not sharing anything that is discussed about specific applications, you are also required to leave the room (virtual or in-person down in London) if you have any conflicts of interest. You don’t even get to see those applications when they are circulated.

So once you’ve observed your first committee meeting, which is divided into Stage 1 outline and Stage 2 full applications, you get your first invitation to review and discuss specific applications at the next meeting. You can also indicate an interest in specific ones, to make sure your expertise closely matches that of an application. Given the focus of the committee I am on, there is a vast array of topic areas, many outside of my topical expertise. But then it’s down to your methodological and PPIE expertise that matters.

On average, you get 3-5 applications per committee to read in depth, prepare comments on in advance, and discuss those with others at the committee. Each application has a few in-depth reviewers, so you’re not alone. Then the discussion opens to the full panel, and we all score at the end (anonymously).

This is the interesting part. There only needs to be one person who disagrees with a proposal, and this can sometimes swing the committee’s decision against a proposal that most considered fundable. You never know until the anonymous scores come in.

Whilst it’s a lot of work, you do learn a great deal, and meet researchers outside your area of expertise. Sitting on the committee truly focuses your attention on what it means to put together a strong grant application, that is, importantly, understandable to committee members from any background. With mostly health care academics and professionals on the committee, it makes it even more important to put across the message of why this research is needed if it is purely social care, for example. It also stresses the value of good patient and public involvement and engagement, as this is being looked at by dedicated lay committee members.

If you are interested in seeing what goes on behind the committee doors, you might be able to ask a colleague who is sitting on a committee if you can shadow them. Especially if you are an early career researcher. Or take the plunge and apply to join a committee. They may ask for more experience if you are still starting out, but then come back next year. I would definitely recommend getting involved in grant reviewing and committee membership if possible, whilst being aware of the time commitment this involves, and getting this signed off by your line manager first.

If you’re interested in becoming an NIHR Reviewer, find out more and learn about oppertunities on their website.

Dr Clarissa Giebel

Dr Clarissa Giebel


Dr Clarissa Giebel is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool and NIHR ARC North West Coast. Clarissa has been working in dementia care research for over 10 years focusing her research on helping people with dementia to live at home independently and well for longer, addressing inequalities that people with dementia and carers can face. Outside of her day work, Clarissa has also organised a local dementia network – the Liverpool Dementia & Ageing Research Forum.


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