FAQ on NMRC Grants Application and Review Process

I. General

Which international agencies are benchmarked when NMRC makes a policy decision or launch a new grant or talent programme?

NMRC often makes references to the established overseas funding agencies such as the US NIH, UK MRC, UK NIHR, UK CRC, Australian NHMRC, Canadian CIHR, etc.

Can NMRC provide a more transparent account of the review process, success rate, names of review panelists, and list of grantees on the website?

Yes, NMRC will update the website periodically to include some of the features.

Does NMRC engage stakeholders when developing policies or new programmes?

Yes, NMRC will consult thought-leaders within the research community through workgroups. Environment scans of other international agencies for best practices are also included as part of the development. For example, the revamped Centre Grant (CG) scheme is adopted from practices in NIHR and NIH, and reviewed by a CG workgroup. A simulation exercise is also conducted with all the eligible instituions to understand the gaps and how the framework can be structured to cater to the research community.

II. Grant Application

Can the 12-page limit for the research proposal (methodology section) be increased or reduced?

The 12-page limit is benchmarked against international standards e.g. NIH RO1 - 12 pages. For the New Investigator category, the research proposal is capped at 5 pages. For bigger prorgammes i.e. TCR Flagship the page limit is increased to 50 pages.

Where can I find information on the assessment criteria of each grant type?

All grant types are accompanied with an Application Guide, where the assessment criteria can be found. Also, NMRC conducts Roadshows during grant calls period, where the presentation slides will be uploaded in NMRC website. Depending on the grant type, FAQ for specific grants e.g. BnB, TCR Flagship, etc will also be published on the website.

III. Grant Review

As a recipient of NMRC funds, am I obligated to provide my expertise in reviewing of research proposals?

Yes, as national awardees, you are required to support (or mentor) the pipeline of young investigators. Given that Singapore is a small country where resources are scarce, you are required to provide support in peer reviewing of research grants.

What is the size of a typical Local Review Panel (LRP)?

The LRP is generally co-chaired and comprises 25-35 members. Members are obligated to stay through the entire LRP sessions.

Are shortlisted applicants given a chance to present their proposals to the LRP?

Depending on the grant type, shortlisted applicants are given a chance to provide a rebuttal to the International Reviewers' comments. However, due to issues such as Conflict of Interest, anonymity of reviewers, and time constraint, it will not be feasible to schedule 35-40 presenters in a typically one day LRP session.

Are NMRC grants usually awarded to already well-known researchers?

The review framework of most NMRC grants will involve a two-stage process: International Review & LRP review. Both processes comprise independent reviewers, where the scientific merits and track record of applicants are evaluated. There is no special preference for any one institution or group of researchers in the entire review process (unless the funding framework was ring-fenced specifically for a specific type of research).

How are international reviewers selected?

International reviewers are invited based on their domain expertise. Academic designations of Assoc Profs and above are engaged (except for rare cases where Conflict of Interest is declared). All international reviewers are required to submit a COI & NDA declaration prior to accessing the research proposal(s).

Are the same international reviewers selected for grant proposals within a specific research focus?

NMRC engages international reviewers from around the world and maintains a database of reviewers. Usually each reviewer is assigned 1-3 proposals per grant call. Grant proposals within a disease area are banded together some of the international reviewers to provide consistent calibrated scoring.

Are LRP allowed to recommend international reviewers?

Yes, LRP is allowed to provide recommendations but NMRC will assess the suitability. However, due to the tight timeline to complete the international peer review process (within 6-8 weeks), formalising an additional step (of LRP recommendation) to the process is operationally not feasbile without extending the timeline. In general, LRP is engaged on an adhoc basis for any international reviewer recommendation.

Can the international review scores be combined with the LRP scores for the final ranking?

No, as the weightage of international scores and LRP will be an issue if combined. Based on the current system, the international review scores are taken into the consideration by the LRP when the Primary and Secondary Reviewers provide their own. The LRP is tasked to provide review in local context, taking the comments of the international reviewers. In general, any major discrepancies between the mean international scores and the LRP median scores will be flagged for discussion.

Will NMRC consider engaging industry experts on the LRP to align the assessment of economic potential?

Yes, NMRC is open to the concept of engaging industry experts on LRP of specific grant types e.g. Bedside & Bench Grant. For applications with high commercial potential, ad hoc experts from industry will be engaged to assist the LRP in the evaluation.

Are the LRP co-chairs and members rotated at the end of their terms?

LRP members are rotated based on the completion of their terms. New members are invited to the panel, while existing members may be invited to remain on the current panel (for consistency and score calibration) or rotated to another LRP.

What is the standard number of international reviewers engaged?

In general, NMRC engages 3 international reviewers to review each grant proposal. In rare cases, due to a lack of response within the 8 weeks period, some proposals may have less than 3 reviewers. More often, when NMRC invites reviewers, the invitation goes out to 5 or more reviewers at one instance, and hence, some proposals may have more than 3 reviewers.

How does NMRC manage bias in the local review?

To minimise the effect of personal biases, NMRC engages two local reviewers as the primary and secondary reviewer. Both local reviewers will make their judgements and present their review to a panel comprising about 30 members and facilitated by co-chairs. To address the issue on potential dominance by the primary and secondary reviewer, the panel will deliberate on the proposal prior to voting. In addition, the co-chairs allow panel member to vote based on individual’s evaluation and not to be influenced by the primary and secondary reviewer.

How does NMRC ensure that the local reviewers provide constructive critique to the applicants?

To ensure that the local reviewers provide constructive critique to the applicants, NMRC adopted a structured review form which includes detailed questionnaires to assist the reviewers in evaluating the grant based on the assessment criteria. There is also scoring guideline adopted based on international standards.