Written expert review guidance

Some Wellcome funding schemes and calls include a written expert review step as part of the application process. This is where Wellcome sends part of a grant application to experts in the applicant’s field and asks them to comment on the quality of the research proposal.

What written expert reviews are 

We send part of a grant application to experts in the applicant’s field and ask them to comment on the quality of the research proposal. Their comments are used by an expert advisory panel when deciding whether to recommend an application for funding. These written reviews are called ‘expert reviews’. Other organisations sometimes call them ‘peer reviews’.

When expert reviews happen 

Some Wellcome funding schemes and calls include a written expert review step as part of the assessment process. An example of the assessment process with an expert review step is: 

  1. Apply: Applications are submitted to Wellcome. 
  2. Check:  Wellcome does internal checks. 
  3. Shortlist: Internal and external subject-specific committees shortlist applications. 
  4. Expert review: Experts provide written reviews of applications. 
  5. External advisory committee review: Advisory committees review and rank applications - this process may include interviews with the applicants. 
  6. Decide: Wellcome makes a funding decision. 

The written expert review step usually comes after shortlisting. If applicants are being interviewed, we share any comments the expert reviewers make to help prepare them for their interview.

How Wellcome chooses expert reviewers 

We choose external expert reviewers based on their expertise in the research or the proposed techniques. We do not choose expert reviewers based on career stage. Expert reviewers could work in any sector, including academia, pharma or biotech, policy organisations or think tanks. They can be from any country in the world. 
We approach potential expert reviewers directly. Applicants can also suggest appropriate expert reviewers on their application form but we don't have to use these suggestions.

How expert reviews help Wellcome make funding decisions 

We share written expert reviews with the external advisory committee. If the applicants are being interviewed, we share the written reviews with them too. The advisory committees use the reviews to: 

  • help them better understand the significance and potential impact of the project
  • help them better understand how feasible the project is and whether the proposed approach is appropriate
  • prompt interview questions 
  • help them make a recommendation about whether the project should be funded. 

We don’t share the names of the reviewers with the applicants. Read about how and why we keep the application review process confidential

How to do an expert review 

The expert review process 

You will be able to complete the whole expert review process online. You: 

  1. Get an invitation from Wellcome asking if you can do the review. 
  2. Create a Wellcome Funding account if you don’t already have one.
  3. Agree to a confidentiality agreement before you can view a summary of the proposal. 
  4. View the research summary and tell us about any conflicts of interest. 
  5. Agree to do the review. 
  6. Read about how to review fairly and avoid bias. 
  7. Read the research proposal, which will normally be no more than 3,000 words. 
  8. Answer up to 7 questions about the proposal. 
  9. Submit your review.

You can also choose to provide your diversity information on the Wellcome Funding platform. By giving us your anonymised information, you will help us make sure we get advice from people with a range of backgrounds. This can help Wellcome become a fairer funder. Read about how Wellcome uses and protects your personal information in the Wellcome grants privacy statement [PDF 314KB].

What to think about when you’re doing a review

As an expert reviewer, you will be asked to review the research proposal and answer questions. The questions have been designed specifically for each funding scheme.  

We ask expert reviewers to review the shortlisted proposals in line with Wellcome’s guidance on reviewing fairly. 
We usually ask reviewers to say whether the research is: 

  • bold – is it likely to generate new insights or tools that will significantly advance existing knowledge or techniques? 
  • creative – will it develop and test new concepts, methods or technologies, or combine existing ideas and approaches in new way? 
  • high quality – is it designed in way that will address the research questions and deliver the anticipated outcomes?

If the proposed research involves animals, we’ll also ask you to comment on whether this is justified and appropriate.

How to review fairly

We ask all our expert reviewers to try to avoid bias in the review process so it’s fair and consistent for all applicants. Follow this guidance: 

Don’t do extra background research

We are only asking for your feedback on the research proposal. That means you should base your review on the information we have provided, and nothing else. Don’t do any further research on the applicant’s institution, past publications or career. This helps make the reviewing process more consistent because every reviewer uses the same evidence.

Tell us if you don’t feel confident answering any of the questions in the expert review form

We don’t expect you to know everything. If one of the questions you’re being asked is outside your expertise, just let us know and we’ll get another reviewer to look at it. This can help us make good decisions about who to fund. 

Don’t judge an application based on its grammar or spelling

Focus on what the proposal says rather than how the applicant is saying it. There are lots of reasons an application might not have perfect grammar or spelling, for example:  

  • the applicant’s main language might not be English 
  • the applicant might not have peer or institutional support to read their application before they submit it  
  • the applicant might be dyslexic.  

Remember that ‘flawed English’ doesn’t mean ‘flawed research’.

Don’t ask someone else to complete the review in your name

If you don’t have time to do the review and you think you know someone who could do it, let us know. We need to know who’s doing the review because we have chosen you based on your specific expertise. We also need to check for conflicts of interest to make sure the review process is fair for the applicants.

Don’t base your review on whether the applicant does things in the same way as you

Focus on whether the proposal has merit rather than whether the applicant talks about – or approaches – the research in the same way as you. We don’t want to overlook applicants who approach things differently because:

Try to be aware of your biases

Take time to think about the feedback you’re giving and whether it might be biased. Try to make sure your feedback is objective and fair throughout the review process.

Is expert reviewing for you? 

Why be an expert reviewer

As an expert reviewer, you’ll be providing valuable feedback to other researchers and helping Wellcome make informed decisions about who to fund.

All expert reviewers get public acknowledgement (if they want it) for their work. We may also write to their institutions saying that they have been a reviewer for Wellcome.  

When being an expert reviewer might not be for you

You shouldn’t accept an invitation to be an expert reviewer if: 

  • your expertise doesn't match the research field of the application 
  • you have a conflict of interest

If you don’t have time to do the review before the deadline, let us know. We might be able to extend the deadline or find someone else to do it instead. It would also be helpful if you could tell us if you know anyone else who could do the review. 

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