SMCI is the only ME/CFS organization to award seed grants for preliminary research, historically giving out seed grants once every three years. Our new, annual seed grant program, The Ramsay Award Program, will now give awards to promising researchers annually.
When the Ramsay Award Program was established, we recognized that the development of a transparent, rigorous, and efficient peer-review process for research grant proposals would be key. Below is a summary of this process, as we are committed to full transparency. After all, we are spending our patient-donors’ funds and want them to understand how we make these important research decisions.
A peer-review process is a well-established process in the scientific community for obtaining anonymous input from an applicant’s “peers.” Typically, these peers are authorities in the field with recognized and established expertise in the particular field of study. Obtaining several peer reviews, then averaging them, can be an effective method for reaching unbiased conclusions about a study while incorporating the best thinking of several knowledgeable individuals.
SMCI’s Request for Applications was announced in June 2016 and applications and policies were released to interested researchers. During the application period, SMCI Vice President for Research and Scientific Programs Dr. Zaher Nahle was available to provide guidance and consult where necessary. Also during this period, all dates, deadlines, scoring systems, evaluation criteria, guidelines for pre-and post-award administration, and institutional commitment and expectations were explained to potential applicants.
Before the review process commenced, strategies, methodologies, expectations, and steps stipulated in established policies; the Request for Applications; and the scoring system guides were endorsed during our Research Advisory Council’s meeting in October 2016.
Each grant application received two independent reviews (in two phases):
- Phase one matched each applicant with a reviewer counterpart from the applicant pool with specialized expertise on the proposed research (i.e., each applicant reviewed a grant from the pool).
- Phase two consisted of external reviews with individuals knowledgeable regarding the specific research area, usually from our Research Advisory Council; some reviewers were assigned two applications.
Proposals were ranked numerically, in both phases, on a defined scale based on the following:
- Relevance and significance of the work
- Quality and training of the investigators
- Innovation aspect of the proposal
- Feasibility and soundness of the approach(es)
Also in both phases, Dr. Zaher Nahle matched and assigned the reviewers to each proposal based on a thorough evaluation of each proposal, including the field of study and needed expertise. Reviewers were not compensated, and all but one requested reviewer participated enthusiastically.
Some of the applicants were asked to submit a joint application in order to maximize their chances or spark fruitful collaborations. This unification of different researchers to advance science for the greater good is a core value of SMCI.
After evaluation from both phases, a recommendation was made by Dr. Zaher Nahle to SMCI President Carol Head, and then to the executive committee, based on the reviewers’ analyses as well as priority areas of research based upon SMCI’s understanding of the field.
Finally, awards for 2016 were announced in December.
We believe this transparent, rigorous process is optimal for attracting applicants and ensuring that the most meaningful research is funded by our organization. We will present Ramsay Award Program grants yearly and plan to announce the next Ramsay cycle in spring 2017.