I've got lots of posts elsewhere on the writing part. This is what happens, briefly after submitting. Firstly, there are two different routes: going to the CSR -Center for Scientific Review, vs. responding to a particular request for grants. The latter means it is designated to an initial IC (this jargon confusing? See here and here). I'm going to talk, for now, about going to CSR.
At CSR it gets assigned to a IRG (Initial review group) or Study Section. It also gets assigned to an IC. You can request, and NIH tries to honor requests, but there is a balancing act. The head of the IRG, who is a SRO (Science Review Officer) gets some say in what is assigned to his/her sie's group.
Then the SRO assigns proposals to the people who sit (and seldom stand) on the IRG. The SRO usually has another list of ad hoc reviewers. I've been on IRGs where more than 50% ere ad hoc, which to me indicates the SRO was at least trying to get appropriate expertise.
At this point, the reviewers, the study section members, get a list of proposals and all of the significant personnel you listed. This is because NIH takes Conflict of Interest very seriously. At this point, proposals are assigned to reviewers. And the barrage of information that I'm putting in other posts starts coming to us. There are 2-4 reviewers, but usually 3 per proposal. [see here for info about serving on a study section]
There is a due date for reviews, usually about 5 days before SS meets. When (and not before) you have uploaded your reviews, you get to see what the other reviewers have written.
Some brief calculations for you: The Harsh Reality of study section. There are 15-30 people, all of whom are overworked, and reviewing because they think it’s the Right Thing To Do. This group may have 60-100 proposals assigned by CSR to this meeting of the SS. Three reviewers per grant = 180 to 300 grant-reviewer assignments. Which means that everyone has 6-10 grants to review. It is a lot of work.
We will look at the other reviews before we leave town for the meeting. In fact, we are encouraged to, and to think about what they other reviewer has said. Do I (or almost anyone) do this for all 60-100 proposals? Nope. I do it for the 10 I have reviewed. I do read while I am in study section, and listen to the reviewers, but that's yet another post.
When we get to study section, the chair will ask for “preliminary scores” and we (three or four reviewers) will give those overall scores. We can say something different if one of the other reviewers has persuaded us in their written & uploaded review.
This is the "total impact score". There are five sub-areas. More about "total impact" vs. five areas in next post, but also see here and here. But what is relevant here, if I’ve given you a “2” on Investigators and a “6” on innovation no one may actually know those values. But! After giving the scores, we start with the primary reviewer explaining what the proposal is about, and why they gave the scores they did, and what aspects of the five areas informed that score. Then the second reviewer will say something like “I agree with Dr. HuffnPuff, except that I think the significance was higher for these 16 reasons.”
The review you get (Pink Sheets) will include everything that was written by the reviewers. Reviewers get a chance post-meeting to edit their reviews (and are encouraged to do so). Someone, usually the primary reviewer, writes up something that captures what happened in the discussion. You will get the specific comments on the 5 areas, identified by area, as well as scores. The important fact here, though, is that the study section may not see them, if they chose not to.
Why wouldn’t they? See above about amount of work that goes into the review. I don't know exactly how much I put into each review. And it varies with proposal. But its more than 4-5 hrs per. Times 10. At least a week of work.
With this introduction, next posts will be back to the instructions NIH is giving to its reviewers.