I wrote grants for several years before I did a peer review.  That was pure ignorance on my part.  It only took one review for me to realize that I had hit the jackpot.  I can truthfully say that I have learned something from every application that I have read.  Unfortunately, some of it was what not to do.  However, the good ones were pure inspiration, “WHY didn’t I think of that!”  All in all, a review is like a really good grant writing workshop.  You attend an orientation where the funding department tells you exactly what they are looking for in order to hand out their millions; you get to look at other grant writer’s applications; and finally you get to discuss the merits of the application with other experts. And on top of that you are staying in a five star hotel with travel paid for, a healthy per diem and you are getting paid!  I also like the fact that I have made many good friends and great business contacts at reviews.  However, I do not want to mislead you, reviewing is very intense and while you are usually in Washington DC, you will not be doing much sightseeing unless you stay over extra days at your own expense.

A peer review generally consists of three panelists and a chairperson.  Each reviewer reads and scores independently and then the panel meets and discusses each application.  This is the point from which I learn from the other reviewers’ unique perspectives.  Of course, you cannot review for a program where you have submitted an application.  The thing to do is to review for the program that you are interested in a year before you submit.  Planning is a long process and if you are even thinking about developing a program, you really should look at what is being funded (and what is not). 

There are three common types of reviews.  One is onsite, usually in DC for a week, and all the work is done at that time (very intense and not much sleep).  The next type is done at home and you usually have about two weeks to post everything on the department’s website and have conference calls with your panel.  The third type is a hybrid and my favorite – you do the work at home, post it to the website and then spend a few days in DC to conference with your panel.   

In order to get started as a reviewer, you have to apply to the funding department.  Once your application is accepted, you are put in their database and when they have a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) they send out an availability inquiry for reviewers.  You respond as to your availability and then reviewers are selected.  This is a slow process until you have some experience.  After that the pace picks up – this August was crazy as experienced reviewers were in high demand, choosing between two or three reviews each week.  Recently I have heard rumors that the administration wants funders to bring in new blood and not use the same reviewers every year.  If that is true it would be a good time to start as a reviewer as far as getting a job but not so good if they leave all of the experience at home.  Three rookies would drive the chairperson to drink (I have seen it happen).

There are many different types of government grants and many departments who need reviewers.  I have a list of places to apply that I would share with you if you would leave your name and email at fracturedprism.com   I actually network with many reviewers and we share news of reviews.  Once you have landed a review, check back at fracturedprism.com as I am working on tips for being a good peer reviewer.