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Serving as a peer reviewer for NIDCD grant applications, and an update on NIDCD’s January advisory council meeting

February 15, 2024

Panel of reviewers with laptops in a conference room.

NIDCD's extramural research program funds extensive research and training opportunities at universities, medical centers, and other institutions through research grants, career development awards, and other funding mechanisms. To ensure that NIDCD supports research that meets the highest level of scientific and ethical standards to improve the lives of millions of people with communication disorders, we depend on an informed and inclusive peer review process.

In this director’s message, I outline the process and value of serving as a peer reviewer for NIDCD grant applications, and I explain how scientific and clinical experts in our mission areas can participate. I also summarize topics discussed at the January National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council Meeting.

The NIH Peer Review Process

The National Institutes of Health’s two-tiered peer review system ensures that grant applications are objectively evaluated based on their scientific and technical merit and in a manner that is free from inappropriate influence. To promote rigorous and fair evaluation of applications for research and training funding in our mission areas—hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language—NIDCD is always seeking to expand the pool of qualified peer reviewers.

NIDCD grant applications are primarily reviewed by panels managed by the NIH Center for Scientific Review and the NIDCD Scientific Review Branch (SRB). Review of applications by the NIDCD SRB is conducted by either the Communication Disorders Review Committee (CDRC) or a Special Emphasis Panel (SEP)

The CDRC consists of 21 members who are designated by the NIH Director to serve for overlapping four-year terms. Committee members are selected based on their expertise in NIDCD’s mission areas within disciplines such as academic medicine, basic research, and clinical science. Committee membership is supplemented on an as‑needed, meeting-by-meeting basis.

The other type of NIDCD-managed review panel responsible for reviewing grant applications is the NIDCD SEP. SEPs are formed on an ad hoc basis to provide peer review of specific grant applications. More than 250 members from the extramural scientific community served on NIDCD SEPs in 2021 and 2022. Membership selection is based on expertise in a specific biomedical area, and panel participants serve for an individual meeting rather than fixed terms. Individuals interested in serving on an NIDCD review panel may submit a reviewer interest registration form to the NIDCD SRB.

Serving as a Peer Reviewer

To ensure that review of NIDCD grant applications is fair, equitable, timely, and free of bias, it is important to maintain a diverse pool of reviewers who can be called upon to serve in the above-described groups.

Reasons to serve as an NIDCD peer reviewer include:

  • Eligibility for extended application submission deadlines—depending on the type of review service and specific Notice of Funding Opportunity
  • Staying up to date in the field and gaining insights from other disciplines that might enhance your own research
  • Establishing and strengthening professional collaborations, giving back to the scientific community, and—for early-career participants—gaining hands-on experience in becoming a more competitive grant applicant

If you are a scientist, grantee, clinician, or statistician in our mission areas, I encourage you to register your interest in serving as a peer reviewer. You can learn more about peer review processes by exploring NIH resources, including advice from experienced peer reviewers (video), a mock peer review study section (video), and guidance on the new simplified peer review framework for research project grant applications, effective January 25, 2025.

National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council Meeting, January 25-26

On January 25-26, the institute’s advisory council convened virtually at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Portions of our council meetings are open to the public, and I invite you to watch the archived videocasts of the January 25 and January 26 open sessions. I also encourage you to join us online for our next meeting, to be held May 16, 2024. A few highlights from January’s meeting are summarized below.

  • Two speakers described NIDCD’s participation in the NIH Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative:
    • Merav Sabri, Ph.D., NIDCD Program Director and coordinator for the BRAIN Initiative, provided an overview of this NIH-led effort and described several funding opportunities within NIDCD’s mission areas. To view this segment, start at the 00:18:00 mark of the January 25 videocast.
    • Maria Geffen, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Neuroscience and Neurology, and Co-Director of the Computational Neuroscience Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed combining computational and behavioral approaches to unravel the neurocircuitry of hearing in uncertain environments, such as holding a conversation in a crowded room. To view this segment, start at the 00:21:00 mark of the January 25 videocast.
  • Argye Hillis, M.D., Professor in the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University, described the use of longitudinal functional brain imaging to reveal mechanisms of language recovery after stroke and the translation of these findings into individualized treatments. To view this segment, start at the 00:55:00 mark of the January 25 videocast.
  • NIDCD staff presented three concept clearances for potential future funding opportunities. Concepts describe the basic purpose, scope, and objectives of proposed initiatives and represent an early planning stage for potential funding opportunities. NIDCD uses the concept clearance process to gather input from the NDCD Advisory Council about the merits of the concepts and to enhance transparency by making the NIDCD research community aware of potential initiatives that may be developed into published funding opportunities. Council approval of a concept does not guarantee that it will become a funding opportunity. That decision is made based on scientific and programmatic priorities and the availability of funds. To view this segment, start at the 01:29:24 mark of the January 25 videocast. The concepts presented to and approved by Council were as follows:
    • “Dissemination & Implementation (D&I) Science in Communication Disorders” aims to encourage the NIDCD scientific community and the D&I scientific community to increase the quality and quantity of D&I research in communication disorders, with the ultimate goal of narrowing or closing the gap between research and clinical practice.
    • “Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Users - Research to Promote Robust and Effective Communication” encourages the NIDCD scientific community, AAC users, and other invested parties to collaborate in research efforts to promote the accessibility and effective use of robust communication systems for those who cannot rely on spoken language as their primary means of communication.
    • “NIDCD Transition to Independence Award for Extramural and Intramural Clinician–Scientists” is designed to help clinician–scientists in NIDCD mission areas transition from mentored positions to independent positions. The concept specifically aims to facilitate a transition to mainstream NIH research funding such as an R21 or R01 during the independent phase.
  • I introduced two of our newest council members, who briefly summarized their backgrounds:
    • Susan Thibeault, Ph.D., Professor in the Division of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, described using tissue engineering to regenerate the vocal fold lamina propria and epithelium in mouse models and human tissues, as well as research to better understand innate immune-microbial interactions in vocal fold inflammation. To view this segment, start at the 02:20:45 mark of the January 25 videocast.
    • Katherine Bouton, an author, public speaker, and advocate for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, described the experience of losing her hearing in midlife. She also discussed the promise and challenges of assistive hearing technologies and outlined her vision of hearing aids and cochlear implants that mimic normal speech. To view this segment, start at the 02:31:15 mark of the January 25 videocast.
  • Diana W. Bianchi, Ph.D., Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), described collaborative efforts between NIDCD, NICHD, and other institutes, including the Tackling Acquisition of Language in Kids (TALK) initiative to advance understanding of late language emergence in children with various risk factors; the INCLUDE (INvestigation of Co-occurring conditions across the Lifespan to Understand Down syndromE) Project, which addresses the health needs of people with Down syndrome; and the NIH Autism Centers of Excellence Program. To view this segment, start at the 00:04:42 mark of the January 26 videocast.
  • Cendrine Robinson, Ph.D., NIDCD’s Chief Diversity Officer, described a 2021 report from the Enhancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility at NIDCD Working Group. She also outlined NIDCD’s initiatives to increase diversity-focused mentoring programs in the extramural and intramural workforce and diversity-related grant opportunities that support mentoring networks and research experiences. To view this segment, start at the 01:41:00 mark of the January 26 videocast.
  • Holly Storkel, Ph.D., Program Officer in NIDCD’s Language Program, described the goals and main themes of NIDCD’s October 2023 virtual workshop, Dissemination and Implementation (D&I) Science in Communication Disorders. She noted that D&I efforts advance NIDCD’s strategic plan (Theme 4). To view this segment, start at the 02:06:00 mark of the January 26 videocast.
  • Becky Wagenaar-Miller, Ph.D., Director of NIDCD’s Division of Extramural Activities, provided an overview of recent NIH policy updates and described NIH’s January 2024 virtual event, which explained policy updates and potential impacts on grantee institutions. To view this segment, start at the 00:2:15:50 mark of the January 26 videocast.
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