Instructions for external reviewers
On this page
- Role of external reviewers
- Merit evaluation criteria and review questions to address
- Other NSERC policies
Role of external reviewers
How NSERC uses external reviews
NSERC decides which applications to fund based on the high-quality reports received from external reviewers. Your review will be incorporated into NSERC’s internal assessment and will be shared with the applicant, while keeping your name and any identifying information confidential.
How to review a grant application
Evaluate the merit of the application and provide comments on each of the evaluation criteria and sub-criteria listed in the next section. Provide a balanced review of the strengths and weaknesses of the application, with comments that are fair (i.e., impartial, respectful and appropriate) and informative (i.e., clear, detailed, constructive and well-justified). Base your review solely on the Alliance grants evaluation criteria and the content of the application. Do not seek opinions from other individuals or consult websites (other than NSERC’s) to complement the content of the application. While using your factual knowledge of the proposal’s topic, you may refer to related published work to address a point.
As an external reviewer, you are expected to consistently guard against the possibility of unconscious bias influencing your assessment, whether these biases are based on schools of thought, the perceived value of fundamental versus applied research, areas of research or research approaches (including emerging ones), size or reputation of an institution, age, gender, and/or other personal factors associated with the applicant and/or co-applicants. NSERC cautions you against any judgment of an application based on such factors. To assist you in recognizing both conscious and unconscious bias, NSERC strongly recommends that you complete the 30-minute Bias in Peer Review online learning module.
Conflict of interest
You must comply with the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Agreement for Review Committee Members, External Reviewers, and Observers to participate in the review process. If you cannot comply with the agreement, or if you cannot act as an external reviewer for any reason, contact NSERC as soon as possible to decline your participation as an external reviewer.
As per the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Agreement referenced above, you must store all confidential review documentation securely to prevent unauthorized access and securely destroy documentation once it is no longer required for the purpose of your review.
About Alliance grants
Alliance grants encourage university researchers to collaborate with partner organizations from the private, public or not-for-profit sectors. These grants support research projects led by strong, complementary, collaborative teams. Research supported by Alliance grants will:
- generate new knowledge and/or technology to address complex challenges
- create economic, environmental and/or other societal benefits
- contribute to Canada’s long-term competitiveness
- support public policy
- train new researchers in areas that are important to Canada and to the partner organizations
- draw on diverse perspectives and skill sets to accelerate the translation, mobilization and/or application of research results
For more information, consult the Alliance grants website.
Note that proposals are subject to page limits established by NSERC that are related to the amount of funding requested.
Merit evaluation criteria and review questions to address
In assessing the merit of an application, NSERC gives equal weight to each of the four evaluation criteria detailed below. In your review of the application, explain how well it meets each sub-criterion by addressing the review questions listed under each. Justify your assessment by referring to the information provided in the application.
1.1. Partner organizations' roles in the project and value of their involvement and any other in-kind contributions
- What role and level of engagement does each partner organization have in the project (e.g., defining the research questions, designing the research plan, collaborating or contributing to the research activities, co-supervising trainees and monitoring progress)?
- How important or valuable is the partner organizations’ involvement, and any other in-kind contributions (if applicable), to the project and/or its intended outcomes?
1.2. Relevance of the partnership and capacity of the partner organizations to translate, mobilize and/or apply the research results
- How relevant are the partner organizations’ activities to the project?
- What is your assessment of the partner organizations’ strategies and capacities to translate, mobilize and/or apply the research results to achieve the intended outcomes?
- Does the partnership involve all organizations needed to achieve its intended outcomes? How does the combination of partners (if applicable) add value to the project and to the impacts it can achieve?
2. Research plan and team
2.1. Clarity of the research objectives and expected results, appropriateness of the research plan, and suitability of the budget
- How well defined are the research objectives and expected results?
- To what extent are the planned research activities, methodology and experimental design clear and appropriate for achieving the expected results? To what extent is the scope realistic, and are the timelines and milestones appropriate to achieve the research objectives and expected results?
- How well justified are the proposed expenditures, including any equipment purchases? To what extent is the budget aligned with and suitable for the proposed activities?
2.2. Appropriateness of the expertise of the team (academic and partner organization participants) for carrying out the planned research activities, as well as for managing the project and providing training
- How do the knowledge, experience and contributions* of the team members from the academic and partner organizations align with the proposed research? To what extent does the entire team have the expertise needed to carry out the project and achieve the intended outcomes?
* NSERC values many forms of contributions to research, as described in the Forms of contributions to research section of the Guidelines on the assessment of contributions to research, training and mentoring.
- What capabilities does the team have to manage the project and implement the proposed training plan, and how are these capabilities demonstrated?
Applicants are invited to explain in their CV any significant delays caused by interruptions in their research, training or mentoring activities during the past six years, affecting the applicants or their highly qualified personnel. These may include parental leave; medical leave, for reasons relating to chronic illness, mental illness, or disability associated with reduced research activity; leave for family-related illness or responsibilities; bereavement; leave for extraordinary administrative duties; or leave relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. You are asked to recognize and take into account the impact of these delays on the researcher’s productivity and contributions to training.
3.1 Opportunities for enriched learning experiences for research trainees (undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows) to develop relevant research skills, as well as professional skills (e.g., leadership, communication, collaboration, and entrepreneurship)
- Are the number and level of trainees appropriate for the proposed activities, and will their roles in the project support their academic progression? What is the quality and relevance of the research and technical skills the trainees will acquire and develop?
- What is the extent and nature of trainees’ interactions with the partner organizations and how do these interactions enrich their training? Will the project provide mentoring and experience relevant to both academic and non-academic research environments?
- What other enriching learning experiences (e.g., conferences, international collaborations, mentorship, outreach, multidisciplinary research environment, opportunities to influence policy) will the project provide for the trainees to develop professional skills? How well will the overall training experience provided by the project prepare the trainees for their future careers?
Consideration of equity, diversity and inclusion in the project’s training plan is assessed by NSERC.
4. Impact and benefits to Canada
4.1 Innovativeness of the proposed research and its potential to lead to advancements or new knowledge in the natural sciences or engineering disciplines
- How and to what extent is the project scientifically or technically innovative?
- In what ways and to what extent does the project address knowledge gaps or advance and/or generate new technologies or knowledge in the natural sciences or engineering disciplines?
4.2 Significance of the outcomes and of the economic, environmental and/or other societal benefits for Canada and Canadians
- How will the project lead to new or improved technologies, products, processes, services, policies, standards or regulations in Canada?
- What economic, environmental, and/or other societal benefits for Canada and Canadians will result from the project, and how significant are they?
Other NSERC policies
Allegations of policy breaches
If you become concerned about possible policy breaches, report any allegation to NSERC program staff. Allegations of policy breaches must be treated separately from the peer review process, as described in the Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research. Your external review report should address only the application and evaluation criteria and should not mention any concerns about policy breaches.
Collection and use of personal information
The information you provide is collected in accordance with the laws governing NSERC. This information is stored in a series of NSERC data banks, as described on the Info Source web page. Details about the use and disclosure of this information are described in the
Collection of self-identification data
NSERC asks that all applicants, co-applicants, committee members and external reviewers complete a self-identification questionnaire as part of the agency’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), as described in the Tri-agency EDI Action Plan. The questionnaire was revised in 2021 to include more questions and response options; additional diversity dimensions may be added in the future. You must complete the self-identification questionnaire, but you may select “I prefer not to answer” for each category. Your completion of this questionnaire will help NSERC better understand the diversity of its reviewers. If you have any questions, please consult the Frequently Asked Questions about the Self-identification Questionnaire. Comments or suggestions about this data collection may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.