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Arthur B. McDonald Fellowships - Instructions for external reviewers

Conflict of interest and confidentiality guidelines

If you are in a conflict of interest or for any other reason unable to act as an external reviewer, please contact us directly or send us an e-mail at as soon as possible. In order to identify yourself and the application(s) you are unable to review to NSERC, please indicate the application number in the SUBJECT line of the electronic message followed by your message.

A conflict of interest may be deemed to exist or perceived as such when review committee members, external reviewers or observers:

  • are a relative or close friend, or have a personal relationship with the applicants;
  • are in a position to gain or lose financially/materially from the funding of the application;
  • have had long-standing scientific or personal differences with the applicants;
  • are currently affiliated with the applicants’ institutions, organizations or companies—including research hospitals and research institutes;
  • are closely professionally affiliated with the applicants, as a result of having in the last six years:
    • frequent and regular interactions with the applicants in the course of their duties at their department, institution, organization or company;
    • been a supervisor or a trainee of the applicants;
    • collaborated, published or shared funding with the applicants, or have plans to do so in the immediate future; or,
    • been employed by the institution, when an institution is the applicant; and/or
  • Feel for any reason unable to provide an impartial review of the application.

The funding organizations are subject to the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act. These laws and policies govern the collection, use and disclosure of information under the control of the federal government and certain federally funded organizations. Documentation submitted to the funding organizations by the applicant may be provided to the review committee members, external reviewers and observers. The documentation may contain personal information and confidential commercial information. By law, applicants have the right of access to the information provided by review committee members and external reviewers about their applications. The names of external reviewers must be kept confidential to ensure they can provide an impartial review of an application. Review committee members’ names can be released at the discretion of the funding organizations. Written materials used in the review process are generally made available to applicants when they are notified of the funding opportunity results.

Review committee members, external reviewers and observers must ensure that:

  • all documentation and information that the funding organizations entrusts to review committee members, external reviewers and observers is maintained in strict confidence at all times. It must be used only for the purpose for which it was originally collected—namely, to review applications and make funding recommendations as applicable;
  • review documentation is stored in a secure manner to prevent unauthorized access. It must be transmitted using secure techniques and when it is no longer required, it must be destroyed in a secure manner. Any loss or theft of the documentation must be reported to the funding organizations; and
  • all enquiries or representations received by review committee members, external reviewers or observers about an application or its review must be referred to the funding organizations. Review committee members, external reviewers or observers must not contact the applicants for additional information or disclose matters arising from the review process to the applicants.

Responsible conduct of research

Applicants must comply with the This link will take you to another Web site Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research. If reviewers identify during the evaluation process what appears to be a lack of integrity (e.g., possible misrepresentation in an agency application or related document such as providing incomplete, inaccurate or false information in a grant or award application or related document), they should bring their concerns to the attention of program staff immediately. Such allegations should not be a consideration during the review process, nor should they be included in the reports.

The matter will be addressed in accordance with Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research. Note that reviewers will not be privy to the outcome of the matter, as this information is personal in nature.

Bias in peer review

NSERC is acting on the evidence that achieving a more equitable, diverse and inclusive Canadian research enterprise is essential to creating the excellent, innovative and impactful research necessary to advance knowledge and understanding, and to respond to local, national and global challenges. This principle informs the commitments described in the Tri-Agency Statement on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

External reviewers must make every effort to review any nomination without bias, whether this bias is based on a school of thought, on fundamental versus applied research, certain sub-disciplines, areas of research or approaches, size or reputation of an institution, age, personal factors or the gender of the nominee(s). NSERC cautions external reviewers against any judgment of a nomination based on such factors, and it asks them to constantly guard against the possibility of hidden bias influencing the review process. External reviewers are encouraged to complete the following training module:

NSERC recommends that reviewers use as neutral language as possible in their report. The report should be free from words or sentences that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped or discriminatory language towards particular people or groups, or their institution. For more information, refer to the This link will take you to another Web site Canada Research Chairs guidelines on Limiting Unconscious Bias.

How to evaluate the nomination

Arthur B. McDonald Fellowships recognize early-stage academic researchers in the natural sciences and engineering and support them to enhance their research capacity, so that they can become leaders in their field and inspire others.

Early-stage academic researchers (meaning that they have held an independent academic position for 10 years or less as of June 1 of the year of the competition) can prepare a self-nomination for this award. The nominee’s institution must certify its support for the nomination and can submit up to six nominations per year.

The nomination package includes:

  1. A nomination letter with two major sections:
    1. Description of nomination

      Addresses why the nominee deserves consideration for the McDonald Fellowship, taking into account these selection criteria: a) Research achievements and impacts, and b) Outreach, mentorship and leadership

    2. Future directions
      1. Research vision:
        Describes how the nominee’s research represents an original or innovative concept or line of inquiry and how it will advance the research area and/or have a policy- and/or technology-related impact.

      2. Proposed research:
        Describes the research proposed for the duration of the award. Explains how equity, diversity and inclusion considerations will be addressed in the research design, methods, analysis and interpretation, and/or dissemination of findings (see below)—if these considerations do not apply to the proposed research, provides a rationale.

      3. Training of highly qualified personnel (HQP):
        Describes the nominee’s approach to training and mentoring HQP and ensuring equity, diversity and inclusion in the research and training environment.

        For more information on incorporating equity, diversity and inclusion considerations in this section, see NSERC’s Guide for applicants: Considering equity, diversity and inclusion in your application.

  2. The nominee’s NSERC Personal Data Form (Form 100)

The selection committee for this prestigious award is a multidisciplinary group of distinguished scientists and engineers and relies heavily on the opinions of external reviewers in reaching a final decision on each nomination. Therefore, when preparing your review, please bear in mind that you are writing to non-specialists. The selection committee would greatly benefit from specific as well as general comments about the nominee’s specific accomplishments within their field as well as the importance, scope and impact of their contributions.

The nominations should be reviewed on the basis of contributions to the areas of the natural sciences or engineering served by NSERC. In assessing the merits of the nomination, please comment on each of the following selection criteria in the appropriate text boxes in the review form:

Research achievements and impacts

  • Originality, quality and impact of the candidate’s contributions to date
  • Whether these contributions have led to ground-breaking advances in the research area(s) and/or a technology or policy that addresses socioeconomic or environmental needs

Impact does not refer to quantitative indicators such as the impact factor of journals or h-index, but on the influence that results have had on other researchers, on the specific field, on the discipline as a whole or on other disciplines, or beyond the research ecosystem. Impact can be seen as, but is not limited to, advancing knowledge, developing technology, addressing socio-economic or environmental needs, or contributing to increased diversity and equity in research. The relevance of such considerations may differ depending on the discipline and the nature of the research being conducted.

Outreach, mentorship and leadership

  • The following aspects should include both past achievements and potential for the future:

    • Communication of research to non-specialist audiences and/or involvement in public outreach activities
    • Mentorship of the next generation
    • Leadership in activities related to the above and/or to their research area and/or the broader natural sciences and engineering context

Mentorship refers to formal or informal relationship between a mentor and mentee where the mentor provides advice, counsel and support in order to foster the growth and development of the mentee. Mentorship often extends beyond formally supervised HQP to other, non-supervised mentees. Further, while training of HQP often involves mentorship, explicit evidence of mentorship must be provided.

Examples of outreach, mentorship and leadership:

  • Organizing natural sciences and engineering promotional events
  • Conducting media interviews or giving public research talks
  • Participating in social media activities that are related to the research
  • Helping mentees build skills and reach crucial milestones
  • Helping members of under-represented or disadvantaged groups to build and maintain a sense of belonging in their research environment
  • Developing training or mentorship programs, including those related to equity, diversity and inclusion
  • Leadership roles in activities related to outreach and mentoring
  • Leadership roles at the institution or in large-scale research or engineering projects
  • Membership and/or leadership on committees, editorial boards or advisory boards, whether or not these are directly related to the applicant’s research activities

Future directions

  • Whether the nominee’s research vision, proposed research and description of HQP training:
    • represent an original or innovative concept or line of inquiry
    • will significantly advance the research area and/or have a policy- and/or technology-related impact
    • are likely to succeed given the proposed work and the research environment (including resources and HQP)
    • define a highly appropriate approach to training and mentoring HQP
    • consider equity, diversity and inclusion in the research and training environment
  • If applicable, whether the research proposal incorporates equity, diversity and inclusion considerations, including but not limited to sex (biological), gender (socio-cultural) and other identity factors (ethnicity, visible minority, age, disability, sexual orientation, geographic location, among additional possible relevant factors) in the research design, methods, analysis and interpretation, and/or dissemination of findings
  • If not applicable, an explanation of why not and the appropriateness of the rationale provided


  1. Comparisons with researchers of similar calibre working in the same discipline would be very valuable to the committee;
  2. Because the Arthur B. McDonald Fellowship is one of NSERC's most prestigious awards for research excellence, the successful candidate should be a truly outstanding and highly promising scientist or engineer; and
  3. Please refer to the following web sites for more information on the fellowship and the nominee review process: