The National Institutes of Health has asked ASBMB to help identify highly qualified, volunteer scientists to help review grant applications. In response, ASBMB is renewing its call, asking members to volunteer to serve on the NIH’s peer-review panels, known as study sections.
“Study sections are where scientific priorities get set,” said Gregory Petsko, professor of biochemistry at Brandeis University and president of ASBMB. A vibrant peer-review process, full of capable and qualified reviewers, is vital to the health of scientific research, he said.
“If good people, people who know good science when they see it…don’t volunteer, then the job of reviewing will be done by the inexperienced, the inept, and/or the inbred,” Petsko said.
With volunteers for study sections dwindling three years ago, the NIH’s Center for Scientific Review put out a call to scientific societies for help in identifying highly qualified, volunteer reviewers. The center was concerned that declining volunteerism could put the NIH’s ability to fund the best science at risk.
Answering the call, 654 ASBMB members offered to serve as peer reviewers in study sections. Since January 2007, more than 300 of them have reviewed grants for the NIH.
With ASBMB and other groups leading the charge, 135 scientific organizations recommended more than 4,700 individuals to serve on review panels over the past year alone. Each volunteer is included in the center’s National Registry of Volunteer Reviewers, which the NIH uses to populate study sections.
According to past volunteers, those who participate on study sections not only serve science, but also reap career benefits.
“You get some great ideas for your own research,” said Mark Rasenik, professor of physiology & biophysics and psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. Rasenik said the experience also lends insight into the types of people who may review your own grants and how to craft your proposals accordingly.
Serving on studies sections provides “good experiences for people in the right phase of their career,” said Robert Palazzo, provost at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “It provides rich opportunities for remaining at the forefront of one’s own field of research, and related fields, while engaging in thoughtful deliberations with top national and international experts.”
While rewarding, participating in study sections can be challenging. It’s “like having your teeth pulled without the benefit of novocaine,” says Petsko.
“It is also the greatest single learning experience you will ever have as a scientist — and one of the most important things you will ever do,” Petsko said.
The reward is doing the right thing, said Rasenik.
“If you can help worthwhile science get a thoughtful and thorough review, that is, in itself, a good thing.”
Members who would like to volunteer to serve as study section members are encouraged to register here.