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Research grant application review process

Our grant review is a multi-staged, peer-reviewed process. Applications are submitted electronically through our grant application program.

Participants in the grant application review process

Each year Scientific Council members are invited to recommend scientists to become Scientific Advisors. Scientific Advisors serve as reviewers for grant applications as well as AFSP experts. We seek a broad range of reviewers to address the array of scientific areas necessary to effectively review applications. We maintain a geographically diverse, international review panel. If advisors in specific areas are needed, this is noted in the request for nominations. The active list of Scientific Advisors is available on AFSP’s website and Scientific Council members are encouraged to review the list and provide suggestions based on areas of expertise that may be underrepresented.

Scientific Advisors must hold positions at the Associate Professor level or above and must be actively engaged in research. All suggestions are submitted to the Vice President of Research for review with the Chief Medical Officer. Those that meet eligibility requirements are sent letters of invitation describing the role of Scientific Advisors. Once an individual agrees to become an AFSP Scientific Advisor they are asked to complete an Expertise Form indicating their areas of expertise for entry into our data base. The form is used as a tool for assisting in the matching of Scientific Advisors and applications.

Scientific Advisors who have reviewed grants for several years and have provided exemplary reviews may be considered for membership in the Research Grants Committee (RGC). The Scientific Council approves Scientific Advisors for eligibility as potential members of the RGC. Efforts are made to maintain geographic and scientific diversity in the membership of the RGC. RGC members serve a three year term with the option of an invitation to serve another three year term. They must rotate off the RGC for at least one year before they can be considered for re-eligibility as a member. They may serve as an ad hoc reviewed if needed.

Process of AFSP grant reviews

AFSP grant review is a multi-staged, peer-reviewed process. Applications are submitted electronically through our grant application program. 

All applications are reviewed unless they: 1) do not relate to suicide; 2) do not come from an eligible organization as outlined in the application policy documents; 3) there is no Institutional Review Board to oversee the research; 4) they do not comply with the application guidelines; or 5) they do not represent a research project (e.g., requests for funding a clinical project).

Once eligibility for review is confirmed, each application is reviewed and an Application Topic Checklist is completed indicating the characteristics of the grant including sample, setting, methodology, type of study, and outcome measures. The application is then assigned to two Scientific Advisors for independent review. These reviewers are vetted for conflict of interest and matched with the grant based on relevant expertise using the Expertise Form in combination with the Application Topic Checklist. Reviewers who have submitted an application do not review other applications in the grant category in which they submitted. The reviewer is sent the abstract of the grant including a list of personnel and asked to complete a conflict of interest form documenting that they have no conflict. The criteria for a conflict are outlined in AFSP’s policy on COI. If there are no conflicts they are given access to the grant to review. Each Scientific Advisor reviews up to 5 applications.

After the first round of reviews, two groups of applications are sent to a member of the Research Grants Committee (who has also been vetted for conflict of interest and expertise) for a summary review: (1) those applications with an average score in the top range (for this 2019 grant cycle, a 3.5 or better on a scale of 1-9), and (2) applications with a significant discrepancy between reviewers (more than 4 points). The matching of reviewer and application is conducted in the same manner as the first level of review. Reviewers are asked to specifically identify the rationale for ratings (particularly in cases when their rating is significantly worse or better than an initial reviewer’s). Based on the RGC summary review, the top scoring grants are then advanced for discussion by the Research Grants Committee (RGC) during an in-person, virtual, or hybrid meeting modeled on an NIH study section.

The RGC meets for one to two days and discusses the top-scoring grant applications as determined by the priority scores assigned by the two initial reviewers and the RGC reviewer. RGC reviewers are also asked to consider the entire list of applications sent for individual RGC review and permitted to add applications that they reviewed and think ought to be discussed. Following presentation by the RGC reviewer, each application is discussed by the Committee. Members then assign the application a priority score on their anonymous ballots. Final priority scores are then determined by averaging the individual scores of the voting members of the RGC.

Committee members having conflicts of interest do not see the specific applications or reviewer scores and are not present for the deliberations or scoring of those applications. Every effort is made to ensure that reviewers who have submitted applications are not present for reviews in the grant category to which they applied. The Committee scores all grant applications presented at review.

If a member cannot attend the RGC meeting, an ad hoc member from the list of eligible RGC reviewers with relevant expertise serves on the committee. The ad hoc member participates as a full member during that review.

Applications are then ordered based on average RGC score and recommended to the Scientific Council for funding based on allocated budget and quality. Funding is complete when all funds are allocated and/or all remaining applications require significant modification to be conducted, whichever comes first. Grants that meet the designated AFSP priorities outlined in the application instructions may be funded out of order if they are of sufficient quality to be funded had there been enough funds. Fundable grants are then submitted to the Scientific Council for approval for funding and those approved are presented to the AFSP Board of Directors for funding approval. All AFSP grant funding decisions are final.