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Celebrating equality, diversity and inclusion in Peer Review Week

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by Cancer Research UK | Research Feature

6 September 2018

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Pioneer Award Committee


To celebrate peer review week, we’re highlighting how important equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are throughout the peer review process. Over the last year we’ve been reviewing and revising our funding practices to prioritise EDI, ensuring we fund the best ideas and people regardless of background or circumstance.

At CRUK, we’re committed to funding world-leading science. Peer review is essential to our funding process. To tackle some of cancer’s toughest challenges, we need scientists to ask novel, exciting questions, using well-designed studies – and we also need the independent scientific experts from all over the world who review research proposals for us. Our peer reviewers bring a diverse range of expertise and experiences when they assess applications for scientific merit and make funding recommendations to our committees and panels.

How we use peer review to inform our funding decisions

Our funding schemes span everything from basic biology to large clinical trials and population cohort studies. With research becoming increasingly collaborative and multidisciplinary, we seek the best scientists, with an extensive range of expertise, to review your application. It’s crucial that each facet of a research proposal is rigorously evaluated, and that we ask the right people to participate in each stage of the review process.

All applications are taken through rigorous peer review, but there’s no one-size-fits-all application process, which means your application may go through written peer review, assessment by an expert review panel, or you may be invited to an interview.

Written peer reviewers address elements of your application such as experimental design and analysis of results, the proposed experimental model, and whether your study is relevant to the field. We want to maximise patient impact in all the research we support, and our reviewers will also consider how your study could benefit patients.

Final funding decisions are made by our funding committees, who review each proposal based on scientific merit and strategic fit.


How we ensure fair funding decisions

As signatories to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), we recognise the need to improve how scholarly research outputs are evaluated. We want our funding decision-making processes to be as fair as possible, so we’re developing new guidance for reviewers to minimise unconscious bias, and to ensure they fairly assess applicants based on scientific achievements, skills and experience, regardless of background.

While journal articles are important, we also value and reward other types of research outputs. That’s why we ask you to highlight your key research achievements, impact and influence. This allows you to demonstrate your broader contribution to the field, rather than being judged solely on the journals in which your research is published.

Our reviewers are well-aware of the importance of recognising and evaluating these achievements, helping them to make better-informed and more holistic funding recommendations.


How we ensure diversity in our peer review process

In 2017, more than 1,200 scientists from all over the world provided written peer reviews for us, while a further 500 sat on our committees and panels. We want to make sure our reviewers reflect the diversity of the research community. Bringing together individuals from different backgrounds provides a broader perspective and means we benefit from their full range of expertise.

We are working hard to increase diversity and have now set diversity targets for our panel and committee membership. Over the past few years we’ve increased the proportion of women sitting on our committees and panels, and this year we will start collecting better diversity data to monitor our progress.

Our committees and panels are well-balanced in terms of members’ geographic location, and are comprised of a diverse range of knowledge, experience and disciplines, including scientists, clinicians and industry representatives. We invite our early- and mid-career CRUK Fellows to sit on panels as this brings fresh perspectives to the peer review process, and helps them to develop their peer review skills earlier in their career and contribute further to the wider scientific community. Where patient representatives add value to the review process, we make sure they have a seat at the table. We want the science we fund to be reviewed by the most qualified people, wherever they are in the world.

We have an ambitious goal of seeing 3 in 4 people surviving their cancer by 2034. Continuing to fund research in a diverse and inclusive way will help us get there. The continued support and hard work of our peer reviewers, panel and committee members is central to our ability to fund world-class research of the highest quality – and for that, we are extremely grateful.