microscope The proposed science will be the primary reason why an application is either selected for funding or not and will be the area of the application which the reviewers and funding panel will focus upon. While other sections will influence this decision, especially where the application sits within a middle ranking, if the science is not innovative and world-leading the application will have little chance of being funded.

Developing the science within a proposal takes time. It is not recommended that a proposal is rushed to meet a short deadline and that each application should be planned out well in advance to ensure that there is sufficient time for a review of the science is completed.  This may mean planning many months ahead of any deadlines.

NHLI Review Process

NHLI requires that grant applications are internally reviewed prior to submission. This process is intended to support the application process and increase the success rate of grants.

The review process should be fully embedded in the development of the grant proposal and therefore should take place as it is being prepared and not as an add-on step at the end. Reviewers should be happy to review draft text at an early stage of development, which avoids time being spent on writing a perfect grant application only to change it following reviewers' feedback. Additionally, reviewing at an early stage means the application will be ready for submission at the correct time (see sections on “Approvals” and “Timelines”).

The review process within the Department is managed by the applicant, who can select the reviewers who will be asked to provide information. This allows the correct people to be selected who will provide constructive comments and additional insight. Reviewers should however not be involved in the project or, in the case of junior researchers such as postdocs or fellows, be that person’s line manager. It would be expected that these people would be supporting the application and already providing feedback.

An NHLI Review Template has been provided to assist in this step but it is the process rather than the form which is important, so reviewers may wish to follow a different method.

The level of review is based upon the value of the application.

  • Applications below £50,000: Applicants are strongly encouraged to seek reviews on their proposal but this is not mandated.
  • Applications between £50,000 and £1m: Reviewers' feedback is required and the application will not be approved for submission without evidence of reviews having taken place. Ideally more than 1 reviewer should provide comments, particularly for higher value applications within this range and proposals such as PhD studentships and Clinical Research Training Fellowships.
  • Applications over £1m and postdoctoral fellowships (even if below £1m): Applications at this level are the most competitive and pre-submission review is essential, with several rounds of review and re-review being the ideal situation. In addition, the application should be discussed with the relevant Head of Section, Head(s) of Division and the Head of NHLI well before the submission deadline. In some cases, additional support may be provided but this must be discussed at an early stage.

If you experience any issues in obtaining reviews or are unable to identify anyone to undertake this step, please contact Alun Owen.

MRC Shadow Panels

The College mandates that Project and New Investigator Research Grants require review through the College Shadow Panels. These panels mirror the MRC panels, Molecular & Cellular Medicine, Infection & Immunity, Population & Systems Medicine and Neuroscience and Mental Health. The panels are made up of Imperial College academics who have previously served on these panels or have significant relevant experience. Applications need to be submitted in a complete and final form to the Panels with a deadline approximately 7-8 weeks ahead of the MRC deadline. Grants are reviewed in a similar process to that used by the MRC and applicants will receive reviewers’ comments and a decision on whether the application should be submitted for the current round.

This process is mandatory for all Project and New Investigator Research Grants and is highly recommended for Programme grants and other types of applications.

The precise dates when applications must be submitted will be sent by email once confirmed.

In any cases where the Shadow Panels are unable to accommodate review of any other applications being submitted to the MRC the applications should follow the normal NHLI review process. Any applications to be submitted without Shadow Panel approval will require HoD approval.

For any queries about the Shadow Panel please contact the team which supports this process.


There are a few types of applications where it is difficult for the NHLI review process to take place, although in all cases review is highly encouraged. These includes:

  • Applications which are highly collaborative and involve many sites. While a review is certainly encouraged it would be expected that with many academics being involved any problems will be identified within the consortium. Typically this would include EU consortium proposals.
  • Applications where the proposal is not led by an NHLI academic. Where we are a partner, we may need to follow the process set out by the lead organisation, which may or may not include a review step.
  • Commercial contracts, where they may be covered by a non-disclosure agreement or commercial confidentiality.

To confirm if it is appropriate not to under the pre-submission review please contact Alun Owen.