The benefits of reviewing grant proposals for a research council: An insider’s perspective

Dr Richard Shipway, Senior Lecturer in Sports Studies in the School of Tourism, is a member of the ESRC Peer Review College and Regional Editor (Europe) for the International Journal of Event and Festival Management. Here he provides an insider’s perspective to the benefits of being a reviewer…

Since 2010, I have been a member of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Peer Review College, reviewing grants in the social sciences.  This invitation was extended eighteen months ago when I was a PI (Principal Investigator) on an ESRC funded project linked to Sport Tourism and Sports Events (the STORMING Initiative).  At first I was overwhelmed and somewhat daunted by the thought of reviewing up to eight grant applications each year and slightly wary about the additional burden this would add to my existing academic workload at BU. However, upon reflection it has proved to be one of the most rewarding and important aspects of my current role as an academic at BU. It has also been an intense and somewhat steep learning curve.   

Importantly, being regularly involved with the review of grant proposals has provided opportunities to observe what constitutes both good and bad applications, and I now feel far more competent in my own ability to write a competent grant proposal along with some of the possible tactics and strategies that can be used to enhance the possibility of success. In the past eighteen months I have also been able to observe the diversity of innovative approaches that colleagues at other institutions are adopting, along with the range of multidisciplinary projects which are emerging, and how applicants creatively highlight where their research will have both economic and societal impact.

There are also additional benefits to being a member of the ESRC Peer Review College. I am fortunate enough to receive various invitations to attend briefing events and functions organised by the ESRC and other research councils.  These have proved to be good opportunities to firstly stay informed on current strategic developments, and secondly to network with academic colleagues across different disciplines and institutions from all around the UK.  I also take every opportunity to feedback any information to colleagues at BU, both centrally and at School level. Only last week I attended an event at The Royal Society in London, hosted by the ESRC where the challenges and opportunities of implementing the ESRC Delivery Plan 2011-2015 were outlined and discussed at great length.

In my opinion, an active involvement with reviewing (be it on behalf of either a research council or an academic journal) is important for several reasons: firstly, it enhances our own continued professional development; secondly it provides opportunities to be associated with particular research councils or academic journals; thirdly, an active involvement is an important addition to your CV; and fourthly, reviewing can provide opportunities to view new research before anybody else and enables us to remain up to date with emerging research trends and directions. As such, if asked to review work for a research council or an academic journal, my advice to colleagues would be to acknowledge and accept the significant time commitment involved with this process, but to grasp the opportunity for the benefits it can potentially provide.

All of the Research Councils recruit academic peer reviewers differently. If you are interested then familiarise yourself with the recruitment process and times, and keep an eye of the relevant research council website:

The European Commission is always recruiting academic reviewers. See our EU reviewer recruitment webpage for details on how to get involved.