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How much freedom do grant reviewers have to let their scores be influenced by their perception of the applicant's affiliation being "reputable" or not as a research university? I refer for instance to affiliation at a large state university in some important European city, versus a small private university in that same city that is mainly teaching-oriented, and whose faculty members hardly publish.

For instance, if a reviewer feels (whether true or not) that said university is obscure in the world of research, would they be allowed to express this skepticism as a worse scores on some other criteria? This is assuming that the proposal itself (and the applicant's CV) - things more likely to actually be found among their official grading criteria - are otherwise solid.

If relevant, I have in mind large national grants and EU-level grants, in the field of cognitive psychology where things like equipment infrastructure need to be assessed within the institutional context, i.e. the affiliation cannot be blinded from the reviewer.

Same question goes for applicants to professor positions: how much would it weight against an applicant's chances if they were presently employed at such a research-obscure private university, again assuming all other things being equal to a counter-candidate whose present position is at a "serious" university, known to have previously produced good papers and hosted a number of grants?

It would be great if there were answers from people who were themselves part of (or chairing) grant-review committees or tenure search committees.

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    One indirect effect is that the "small obscure" university may not be able to provide the same level of support to help you write a strong and persuasive proposal. Also, reviewers may question whether your heavier teaching duties will leave you enough time to carry out the proposed project. Commented May 30, 2023 at 8:11

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I'm not familiar with grants in Europe. I am most familiar with NIH grants in the US. For NIH, there is no need for reviewers to be granted freedom to score based on the prestige of the school. Instead, there is a specific scoring item for it, called "environment".

The meaning of "environment" varies by the specific grant program applied for; some are even specifically scored higher for institutions that would ordinarily score lower on environment, with a specific intent to improve funding to those institutions.

However, the big "main" NIH grants, R01s, use these questions as criteria (from Definitions of Criteria and Considerations for Research Project Grant (RPG/R01/R03/R15/R21/R34) Critiques):

Will the scientific environment in which the work will be done contribute to the probability of success? Are the institutional support, equipment and other physical resources available to the investigators adequate for the project proposed? Will the project benefit from unique features of the scientific environment, subject populations, or collaborative arrangements?

The importance of institution size is going to depend on the specific project, of course, but some of those questions are going to be difficult to answer positively for an institution that does not regularly produce research of the type in the application.

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  • Thanks a lot Bryan, that's quite helpful.
    – z8081
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 7:33

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