I am always hearing that being a grant reviewer is a great experience in learning how to write proposals. I am a post-doc with an eye on an academic career so would like to do this. Does it happen? How do I sign up? I am in physics and in USA, if that matters.
Here's a useful blog post from Prof-like Substance on the subject How do you get on an NSF panel?:
I asked the very question that Anon is positing above to several colleagues and they all told me to call up a PO and tell them I was interested. At the time, this was an incredibly terrifying concept, but I did as I was told and in the next round I was asked. Since then, I have put other people's names in the proverbial "hat" and they have also been asked. This includes postdocs, for those of you postdocs out there who want a jump on things.
Is it really that simple? Yes. POs spend a lot of time and energy trying to fill out there panels, finding the right mix of career stages, gender, academic background, ets., etc. More than half of the people they ask ignore them and probably another 60% - 70% of those that respond decline. Being on a panel is a huge amount of work, so it's not exactly something you just jump on. For that reason it is difficult to fill the room with able-bodied panelists who you can count on to do the work. If someone calls you up and says "I would really love to be on a panel." that person is going on the list for the next round.
Unlike NIH, NSF really does try an incorporate early career stage people into the decision making process. For all of you out there wondering about the process and what the life and times of a panelist are, take advantage of this. It was extremely helpful for me and I have received similar feedback from others who have been early-career people on panels.
and in another blog post (emphasis mine):
People often ask how one gets on a panel and the answer is fairly simple. Ask. Decide on a panel and email or call the PO. Tell them you're an early career person and really want to get involved in a panel. Unlike NIH, NSF makes a concerted effort to involve early career people in the review process. Both panels I have been on has been skewed towards more junior people and has included 2 postdocs in the mix. Use this to your advantage!
There is a useful comment on these posts from someone who identifies himself as a former NSF program director:
Speaking as a former NSF program director I can be more specific about volunteering for NSF panels.
Use the "Search Awards" on the NSF page to find awards on topics of interest. The award abstracts contain the name of the NSF program director.
Send email (not phone) message to the NSF PD with subject line: Volunteer Panelist for subject area ....
State in the email what topics you are interested in. Include a copy of your c.v.
Panels are usually held 2-4 months after solicitation deadlines. New panelists are not usually placed on panels for large size solicitations.
The NSF offers the following on How to become a reviewer:
To become an NSF reviewer, send an e-mail to the NSF program officer(s) of the program(s) that fits your expertise. Introduce yourself and identify your areas of expertise, and let them know that you are interested in becoming a peer reviewer. It is most helpful if you also attach a 2-page CV with current contact information. We also encourage you to share this request with other colleagues who might be interested in serving as NSF reviewers. NSF welcomes qualified reviewers from the academic, industrial, and government sectors.
Absolutely a postdoc can be a reviewer, if a program manager thinks that they would be a good reviewer to have. It's more rare than having more established people, but there is no prohibition. In order to increase your changes of being invited, you need to get to know program managers and let then know you are interested in serving for reviewing.
Yes, a postdoc can certainly review proposals.
Using NSF as an example, you might be able to volunteer by contacting a program manager and discussing what types of grants you'd be best at reviewing. Another, and likely more realistic approach is to have someone recommend you. This could be your advisor, or a close collaborator who can't make a panel. To make this happen, tell your advisor and collaborators that you're interested in serving on a panel -- otherwise they may not know to ask.
If you do get an invite, however, be sure to discuss with your advisor before accepting. They'll likely say yes, but you keep in mind that reviewing is a big time commitment and you will not be able to work at the same pace on your current projects.