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Cycle 21 Peer Review Guidelines

Panel Review Meeting Flow

The Panel meetings begin with a plenary orientation (to be held on Monday evening). The individual review panels then convene (on Tuesday morning) in separate rooms for their meetings. The Panel Chair runs each meeting with assistance from the PSS.

Generally, at the start of the meeting the Panel will consider whether any proposal marked for triage should be "revived" e.g., there may be proposals with wildly discrepant grades that warrant full discussion. (The number of revived proposals should be small since there simply is not enough time to discuss all proposals fully).

The "live" proposals are then discussed by the Panel, in an order decided by the Chair. It is often effective to group proposals addressing similar science.

Before the discussion of each proposal, the PSS notes any potential conflicts of interest, and where confirmed, the panelists are excused. It is the Chair's responsibility to see that all conflicts of interest are identified and that the affected panelists leave the room for the discussion. In ambiguous or unusual cases (e.g., most of the panel is conflicted), please consult the SPG Head, Claus Leitherer or any of the other SPG scientists.

The PSS then points out any issues of duplication, resource requirements, or technical matters that may have been noted ahead of the Panel meeting. The primary reviewer then presents a short (2-3 minute) discussion of the proposal, describing the program's objectives and its strong and weak points, and stating his/her evaluations and recommendations. The secondary reviewer then describes how their evaluation agrees with or differs from that of the primary reviewer. These presentations are followed by a general discussion by the entire Panel. The Chair imposes time limitations as necessary.

Technical experts in all areas are on call for consultation by the Panel. STScI experts must be consulted about any technical feasibility questions critical to the outcome of a proposal. No proposal can be rejected on technical grounds without concurrence on the technical issue by the relevant STScI expert. SPG staff are available at all times to address any policy issues.

After the discussion of a proposal is concluded, the final recommended resources (i.e., orbits, targets) are adopted by consensus of the Panel. This should generally be the same as the requested resources but may also be less, or even greater, than requested by the proposer. The number of primary and parallel orbits and the number of orbits per cycle for Long-term programs should be specified explicitly and voted on accordingly. Then Panel members grade each proposal using the Web-Reviewer System at: https://tac.stsci.edu/tacreview to determine the final average grade for the proposal. The grades and recommendations are recorded in an electronic database by the PSS. Chairs generally vote on proposals just as Panelists do.

During the discussion of a proposal the primary reviewer takes notes and afterwards he/she combines those with the collated pre-meeting notes to compile constructive notification comments that are provided as feedback to the proposal PI. After each vote, the chair should allow the primary referee to capture the essence of the discussion in written form for the later work on the notification comments. The Chair should ensure that time is set aside at regular intervals (e.g., every 1--2 hours, or after the discussion of each scientific sub-category) for the primary reviewers to generate from these materials final comments for the proposers. We strongly encourage panelists to bring laptops on which to enter grades and compose the final comments. If necessary, hand-edited comments will be picked up at regular intervals by SPG staff for typing and returned to the primary reviewers for proof reading and error checking; this is usually a time-consuming and error-prone process, and thus the laptop approach is preferred. All comments must be approved by the responsible primary reviewers before the end of the meeting and then will be provided to the Panel Chairs for their review and signoff.

The final comments should explain the panel decision, and ideally should help the proposers improve the proposal. The comments must be free of unnecessarily offensive remarks. Any comments that are cursory, unclear, or otherwise unhelpful to the proposers will be edited or omitted entirely in order to prevent counterproductive consequences. Proposers often complain that the comments are inaccurate, useless, too brief, or just plain wrong. Occasionally they ask for reconsideration of rejected proposals, on the grounds that the panel, judging from the comments, could not have read or understood the proposal. Proposers have usually invested considerable time and intellectual effort in writing the proposal and they deserve a thoughtful response. Therefore, we urge you to write comments that are on point and well thought out, particularly for rejected proposals. These should be in the format of strengths, weaknesses, reasonableness of resources, and additional comments. Do not go out of your way to find reasons for rejecting a proposal, however; if it was very good but simply less compelling than other proposals, just say that.

After all proposals have been discussed, the PSS will generate from the database a provisional ranked list based on the grades. Further discussion should then follow. At this time proposals may be re-ranked, taking into account the overall balance of the recommended scientific program, and resolving any duplications between highly graded proposals. Careful re-ranking is not necessary for proposals that are well below the cut-off line. The grades should not be altered during the ranking stage (in the end only the rank counts, and not the grade).

Initially the panel should grade GO, SNAP, AR and Theory proposals together on the same 1 to 5 scale. That is, a GO proposal, a SNAP proposal, an AR proposal and a Theory proposal with the same grade should all have equal scientific importance. Using a consistent grading scale is important because all HST proposals are ultimately funded from one and the same source. For a Snap, AR or Theory proposal to be recommended for approval by a panel, those proposals need to be ranked above the GO orbit cutoff.