You have likely come across the Public Health Service (PHS) assignment request form when putting together your grant application. It’s optional, but we encourage applicants to fill it out.
This form is available in nearly all competing NIH application form packages and allows you to provide specific application assignment and review information to referral and review staff.
Applicants may suggest NIH Institute/Center/Office (ICO) assignments, particular study sections, names of people who may have a conflict with reviewing the application, and areas of expertise needed for the review. The information provided is not included in the assembled application and is only shared with appropriate NIH review staff, not with reviewers or others at NIH.
Several resources exist to help identify which NIH ICO or study section may be appropriate. For instance, you can search RePORTER for grants where related research was funded and reviewed (see also this blog). The NIH Center for Scientific Review’s Assisted Referral Tool can also help you identify potentially appropriate study sections.
Please keep in mind that suggestions for peer reviewers are not allowed on the form (or the cover letter or anywhere else in the application). The PHS form clearly states “do not provide names of individuals” you would like to review your application.
The main reason we do not allow these suggestions is due to potential conflicts of interest between the applicant and reviewer. Any recommendations of reviewers that an applicant provides are ignored. We will likely even be more hesitant to recruit them to serve on the study section because of the possible unforeseen conflicts of interest.
Overall, the information provided on the PHS Assignment Request form is quite helpful for NIH review staff, who refer to it when considering the best course of action for your application’s timely review. Our staff will carefully consider your suggestions, which are also balanced with many other factors when making appropriate ICO and review group assignments.