Encouraging Use of the PHS Assignment Request Form in Applications


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.

Check out this NIH All About Grants podcast for more (MP3 / Transcript).


  1. I wonder how carefully CSR reads these forms. Recently I requested assignment to an institute as primary, who wanted to receive it, and instead it was assigned to the secondary institute that had already rejected the application. I eventually was able to get this switched but it took a great deal of time and effort.

  2. It might encourage use of this form to know more about how the NIH assigns study sections. I assume that the NIH might use tools like the ones listed on this post; therefore, if I do the same and send the results on the PHS form it seems redundant. If NIH does not use these tools, why not? And what researcher perspectives on desirable assignments are useful?

  3. I have has similar experience as previous comments. Two of my recent proposals were not assigned to the study section requested. This has happened in the past too.

  4. I agree with the above investigators’ comments. In my experience, Public Health Service (PHS) assignment request form has not been helpful to me as an investigator. I encountered many instances that my applications were assigned by the CSR to a different institute or study section I did not requested. I wrote to argue many times without success. In a latest instance last year, I specifically requested to exclude a potential reviewer from reviewing my application in the Public Health Service (PHS) assignment request form who I believe is historically very biased and impartial to investigators of color. Yet CSR and my SRO still assigned my application(s) to this reviewer to review my application with nearly 2 pages’ critiques on my research strategy alone and a score 8 out of 9!

    If the CSR encourages the investigators to use the Public Health Service (PHS) assignment request form, my suggestion is that the CSR and SRO should consider the investigators’ requests and concerns.

  5. I’ve had similar experiences as the other commenters – multiple times I have submitted the form and then been assigned another study section with no strong rationale provided as to why, and it has been very difficult to get it changed (only successful about half of the time).

    After working very hard on a grant for months and tailoring it to a specific audience (and having the salary of me and my team dependent on it), it is very disappointing to have a grant reviewed by a section that has different expectations and background knowledge, with little transparency provided throughout the process.

  6. CSR appreciates information provided by investigators. The information is considered in making assignments to funding institutes, review groups, and in identifying conflicts of interest. However, requests cannot always be honored. There are many reasons for assignments made to groups other than those requested. For example, sometimes a request is made for assignment to a funding institute that does not participate in the funding opportunity announcement under which the application was submitted. In making assignments to review groups, investigator suggestions are considered but within the parameters of the published study section descriptions. The need to manage conflicts of interest also contribute to assignment decisions. Questions about funding institute assignment may be directed to the CSR Division of Receipt and Referral at csrdrr@mail.nih.gov and questions about review group assignment should be directed to the assigned scientific review officer, identified in your eRA Commons account.

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