It Takes Dedicated Scientists Around the World to Make It Happen
When a researcher is approved to receive a BSF grant, it’s not only due to the recommendation of scientific specialists in Israel and the United States. It also takes the approval of other experts from around the world.
It’s an exhaustive process, especially for a relatively small organization such as BSF. But it’s important, because it ensures that only the most complete and promising proposals get funded.
Prof. John Crispino of Northwestern University knows this well. A specialist in hematology, oncology, biochemistry and molecular genetics, he has received several BSF grants. Now, he is one of the panelists who reviews proposals of others hoping for approval as well.
“It’s certainly a way to give back, because BSF support has been very beneficial for me, but it goes deeper,” he said. “As part of a panel, I get to communicate with outstanding panel members from Israel and the United States, and learn from their expertise.”
Scott Miller, a chemistry professor at Yale, is another BSF grantee who said yes to becoming a panel member.
“Honestly, it’s something that I would have difficulty saying `no’ to,” said Miller. “I have learned a lot by reading the proposals and considering them. And when I traveled to Israel in 2015 to be part of a review panel, it was a great opportunity to meet with fellow panel members and discuss the projects with them. When the selection criteria are very stringent, there is always a responsibility to be very thoughtful concerning the selection process. It’s very rewarding for me to be part of that process.”
How does a BSF proposal get accepted (or rejected)? There are many steps.
First, BSF staff divides the proposals among the different panel members (considered internal reviewers), with each member responsible for approximately four proposals. Then, the staff asks these panelists to provide 10 names of potential external reviewers from around the world. Panel members meet to discuss the names, and BSF sends out requests to those selected.
Some accept the opportunity, and some cannot, for a variety of reasons (time constraints being a major one.) But those who don’t accept are asked to recommend fellow specialists in their field who would be appropriate.
Last year, BSF convened 19 panels covering a wide variety of scientific fields. They included more than 100 Israeli and American scientists. Some, like Crispino and Miller, have received BSF grants. All of them, as required by BSF, are senior scientists with PhDs and at least 10 years of experience in their respective fields. They volunteered many hours of time reviewing proposals, as well as travel time to Israel for BSF meetings.
Additionally, nearly 1,800 external reviews were conducted by recommended scientists from around the world. Every proposal must be approved by at least four external reviews. Some require even more, when the opinions are split. After the external reviews are completed, the proposals then go back to the BSF panel members, who discuss the reviews and
make decisions on which proposals get funded.
“It’s an incredibly rigorous and comprehensive process, but that is exactly what makes it so meaningful,” said Dr. Scott L. Friedman, a BSF review panelist, as well as a Board member of the American Friends of the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation (AFBSF).
Friedman, the Dean for Therapeutic Discovery and Chief of the Division of Liver Diseases, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has been familiar with BSF’s work since the mid 1990s, when he was a Senior Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
“I’m committed to Israel, and I’m committed to science, so being a BSF review panelist fits right in with that,” he said. “The review process is demanding, but the science is outstanding. This is what makes the applications from Israel stand out.”
This selectiveness is what makes a BSF grant so sought after, especially in Israel.
“Every one of our panel members are unsung heroes to us at BSF,” said Yair Rotstein, BSF’s executive director. “Because of them, we know that the proposals that receive ultimate approval are ones with the most potential to answer scientific questions that have not yet been answered.”