Getting Started: Proposal Process & Review Criteria

All access to EMSL resources is granted through a peer-reviewed proposal that describes the intended project goals, resource needs, experimental or computational plans, and team member contributions. In general, users whose open research proposals are accepted may use EMSL resources free of charge. Open research is loosely defined as science and engineering research for which the resulting information is published and shared broadly within the scientific community. Different Terms and Conditions, including cost policies and other restrictions, apply to proprietary research. All EMSL users must Acknowledge EMSL in their written works.

A variety of proposal opportunities are available throughout the year. To submit a proposal, follow the steps below. Depending on the scope of the proposal project and the proposal call being answered, this stepwise process may take days to weeks.

  • Proposal Process
    1. Discuss your idea with an EMSL scientist before you begin (strongly recommended
    2. Submit a proposal via the EMSL User Portal
      (**NEW** You will need an ORCiD ID to save or submit a proposal -- see details below)
    3. Stand by while your proposal is reviewed
    4. Complete the appropriate use agreements
    5. Contact your EMSL host to initiate planning for your approved project
    6. Close out your project (submit your project summary and complete the Satisfaction Survey).

More details about each of these steps are listed below, and EMSL's Proposal Planning [pdf] will help guide you through this process.

1. Contact a Capability Lead (Highly recommended)

Potential EMSL users should first contact the Capability Lead(s) associated with the instruments of interest to ask about opportunities for collaboration and to get answers to your initial questions. Capability Leads are available to:

  • Provide details about equipment and Capabilities, including availability or subscription, and about research within our four Science Themes
  • Discuss the feasibility of your approach
  • Assist in determining why a specific resource is the best choice to meet our requirements
  • Help estimate and justify the amount of time you are requesting
  • Provide constructive comments on your project description.

If you're unsure what instruments would typically be used for your project, you can search instruments by research area.

2. Submit a proposal via the EMSL User Portal

Review the current Proposal Guidance for the applicable proposal type for page limits, formatting requirements, and information that must be included in your research description and proposal. Additional proposal requirements exist if you are resubmitting a proposal that was previously rejected.

For researchers developing Letters of Intent and full proposals for joint calls under the FICUS program, the details regarding proposal format and the submittal process are unique to each call and provided in the website announcement. Returning applicants to any of the facilities involved in the joint calls should closely review the proposal guidance before starting. Proposals that do not adhere to the published guidance will not be considered.

When submitting new proposals or extensions, keep in mind that attention will be given to proposals that have published results from the use of EMSL's unique capabilities and that have appropriately acknowledged EMSL and funding agencies on all related publications.

Log on to the EMSL User Portal. First-time EMSL users will be directed to create a new User Account. As part of the registration process, you will either need to register for an ORCiD ID or enter your existing ORCiD ID on your "User Info" page. On the Home page, click "Create New Proposal." Provide information about the proposal team and your proposed research, answer a variety of questions, select requested EMSL resources, and upload your research proposal. You will also be required to include an abstract of approximately 250-400 words (using plain text). Abstracts of approved proposals will be listed on EMSL's website as written.

Upon submission, you will receive confirmation and an ID number to be used for subsequent tracking of your proposal.

3. Stand by while your proposal is reviewed

This process comprises three parts: proposal screening and review, resource allocation and scheduling, and notification to the principal investigator.

Proposal screening and review

Proposals are screened for conformance to proposal package requirements, safety, and resource availability, and undergo management and peer review based on the following Proposal Review Criteria:

  • Scientific merit and quality of the proposed research
  • Qualifications of the proposed research team to achieve proposal goals and contribute to high-impact science
  • Relevance of the proposed research to EMSL's mission
  • Impact of the proposed research on one or more of the EMSL Science Themes*
  • Appropriateness and reasonableness of the request for EMSL resources for the proposed research.

See EMSL's Review Criteria for more details, including the Rating Descriptions used by the review panels.

For each criterion, the reviewer rates and scores the proposal as Extraordinary (5 points), Excellent (4 points), Good (3 points), Fair (2 points), or Poor (1 point), and provides detailed comments on the quality of the proposal to support each rating, noting specifically the proposal's strengths and weaknesses. The reviewer also provides overall comments and recommendations to support the ratings given.

EMSL proposals use a weighted scoring of the criteria as shown below.

  • Scientific Merit: 50%
  • Qualification of Proposal Team: 10%
  • Relevance to EMSL's Mission: 10%
  • Relevance to the Science Theme* or Call's Focused Topics: 20%
  • Resource Use and Integration: 10%.

*Note: Proposals under the FICUS program are not reviewed on EMSL Science Themes and are weighted equally.

Proposal Review Panels

For proposals submitted to the annual calls or General cycles, reviews are conducted by a Proposal Review Panel (PRP). The charter of EMSL’s review panels is to evaluate the scientific quality of the proposals, assess which requests are appropriate for EMSL support, and recommend a prioritized list of proposals for acceptance. The Science Theme Lead (STL) serves as the Panel’s Chair and has selected reviewers with demonstrated expertise in the fields represented by the proposals. Although a few PNNL staff may be asked to serve as reviewers, the majority of Panel members must be associated with external institutions. The STL can also ask one of the non-PNNL reviewers to serve as co-Chair. The Chair does not score the proposals but is responsible for facilitating discussions, providing information about the strategic direction of EMSL and the Science Theme, and ensuring the scores are calibrated and the Panel reaches agreement on the prioritized proposal list. Additional EMSL attendees include User Program Services staff (to record decisions and provide policy and procedural details) and the Chief Science Officer (as observer). Staff who provide the technical reviews (Capability Leads) do not attend the meeting but are available to answer questions as needed.

Each proposal is assigned to at least two reviewers who act as the spokespersons for the proposal. Their scores and comments provide a starting point for PRP discussions, but the PRP is responsible for issuing the final score and determining the cut-off score for acceptance. Their prioritized list is sent to EMSL management for approval.

Resource allocation and scheduling

After the peer-review process is complete, the Capability Leads evaluate the instrument and staff time needed to support the proposal, and agree on a cost estimate per proposal. Starting with the highest scored proposal, the Resource Allocation Committee determines the number of proposals that can be supported and scheduled within each Science Theme's budget. The data is provided to the EMSL Director and BER management for consensus prior to issuing decision notification letters. 

Notification to the principal investigator pending proposal approval

Decisions will be emailed to the proposal authors. Users should be aware that only limited resources are available for proposals submitted outside of the annual Call, and advance discussion regarding the research aims should be held with the appropriate Capability Lead(s) prior to initiating any proposal.

Team participants will be notified of any User Agreement requirements by the EMSL User Support Office. Access to EMSL resources cannot be granted until the necessary User Agreements are in place, and failure to complete these requirements in a timely manner may result in loss of the proposal grant.

Appealing a Decision

Proposal authors may submit appeals regarding new proposals if they have substantive evidence to show that reviewers made a serious error or there was some flaw in the review process. Appeals of denied proposal extensions may be made if decisions appear to have been based on inadequate or incorrect information or if there are extenuating circumstances not noted in the progress summary or capability request. Appeals to reverse management decisions that are related solely to resource availability and funding will not be considered.

To submit an appeal, the proposal author should email the User Support Office with a concise (2-3 paragraphs) summary of concerns as well as any supporting arguments for reversing the decision. Authors do not need to resubmit extension summaries or project descriptions. Appeals must be submitted within 30 days from the date on the award decision notice.

All appeals are reviewed by the Appeals Committee, chaired by EMSL's Chief Science Officer, and all decisions are considered final. The User Support Office will coordinate with the committee, and notify the user of the decision. For appeals on denied Science Theme proposals, authors will be notified within 8 weeks from receipt of the appeal. For all other proposal appeals, authors will be notified within 4 weeks from receipt of the appeal.

4. Visit EMSL or arrange remote use

Upon proposal acceptance, users are assigned an EMSL staff member as host. Your host will work with you and the User Support Office to coordinate your access to EMSL resources.

All EMSL users must be approved for access to EMSL or its resources. This process can take up to two months, and visitor badging must be arranged before a user's arrival. In addition, users will need to complete either the sample submission form or follow the special guidance (pdf) for sending radiological samples and should not send samples until all arrangements have been confirmed.

Learn more about the badging process, its requirements, and other details about Visiting EMSL.

5. Close out

To close out a scheduled use, the user is expected to take the following actions:

  • Identify and list all items for disposal prior to leaving EMSL if you are not returning all chemical and biological samples to your home institution.
  • Complete a questionnaire related to the logistics and outcomes of your most recent interaction with EMSL resources, whether remote or onsite. These questionnaires let us know in real time how we are doing to support your access so we can quickly address any suggestions or concerns. Frequent intermittent users may forego these questionnaires after each use and submit one form at the end of the fiscal year or close of the project, whichever is earlier.

To close out a project, the PI is expected to take the following actions:

  • Participate in the annual satisfaction survey or assign a delegate to complete the survey for the project team. The survey is used to assess EMSL's effectiveness as a research facility supporting your project goals. Although the answers are held in confidence, the participation rates may be shared with the Proposal Review Panels and can negatively impact future awards.
  • Provide summaries of research results at the end of the project or annually for multi-year projects. These summaries are used during new and extending proposal evaluations and may be used in EMSL science highlights.
  • Submit copies or reprints of publications related to the use of EMSL resources, which should include the appropriate EMSL acknowledgment. These can be submitted at any time throughout the project or after its close, but must be submitted at least 14 days prior to publication if EMSL staff are included as co-authors. If we receive advance notice of all publications related to your use, however, we can identify those that would be of special interest to DOE BER and work to highlight your research on our website and at DOE. Copies of summaries or publications may be submitted via the User Portal.

User Support Office: |, 509-371-6003