Study sections review applications three times a year, about halfway between the submission date and the second level of review by an advisory council. We are currently in the midst of the review cycle for the January 2013 Council meeting, which means that applicants will be getting their summary statements soon.
A recent post described a new NIH resource to explain the next steps after the review of your application. One of them is to contact your program director to discuss the critique, and I highly encourage this. Program directors read hundreds of summary statements each year, so we have a good idea about the comments that might have influenced your score, the likelihood that your application will be funded, and the types of revisions that might make your application more competitive.
If you’d like this input from your program director, the best first step is to send an e-mail to him or her after the summary statement is released (typically a few weeks after the study section has met to review your application) to arrange a time to talk. Program directors usually gain access to the summary statement around the same time you do, but giving us a chance to read and think about your review can facilitate a useful and productive conversation.
In addition to helping you determine next steps for your application, the conversation offers an opportunity to foster a relationship with the program director who manages grants in your area of research.