The University of Chicago
The University of Chicago

Local Business Center, Division of the Physical Sciences

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General Workflow

The Financial Administrator's main functions in the pre-award process are to prepare the budget and ensure that the full proposal package is prepared properly and that all parts conform to the regulations set by the funding agency and the University. To do this, he/she will need access to the full award solicitation notice from the beginning of the process. Proposal preparation is a process and can be potentially time consuming for all parties involved. To better ensure the proper completion of the proposal and its chances for success, it is best for the PI to start the process as early as possible and to allow for unforeseen complications.

The parts of a generic NSF proposal and the responsibility for completing them are as follows...

  • Starting an electronic proposal: Whether using AURA or Fastlane it is often best for one person to manage the creation, editing, and uploading of files to an electronic application. The Financial Administrator should take the lead in this since his/her role in the process is to ensure that the application is complete and correctly assembled.
  • Title, desired start and end dates: The PI should supply these to the Financial Administrator early in the process.
  • Project Summary and Project Narrative: These sections are solely the responsibility of the PI and the research team. The Financial Administrator is not in a position to advise on the content of these sections beyond formatting rules. The PI should direct inquiries about the content of these sections to the appropriate program manager listed in the solicitation notice.
  • Mentoring Plan: NSF requires a mentoring plan for proposals that request support for postdoctoral researchers. The one-page Mentoring Plan is usually uploaded as a supplementary document, but be aware that some solicitations require the plan to be part of the project description. It is the PI's responsibility to design and implement a mentoring plan that fits the proposal. The template guideline is an outline that must be adjusted for the proposal.
  • Budget: The PI needs to inform the Financial Administrator of spending plans so that a detailed budget can be drafted. Vital budgetary information includes: months of PI salary; number of graduate students and months supported; number of post-docs, their compensation levels, and time on the award; anticipated travel as detailed as possible; materials and supplies; major equipment in detail; subawards. The PI needs to specify which activities will be performed on-campus or off-campus. The Financial Administrator will draft a detailed budget that observes any budgetary restrictions set forth in the solicitation notice. Multiple drafts may be needed with input from the PI before a final budget is produced.
  • Budget Justification: When the budget is completed, the PI will need to justify the proposed budget. This involves briefly describing the role of each individual to be paid from the grant, the need for any supplies or equipment, the purpose of proposed travel, etc. The Financial Administrator can supply a justification template and advice on specific wording and what can be accepted, but the rationale for the expenses must be the PI's.
  • CV/Biosketch: The PI will need to provide an up-to-date CV for the proposal. Although the Financial Administrator can keep a CV on file upon request, many proposals require specific formatting, page lengths, or customized sections (relevant publications, students advised, etc.) therefore a newly produced CV from the PI is suggested.
  • Current and Pending Support: The Financial Administrator will draw up a report of current awards and pending proposals on which the researcher is listed as PI or co-PI. The PI should review the Current and Pending Support to ensure its accuracy and completeness.
  • Facilities and Resources Report: This report details the facilities and resources available to the PI for the work to be supported by the proposed grant. The Financial Administrator will have a standard template for this, but the PI will need to indicate if specialized resources at the University will be utilized beyond personal office space, a desktop, and administrative support. Such resources would include supercomputing facilities, relevant specialized laboratory equipment, constructed facilities, etc.
  • Letters of intent, support, or recommendation: It is the PI's responsibility to produce or obtain such letters from the relevant institutions or colleagues. The PI should contact the program manager for special guidance on content if necessary.
  • Data Management Plan: Effective 01/18/2011 all NSF proposals must include a data management plan as a supplementary document. It must describe how the proposal will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results. For more details. see NSF's guidance on the subject.
  • Institutional Support and Misc. Certifications: These are provided by University Research Administration (URA) after the completed proposal is submitted to them for review and delivery to the funding agency.

These are the most common proposal elements for NSF. Some proposals will require more or less documentation depending on the agency and solicitation. Many solicitations have specific instructions about formatting, style, and/or content for some or all of these elements.

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