The University of Chicago
The University of Chicago

Local Business Center, Division of the Physical Sciences

Pre-Award

1. Before the Proposal

Only those with PI eligibility may submit grant proposals. To qualify one must be a full time, salaried academic with the title of Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor, Instructor, Senior Scientist, Senior Research Associate, Research Scientist, or a Research Associate with parenthetical rank of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, or Professor. Requests for early Principal Investigator status (for current employees who are expected to be promoted to a PI-eligible position in the near future) must be accompanied by a conditional letter of offer.
Note: PI eligibility should be secured prior to applying for a sponsored award.

Individuals without the titles listed above, including those with “Clinical” as part of their appointment title (e.g., Assistant Clinical Professor, Clinical Assistant Professor, etc.), and individuals not full time salaried academics at the University, are not eligible to serve as principal investigator except under the following conditions: (1) as co-investigator with an individual of appropriate rank, or (2) with approval from the Office of the Provost. Principal investigator status is not afforded to Postdoctoral Researchers except in cases where a sponsoring agency expects it and a faculty mentor is named to monitor project progress.

In those rare occasions when one of the above titles is held by someone who is not or is no longer employed by The University, automatic PI eligibility is not granted. An individual who is not an employee but wishes to obtain approval as a Principal Investigator must receive approval from the Office of the Provost.

To obtain approval from the Office of the Provost, the following steps are required (the whole process may require 60 days or more):

  1. When an academic staff member without one of the above listed ranks considers submitting a proposal as a principal investigator, a Request for PI Status Form must be completed. This form, including a current c.v. for the proposed PI, must be endorsed by the appropriate department chair. If the person has no prior experience as a principal investigator, the form should address how and by whom the person will be mentored in the technical and project management duties of a PI. The recommending department or unit should confirm that the appropriate administrative and fiscal support staff and services are available to support the PI.
  2. It is then submitted to the Dean's Office for endorsement.
  3. After obtaining the Dean’s approval, the form must be forwarded to University Research Administration.
See also URA's page about PI eligibility.

All investigators and key personnel on an award are subject to the University’s conflict of interest policy (PDF) and should review it. All participating investigators and key personnel (that are University employees) should complete the online conflict of interest assurance form in AURA prior to the submission of a proposal.

2. Identifying Funding Opportunities

For personal assistance identifying funding opportunities, contact Jennifer Woods, (773) 834-8810. Grants.gov is a resource that lists all federally funded grants currently available. URA maintains a funding page which can be useful in a search for funding opportunities.

3. Preparing the Proposal

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 primary application used for submitting proposals is the sponsored award management system called AURA (Automating University Reseasrch Administration) which integrates the University’s proposal submission process, award tracking, and internal reporting into a single standarized application. AURA replaces the need to submit proposals through Grants.Gov directly. However, most NSF proposals will continue to go through FastLane unless the solicitation directs otherwise. When using FastLane and all other non-Grants.Gov submission methods, AURA will still be used to enter proposal data into our grants management system. Some post-award reporting will still be done through specific agency websites.

Parts of the proposal (see also NSF Proposal Checklist)

  • 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.
  • Checklist for Direct Charging Administrative Salaries to Sponsored Projects: Any proposal to federal agency that includes administrative/clerical salaries as direct charges should include the checklist as an internal attachment in AURA.
  • 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 it accuracy and completeness.
  • Facilities and Resources Report: This report details the facilities and resources avail
  • 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 included a data management plan which describes how the proposal will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results. For the policy see NSF’s webpage 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.

Note: These are only the more common proposal elements – some may require more or fewer documents. The award soliciation should always be carefully reviewed for the requirements unique to that proposal.

Cost Sharing
Cost sharing is the practice of the University taking responsibility to expend its own funds on behalf of a sponsored award. There are three types of cost sharing: involuntary committed (mandatory), voluntary committed, and voluntary uncommitted.

Involuntary committed (mandatory) cost sharing occurs when the sponsored program requires financial support for the project from the awarded institution as a condition of the award. This can be in many forms such as a matching contribution or a percentage of certain costs. The specific formula will be described in the solicitation notice. The proposal budget must clearly show how the University will meet its obligation.

Voluntary committed cost sharing is when the proposing institution volunteers and commits to bear a specific portion of the costs of the project when it is not required. To volunteer matching funds, percentages of costs, or other similar contributions is rare and often discouraged by many funding agencies. The volunteered cost sharing should be detailed in the budget or project narrative as appropriate. Effective January 18, 2011 NSF will prohibit the use of voluntary committed cost sharing on its awards.

Voluntary uncommitted cost sharing is essentially the same as voluntary committed cost sharing except it is not reported to the agency and no tracking is required for external parties. Uncommitted cost sharing is never detailed in a proposal.

Because a number of internal approvals are required before sending a proposal containing any kind of committed cost sharing, additional time should be given for appropriate budgetary review in other offices. If the funds are commited from the department of the PI, approval from the department chair and dean (provost if the unit is not within a divisional structure) are required. The PI should discuss his/her intentions with them in advance of the paperwork reaching them for signature. If the cost shared funds are coming from the central administration, then approval from the the University’s Budget Office is required. They should be allowed two weeks to consider the budget plans and will communicate their decision in writing to the requestor and URA.

Cost Sharing and PI Effort

The PI must demonstrate effort on any research award. Effort is usually recorded as direct salary budgeted and charged to the award. There are some circumstances when The PI cannot charge salary on an award (e.g. some awards prohibit direct salary charges). Per University policy, the PI must demonstrate effort on any award even when no salary is taken. In order to demonstrate this, a cost sharing account is created to capture nominal effort (usually 0.5 months per project year). While this effort would not be included in the proposal budget, it must be included in the PI's report of current and pending support. Committments of more than 0.5 months will need Division/Departmental approval.

The Proposal Transmittal Form (PTF)
Proposal transmittal forms are no longer needed with the new AURA system.

4. URA Approval

When all of the necessary proposal elements are completed, the Financial Administrator will review the materials to ensure that they are appropriately assembled and will seek confirmation from the PI that it is ready for submission to URA for review. The items necessary to initiate review are...

  • a copy of the award solicitation
  • a draft of the project abstract
  • a draft of the research plan
  • a draft of unit commitments (if any)
  • a final budget and justification
  • cross departmental/divisional concurrences (if any)
  • department/divisional cost sharing approvals (when in excess of 0.5 months of the PI's salary or non-salary related)
  • subaward documentation (if any)

URA does not need to review the final research plan, CV/biosketch, current/pending report, facilities report. Formating requirements (page restrictions, margins, fonts size, etc.) are not subject to URA review.

When URA completes its review of the materials a number of corrections may be noted (which is usual). Some changes are mandatory, others are at the PI’s discretion; the comments will indicate which are which. When all of URA’s comments are addressed, the PI must indicate his final approval of the proposal to URA and authorize them to submit the proposal to the funding agency without any further modifications.

Proposals are due to URA for review at least 4 full business days prior to the proposal deadline. All reviewable parts of the proposal should be available, if not finalized, by this time. For electronic submissions, all materials for submission must be finalized and uploaded into AURA when URA is given notice that the proposal is ready to submit (no modifications are to be made after this point). This is ideally at noon the day before the proposal is due.

If the the reviewable proposal materials are presented to URA less than 4 days before the deadline, URA will not review it and the prososal will only recieve contingent endorsement. Contingent endorsement is an internal status only and will not effect a funding agency’s consideration of the proposal. However, if unaccpetable award terms and conditions are found upon review after submission, the following actions may occur: the proposal may be withdrawn or acceptance of an award will require the modification of any troublesome clause(s) in the proposal or the award documentation.

In light of the URA deadlines, the PI should allow at least two weeks to complete the proposal (more if collaboration with other institutions is required for subawards or joint proposals).

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