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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I start preparing a proposal?
Q: Who is eligible to serve as a Principal Investigator on a proposal?

Q: Can there be more than one Principal Investigator on a proposal?
Q: What is the difference between a Co-Investigator and a Co-Principal Investigator?
Q: What approvals are required for proposal submission?
Q: What are the current staff benefit and indirect cost rates?
Q: What if the funding agency I submit to will not pay full overhead?
Q: Can I request funds for secretarial salary on a proposal to a Federal Agency?
Q: What is the Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) Benefit?Q: How many copies of my proposal do I need to make?
Q: What can I do to expedite the proposal process for myself?
Q: How much lead-time is necessary in order for OSR to provide a through review of a proposal?
Q: What is the difference between a Sponsored Research Agreement and a gift?

Q: How do I start preparing a proposal?

A successful proposal starts with a thorough understanding of what the potential sponsoring agency expects. Contact the Office of Sponsored Research for current guidelines and forms. If you have any questions after reading agency guidelines, the Office of Sponsored Research staff will be happy to assist you.

Q: Who is eligible to serve as a Principal Investigator on a proposal?

Faculty members with professorial appointments are eligible to serve as PI on sponsored research projects. Members of the research faculty, postdoctoral scholars, and members of the Professional Staff are eligible to serve as PI by exception only with approval of the Division Chair and the Vice Provost. Members of the Beckman Institute may serve as PI by exception with approval from the Executive Committee of the Beckman Institute and the Vice Provost.

Q: Can there be more than one Principal Investigator on a proposal?

Whenever possible, a single member of the Institute's faculty should be designated as the P.I. Most agencies do not recognize more than one Principal Investigator. Co-Investigator's are permitted by some funding agencies, but Co-P.I.'s are discouraged. Exceptions may be made where an agency insists, or when collegial relations require such an arrangement, but even in such instances there should be a first among equals (P.I.) who bears primary responsibility. There should be no doubt about where the buck stops.

Q: What is the difference between a Co-Investigator and a Co-Principal Investigator?

A Co-Principal Investigator is recognized by the funding agency as an individual who shares with the PI the responsibility for the conduct of a research project, including meeting the reporting requirements.
A Co-Investigator is an individual recognized by the Institute and the Principal Investigator as someone making a significant contribution to a project. The Co-Investigator is an individual that the PI relies on to assume responsibilities above those of other personnel.

Q: What approvals are required for proposal submission?

 If both the PI and the Co-PI are professorial, all that is required is the approval of their Division Chair(s). If either the PI or Co-PI is not otherwise eligible to serve, approval of the Provost or Vice Provost, in addition to that of the Division Chair, must be obtained on the Division Approval Form before bringing the proposal to the Office of Sponsored Research.

Q: What are the current staff benefit and indirect cost rates?

Please refer to Caltech Information for Proposals for current rates.

Q: What if the funding agency I submit to will not pay full overhead?

Private Foundations and other Non-Profit Sponsors:
Many private foundations and other non-profit sponsors limit the indirect costs that will be provided in their grant awards. As long as this limitation is supported by a Sponsor's written policy, and equally applied to all grantees, the Institute will accept such grants. Please note that there is a separate GRA Benefit rate for those non-federal sponsors that do not pay full overhead.

Commercial Sponsors:
Institute policy requires commercial sponsors of research to provide for full reimbursement of its indirect costs in all awards.

Q: Can I request funds for secretarial salary on a proposal to a Federal Agency?

Yes, but only if the clerical or secretarial services are directly required for the conduct of the project. Under OMB Circular A-21 (Cost Principles for Educational Institutions), "the salaries of administrative and clerical staff should normally be treated as indirect costs. Direct charging of these costs may be appropriate where a major project or activity explicitly budgets for administrative or clerical services and individuals involved can be specifically identified with the project or activity." Any request for secretarial/clerical salaries made to a federal agency must include justification in the budget explanation.

Q: What is the Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) Benefit?

Institute policy is to provide full tuition and fees for each research assistant working on a sponsored project who meets a required average workweek. A portion of the tuition and fees is charged to the grant or contract on which the GRA is working. This is paid by the sponsor as a special employee benefit. The current rate for the GRA Benefit can be found by clicking on the following link. The rate is applied to the student's salary charged to the sponsored project. The GRA Benefit is exempt from overhead and should be listed in the budget under "other direct costs."

Q: How many copies of my proposal do I need to make?

The number of copies varies from agency to agency. When your proposal is brought to the Office of Sponsored Research for signature you will be given written instructions telling you how many copies are needed.

Q: What can I do to expedite the proposal process for myself?

The Office of Sponsored Research should receive a proposal at least three days prior to the agency due date in order to have adequate time for review of the proposal. We recognize, however, that faculty workloads do not always permit advance preparation. The following are some tips to help us get your proposal approved in a timely manner:

  1. Fax a copy of the Division Approval Form, cover page, budget, and budget explanation to the office for pre-approval. The budget is usually the most time consuming portion of a proposal to check, and advance copies allow us to help correct possible errors while the text is still in its draft stage.

  2. E-mail or call the Office of Sponsored Research if the proposal is being submitted in response to a specific Broad Agency Announcement, Request for Proposals, Research Announcement, etc. so that we can review the proposal along with the solicitation guidelines.

  3. E-mail or fax mailing information. This enables us to begin preparing the cover letter for the proposal.

  4. The end of the month is usually the busiest time for proposal submission.

  5. Allow time for corrections. In many cases, proposals that arrive in the Office of Sponsored Research are ready to be signed and mailed off without further correction or revision. However, there are times when corrections need to be made, particularly if a budget has not been sent in advance or if a PI is applying to an agency he/she is unfamiliar with. Allowing time for corrections helps to ensure the proposal is at its best when it is sent out.

Q: How much lead-time is necessary in order for OSR to provide a through review of a proposal?

It usually requires a 3-day lead-time (prior to submission) in order for OSR to provide a complete proposal review.  This is due to the fact that OSR is often reviewing many proposals simultaneously for the same deadline, in addition to processing awards, miscellaneous award transactions, and assisting divisional staff with the foregoing.  In order to provide a clearer idea to faculty and divisional staff regarding what OSR can do, given certain amounts of lead time, we have prepared the following guideline: 

With at least 3 days' lead time prior to submission, OSR will perform a complete review, including 

  • Comparison of proposal to sponsors' guidelines (e.g. forms and formatting)
  • Review of budget (calculation, rates, relevance to project description, cost-sharing)

                        (Note that these first two items are the most time consuming) 

  • Division Approval Form
  • Compliance issues (e.g., human/animal subjects, health and safety, conflict of interest)
  • PI Eligibility to Submit

With 1 to 2 days' lead time prior to submission, OSR will perform review at least the following: 

  • Review of budget for correct rates and cost sharing
  • Divisional Approval Form
  • Compliance issues (e.g., human/animal subjects, health and safety, conflict of interest)
  • PI Eligibility to Submit

With less than 1 day's time prior to submission, OSR may only be able to verify that the PI and Division Chair have signed the Divisional Approval Form (the minimum requirement for any proposal to be submitted. 

Please note that this is not intended to represent the most we can do, but the minimum we will do, so that you know what you can expect from us.  If possible, we will provide a more thorough review than these minima, time permitting.  And your OSR team will let you know when a proposal will receive less than a complete review, due to time constraints.

Q: What is the difference between a Sponsored Research Agreement and a gift?

A gift consists of funds that are provided with no deliverables expected in return. It provides unrestricted support for a particular purpose.

A Sponsored Research Agreement is an agreement between the Sponsor (agency) and the Researcher (PI) that has a clear statement of work and set of deliverables in exchange for which the PI receives an agreed upon level of support for a specified period of time