Frequently Asked Questions

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Proposals

How much notice does my Research Administrator need before a proposal deadline?

As much notice as possible, ideally as soon as you are considering submitting the proposal. Upon learning of a proposal submission, the Research Administrator will immediately begin preparations by reading the solicitation, preparing administrative documents, and adding the deadline to his/her calendar.

The Office for Sponsored Research requires the completion of the administrative elements of a proposal at least 5 business days prior to the deadline. In order for your Research Administrator to meet this deadline, he/she will need lead time to prepare everything. Please note that proposals of a more complicated nature may take weeks to coordinate effectively, so giving the Research Administrator as much time as possible helps to ensure a more thorough review.

What is the best way to contact my Research Administrator?

All McCormick Research Administrators have offices located near the department offices. Feel free to stop by and see them or contact them via phone or e-mail.

View the staff directory for more details.

Does my Research Administrator need to be involved if a sponsor is making a gift instead of a grant or contract?

No. The Business Administrator or departmental administrative staff will manage the gift process.

However, please note that a sponsor may refer to funding a “gift” but attach terms and conditions that actually make it a sponsored project. In that case, please check with your Research Administrator.

Does my Research Administrator need to be involved for an internal competition?

It depends. The guidelines for the proposal should advise whether (or at what stage) the proposal needs to be routed to the Office for Sponsored Research. At the stage when the Office for Sponsored Research must be involved, your Research Administrator must also be involved.

You can always check with your Research Administrator beforehand – they will be happy to review the guidelines.

Does my Research Administrator need to be involved for a white paper, letter of intent, or preliminary proposal?

It depends. If the sponsor needs a detailed budget, requires institutional review/endorsement, or requires submission through a platform such as Grants.gov that only the Office for Sponsored Research can access, then your Research Administrator needs to be involved in order to route the proposal through the Office of Sponsored Research. Otherwise, you can most likely submit on your own.

When in doubt, please check with your Research Administrator – they will be happy to review the guidelines.

Can I, my Research Administrator, my Chair, or my Dean sign as an Institutional Official or on behalf of Northwestern University?

No. At Northwestern University, only a few individuals have the authority to sign on behalf of the institution. These include the Director of the Office for Sponsored Research, the Vice President of Research, the President, and the Provost.

Even if another institution will accept the Chair’s signature, it is against University policy for individuals to sign on behalf of Northwestern University without permission.

Awards and Post-Award Management

How will I find out if a proposal has been awarded?

In most cases the Principal Investigator will receive direct notification from the sponsor. Other times, the sponsor notifies the Office for Sponsored Research directly, who then communicates that information to the Principal Investigator and Research Administrator.

Also note that if the proposal was submitted through a sponsor system, such as Grants.gov or Fastlane, the award status can be viewed by logging into that system.

Once my award arrives who do I work with to make purchases and setup payroll on the project?

Each department is set up differently, though typically the department staff are responsible for managing financial transactions on sponsored projects once the award chartstring is set up.

How can I find out the balance on my award?

Departmental staff send budget statements to the Principal Investigators on a monthly basis; however, if a balance is needed outside this monthly process, PIs can always contact the departmental staff (who are financially managing the project) to request the information.

Departmental staff will use Northwestern University’s financial reporting system, Cognos, to pull up-to-date award balances.

Can I pay for books, membership fees, and office supplies on my sponsored project?

No. These are paid for by non-sponsored funds, through facilities and administration recovery. The only exception would be if an award or sponsor specifically lists these as allowable expenses, or a case for “unlike circumstances” is approved.

Please talk to your Research Administrator if you have additional questions on this.

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Facilities and Administration (F&A) Costs

Why do I need to include F&A (indirect costs) in my budget?

Along with the “direct” costs of doing research, such as paying researchers’ salaries, purchasing technical supplies and equipment, and paying publication fees, there are many “indirect” costs. These indirect costs (such as administrative support, electricity, internet, and building maintenance) are critical to completing research but difficult to assign to specific projects. Therefore, the University negotiates F&A (facilities & administration) rates based on the average cost.

In some cases sponsors will request an F&A rate that differs from our published rates. If this is the case, a copy of their published policy should be provided as documentation during the proposal process.

You can visit the Office for Sponsored Research’s website on F&A for additional information.

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Effort

This sponsor will not pay for salary. Do the key personnel still have to have effort?

Yes. According to Northwestern University’s policy, key personnel must have at least 1% effort on a project. In McCormick, this can be cost-shared without special approval. In other schools, it may need department, division, or school signoff.

What do I do if I have more than 2.5 summer months total effort currently committed to sponsored projects?

No more than 3 summer months can actually be fulfilled as McCormick faculty have 9 month academic appointments. If you have more than 2.5 summer months of effort committed to sponsored projects in any year, you will need to request an approval from the McCormick Dean’s office and the Vice President for Research.

You can find additional information here: http://www.research.northwestern.edu/policies/summer-research-quarter.html.

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Subawards

Once the project has been awarded, how are my subawards issued?

Subawards are issued by the Senior Grants Officer in the Office for Sponsored Research. To make a request to issue a subaward, ask your Research Administrator to submit an ESPR.

Be sure to include the subaward letter of intent (LOI), statement of work (SOW), budget, justification, and any other relevant materials.

The Senior Grants Officer will add the subaward to the queue and send a draft to the subawardee for signature. She will then follow through the process of exchanging signatures and will have the signed agreement sent to you when finalized.

How does my subaward get encumbered and who handles the billing?

A financial staff member in your department is designated to encumber subawards.

Accounting Services for Research and Sponsored Programs (ASRSP) will send an e-mail with details about how to set up each new subaward or amendment. They will also provide the financial staff with invoices that need the Principal Investigator’s signature, and will make sure that all payments are in order.

What do I do if I want to make a change to an existing subaward (i.e., reducing funds, changing end dates, etc.)?

Just as you can set up a subaward via an Electronic Sponsored Project Request (ESPR), you can also make subaward change requests the same way. 

Please talk to your Research Administrator so that he/she can ensure all appropriate information and requests are being communicated between the sponsor, the subrecipient, the Office for Sponsored Research, and ASRSP.

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InfoEd

Why are proposals and sponsored project requests routed for internal department and school reviews?  What are reviewers looking for?

Principal Investigators are confirming that they agree to participate in the project and manage any resulting award. Other personnel (such as Co-Investigators) receive a notification so they can decline to participate if they disagree with or have questions about their role.

Department, school, and other unit approvers are confirming that the researchers named on the proposal routing form are allowed to participate, and that the unit agrees to its role in the project. That role could be as simple as managing the chart string if an award is made, or could involve providing cost-share commitments. Unit approvers may only be concerned with specific items or may review more thoroughly depending on unit processes.

Please note that this internal review is not meant to be a review of the entire application, the application’s suitability for funding, nor a critique of the technical/scientific work.

What is the minimum information that needs to be included during routing in order to obtain McCormick approval?

At a minimum, you must include a Statement of Work (such as a draft of the Project Summary), budget, budget justification, completed Proposal Routing Form, and copy of the solicitation. For more details, see the McCormick Research Administration Proposal Review Checklist.

I lost the e-mail notification for this proposal’s approval. How can I get to the approval screen?

You can use the “Open Action Items” page.