Researcher FAQs about the review and submission process

Here are some recent questions and answers about navigating the proposal submission process at Duke. If you need help with these issues, please work with your unit grants manager.  If questions remain, please reach out to myresearchnavigators@duke.edu

What do I need to pay close attention to in the application guidelines? 

Short answer: If you don’t read the guidelines carefully, you may miss the fact that your idea, or you, are not a match for this funding opportunity.  

The details: Funding opportunity announcements (also known as application guidelines, requests for proposals/applications (RFPs/RFAs)) can be lengthy, but thoroughly reading them is critical to ensure submission of an application that meets the sponsor’s and Duke’s requirements. 

First, make sure you, your idea, and your sponsor’s funding criteria are a match!  For help finding the right funding opportunity, visit myRESEARCHpath

Once you have found a match, pay close attention to: 

  1. Eligibility information (both institutional and individual requirements) 
    Confirm that you meet eligibility requirements for both the sponsor and the institution. For example, some opportunities are limited to applicants at certain stages of their career or to institutions that meet certain criteria. Duke also has eligibility criteria for principal investigator status. In certain circumstances, Duke employees not eligible for PI status as defined by the policy may request PI status for a particular grant or project. 

  1. Institutionally Limited Submissions 
    Some sponsors limit the number of proposals that can come from an institution.  In these cases, anyone interested in submitting an application to the solicitation must first submit for internal review and nomination by an internally-appointed review committee.  If nominated, your application may be submitted.  

  1. Submission deadlines 
    Sometimes the sponsor may require a pre-application or letter of intent that has a different deadline than the full application. Duke also has a 5-business day internal deadline, and your unit may have other deadlines to facilitate unit-level development and submission of your application.   

  1. Budget limits and cost sharing requirements 
    To increase a project’s potential for success, carefully assess all financial needs of the research project, and work with your grant manager to determine if cost sharing is required by the sponsor. The amount and duration of funding should match project needs – much larger or longer, and it’s likely to be difficult to grow your idea or team to match; much smaller or shorter could necessitate scaling back the idea significantly. Also, cost-sharing (which is the financial and non-financial support contributed by Duke or a third-party to a sponsored project in order to complete the project’s statement of work) requires institutional approval, so plan ahead to secure necessary approvals. 

  1. F&A rates 
    If an F&A waiver is required, the approval process could take time, so it is best to know this early and plan for any necessary approvals. 

What is the first step I should take when planning my proposal? 

Short Answer: As soon as you know you will submit for external funding, let your grant manager know by completing the Intent to Submit process in myRESEARCHhome.  

The details: Partnering with your grant manager or research development office early in the proposal planning process is the most important first step. They have the background and experience to help you determine how the proposal will be submitted and by whom, identify what forms and documents will be needed for your proposal, and can flag any special conditions that may require extra time or assistance. 

If you don’t have a grant manager assigned to you/your unit, a myRESEARCHnavigator can help you get connected with the right people to assist with your submission.  

As early as possible, let others know about your Intent to Submit! Submitting a notification about your planned proposal will alert your unit grants team, the applicable central research administration office, and other resources that can support a quality, compliant proposal. Intent to Submit can be accessed by clicking the “Intent to Submit” option located in the "Submit a Request" dropdown menu in myRESEARCHhome. If your unit is not yet participating in the Intent to Submit process, email your grant manager or research development office directly (or myRESEARCHnavigators@duke.edu). 

Why does Duke (ORA/ORS) need to review my entire application? 

Short answer: ORA and ORS are there to support submission of your application in a way that 1) meets the requirements of the sponsor and 2) increases the chances for its acceptance by the funding agency (e.g., no system errors or rejections).  ORA and ORS house authorized signing officials who are the only ones who can sign and certify Duke’s outgoing applications. 

The details: Sponsors require the applicant organization (i.e., Duke University) to certify adherence to sponsor requirements and to accept responsibility for work proposed within the application. This is accomplished via the signature from an Authorized Organizational Representative who must review the application contents in entirety to assure that appropriate policies, procedures, regulations and legal requirements and risks have been addressed and institutionally cleared. 

All application contents (including subaward application packages when Duke is collaborating on another organization’s application where Duke will be a sub-awardee) that obligate University personnel, facilities, intellectual property, or other resources require an authorized signature. Only the Authorized Organizational Representative has the authority to sign and certify contents of applications, grants, and contracts on behalf of Duke University. This responsibility rests with the following research support offices: Office of Research Administration (ORA), Office of Research Contracts (ORC) and Office of Research Support (ORS) and those with specific delegated signing authority. 

These research support offices are also there to help you submit your application in a way that makes it possible for the sponsor to accept it – avoiding rejection for system errors. 

What kinds of things could hold ORA or ORS from submitting my application?  

Short answer: Incomplete or late documents or processes. 

The details: Visit myRESEARCHpath for an example list of errors commonly found in applications and proposals for external funding routed to ORA/ORS for institutional approval that can cause delays in review and submission (or prevent submission altogether).  It is important to follow all applicable guidelines, policies, processes, and regulations to ensure that an application can be accepted by the sponsor and considered for funding.  

The best way to ensure a smooth submission is to complete the required Intent to Submit process at least fifteen (15) business days in advance of the submission date to alert your grant manager and ORA/ORS that a submission is forthcoming.  This way, the appropriate administrative support is aware and can plan / help you navigate the steps to submission as early as possible.  

If you have questions or need help navigating the proposal submission process, please work with your unit grants manager and/or contact researchinitiatives@duke.edu.  

Errors that will prevent an application from being submitted, include:  

Why does Duke (ORA/ORS) need 5 business days and my final application to review? 

Short Answer: Duke submits so many applications, there is no way the staff can carefully review, certify, and submit applications if forced to do so with inadequate time. 

The details: On any given deadline, ORA and ORS receive hundreds of applications to be reviewed and processed. Each application takes time to review to confirm it is true, complete, and accurate. If the PI sends another version or if the PI sends additional files, there is risk of error, confusion over version control, and the review process must start over.  

An application must be submitted without system error by the sponsor’s deadline.  The five-business-day deadline is particularly helpful for Grants.Duke submissions (or applications submitted  through other sponsor “gateways”) to allow time for resubmissions in the event there is an error that must be corrected.  

While it can be tempting to work on fine details until the last minute, submitting at the final hour means you run the risk of either missing the sponsor’s deadline or missing the window of opportunity to make corrections. Email notice of an error is often delayed during high volume times.  

ORA/ORS does not review applications for scientific merit. 

What are other things that can cause problems in my submissions?  

Short answer: Visit to myRESEARCHpath for an example list of errors commonly found in applications and proposals for external funding routed to ORA/ORS for institutional approval that can cause delays in review and submission (or prevent submission altogether).  

The details: Inconsistencies among the different components of a proposal can cause complications and processing delays with our sponsors. ORA/ORS reviews programmatic language at a high level to verify consistency between the work proposed and details included in the budget or elsewhere in the application such as in biosketches and letters of support. ORA/ORS does not review proposals for scientific merit.  It is important to follow all applicable guidelines, policies, processes and regulations to ensure that an application can be accepted by the sponsor and considered for funding. 

In addition, authorization to sign applications and awards on behalf of Duke University is granted by the Board of Trustees. Therefore, the only individuals who may sign on behalf of the University are designated Authorized Organizational Representatives (AORs) in ORA, ORS or ORC.  ORA/ORS will obtain the signature of the President or Vice President for Research when required.  

Therefore, any research-related applications submitted to an external sponsor without first receiving institutional clearance from the appropriate pre-award office will not be accepted at the time of award notification. ORA/ORS will notify the sponsor/prime organization that the application was not reviewed in accordance with institutional policy and cannot be accepted. 

Help me understand Sponsored Projects System (SPS) and how it is important to getting my application to a sponsor

Short answer: SPS is Duke’s internal proposal tracking system. It holds the data and processes needed to make sure your application routes through necessary departments and contains all the right elements.  Accuracy of information in SPS is critical to ensuring that your application makes it out the door. 

The details: First, what is SPS? Duke’s Sponsored Program System (SPS) is used to prepare the administrative sections of a proposal such as the budget, budget justification, abstract, and the facilities and resources section. All applications for external funding must be prepared and routed for approval in SPS.   

What does it do? SPS facilitates document exchange between ORA/ORS and the unit preparing the application. SPS routes a completed application for unit level (department/center/institute) and institutional-level (ORA/ORS/ORC) approvals. SPS also serves as a database for managing sponsored projects activity and is the primary data source for reporting on sponsored projects proposals and awards, both internally for Provosts, Deans and Chairs at Duke and externally to federal agencies and non-profit entities. 

What goes in SPS as it pertains to the 5-day deadline? To facilitate ORA’s and ORS’s full and comprehensive review, they need all application components—including the submission-ready version of the technical/scientific section(s)— no later than 8:00 am five (5) business days prior to your submission date. To meet this requirement, the proposal entry in SPS must have routed through and been approved by all involved non-central units and be in a state of “Pending Central Approval” (PCA). 

Note, if the application is to be submitted using a sponsor’s electronic system (e.g., NSF Fastlane, Proposal Central, etc.), ORA/ORS must also have access to review and submit the application in that system no later than 8:00am five (5) business days prior to your planned submission deadline. Failure of the PI to provide ORA/ORS system access to the application may result in the application not being submitted in a timely manner or not being submitted at all.  

What happens in SPS once my application is ready to be released to the sponsor? Once ORA/ORS has completed institutional review and confirmed that the application meets the requirements of the sponsor, Duke University (and any other applicable) policies, rules and regulations, the application is designated ‘Awaiting Submission’ in SPS by ORA/ORS.  Because ORA/ORS is required to review and certify the final application, ORA/ORS will notify the unit grant manager indicating that the reviewed version is the version Duke expects the PI submit. Audit logs from Grants.Duke will be used to identify if changes have been made to the version submitted to the sponsor.  Once the application is submitted, ORA/ORS sets the record to “submitted” status until such time a sponsor decision is made whether to fund the application or the application is withdrawn.