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Frequently Asked Questions

The following links will take you to other websites that have answers to these frequently asked questions.

Human Subjects Division (HSD) Questions and Answers

Visit the HSD Site

Faqs for Beginning Grant Writers:

Faqs for Submitting Grants in the UW System




I don't know where to begin. What kind of grant to apply for or what granting agency might fund my work. What do I do?

Begin by deciding whether you need additional closely supervised training, want to work semi-independently under a mentor, or can undertake independent research in your own name. You can learn this by talking to others at a similar level of career development and by conferring with senior colleagues in your field. Next, think of your eligibility in the grant makers' terms. What is your most advanced degree? M.D., Ph.D. or other degree? When did you obtain your degree or finish your post-degree training? Are you a US citizen or permanent resident? How much money/year do you need? Grant makers consider this information to determine the awards for which you are eligible to apply.


I know what kind of grant I want to apply for and what agency offers it. But I've never written a grant before. How do I start?

There are four things you can do that will help a lot.

  1. Go to the Researcher's Guide . It offers links to grants-related information specific to the University of Washington as well as more general resources on preparing a grant proposal and managing an award after you receive the grant. The Table of Contents for this web site gives an overview of the grants process.
  2. Find a recent copy of a successful grant proposal as a model (same kind as you are writing, same agency). Get the whole proposal: boiler plate; associated permission forms, such as those for animal use, human subjects; checklists; etc., as well as the research plan. Get the completed internal routing form, the eGC-1, that accompanied the grant.
  3. In your administrative unit (division, department, center, etc.) try to find an experienced staff person who is an expert in the UW grants process. Treat this person respectfully by not bothering him/her with questions you can answer yourself by following steps 1 and 2, above. When you do get stuck, he/she will be your ultimate source of information. Submitting a grant is complex; at some point you will need a native guide. After the grant is submitted, find an appropriate way to show your gratitude for this person's help.

What is the most frequent mistake beginning grant writers make?

Beginning investigators nearly always write too ambitious a proposal. You need to cut it down to fit the time and money you will have. Get an experienced grant writer and investigator in your field to read the application and help you trim it to a realistic size. Do a detailed budget justification, in which you figure costs for the various items in each experiment you plan to do and also project the number of experiments you can do and need to do in a budget period, typically one year. Particularly, if you have a start-up grant in mind, with upper budget limits, calculate what you can do with the limits you have.


Are there other common mistakes that beginning grant writers make?

Unfocused writing ranks right up there with the overly ambitious proposal on the "to-be-avoided" list. In fact, the two problems often go together. Lack of focus frequently results from having too many general-sounding aims, i.e., being ambitious without being specific. (Incidentally, unfocused writing is the major correctable fault of more experienced investigators as well.) Most of us have difficulty recognizing when our writing is unfocused. The best help comes from having an intelligent nonexpert (experienced grant writer from another discipline) read the proposal. If he/she can understand what you've written, the chances are good that you are well focused. Read other successful applications submitted to the same grant maker, and if possible the written critiques of those successful grants, to see what the reviewers are looking for.


How do I convince reviewers that I have enough experience to do the work proposed in the grant application?

Get some preliminary data. Nothing persuades a reviewer more effectively. Beginning investigators often see this as a catch-22. How can I get data without a grant? How can I get a grant without data? Apply for some small start-up grants that may not require pilot data. This will allow you both to generate data and to show that you can get funds, before you apply for a larger grant. When you are negotiating for your first job, ask for the start-up funds you truly need. Once your new employer has chosen you, they want to give you reasonable resources to succeed. When writing your first large grant proposal, line up collaborators or consultants who can do the things that you cannot. Write a very specific budget justification for personnel, if you have to justify paid co-investigators, and get specific and detailed letters of support, if your help comes in the form of unpaid consultants.


How do I present myself as independent from my mentor?

Explain exactly where your work in your mentor's lab leaves off and where your own begins. Give full credit to your mentor's good work but explain that it has not gone far enough in a particular area where you are smart enough to strike a new path. Generate some independent data and/or show expertise in new techniques in the Preliminary Data section of your grant.


How do I avoid writing an unrealistic budget (either too low or too high)?

Ask for the money you need to do the work, first being sure that you are not being overly ambitious. As suggested above for reeling in an overly ambitious project, figure out the costs for a typical experiment, figure out how many experiments you can do in a year, and multiply the numbers through. Don't try to do your work on a shoestring, but do not pad the budget either. Reviewers are very good at detecting padding. (They probably tried it themselves at some time.) Talk to experienced investigators who know what is a reasonable total budget to request from the grant maker to whom you are applying, if this information is not explicitly stated.


How important is it to get senior investigators in my field to read my drafts before I submit my proposal?

How important is breathing? Swallow your pride and remember that asking your friends and colleagues for their criticisms makes a lot more sense than waiting to hear those criticisms from reviewers who don't know you and thus cannot have a personal interest in your future. Make sure you ask people who have the time to read your proposal and give them enough time to read your draft carefully, preferably ten days to two weeks for a 20-25 page research plan.


How much time do I need to write, revise, and re-write a proposal?

This is difficult to answer until you have written a few proposals but rest assured that, like a home remodeling job, it will take at least twice as long as you expect. Here are two ways to look at it (1) For a major research proposal such as an R01 grant for NIH, six months before the due date is not too early to start. If you need to generate and evaluate preliminary data, you may need to begin much sooner. (2) Figure on at least 120 hours of writing for a typical NIH R01 grant, after you have formulated your ideas and done the background reading. Recognize that you cannot write it straight through. You must give a draft time to rest, so you can come back fresh, and you also must give your in-house reviewers (you do have them, don't you?) time to read their copies and get them back to you.


Do young investigators have a realistic chance of getting a grant?

Most reviewers and grant makers want beginning investigators to succeed. Many agencies and professional societies offer types of grants targeted to investigators at the beginning of their careers. Often (not always: there are no guarantees) reviewers cut some slack for junior investigators, and, in fact, may be instructed to do so. Finally, remember that the success rate for new and competing grants submitted from UW is about 50% overall, better than general figures quoted for NIH or other agencies.


Where do I get forms?

Go to the Forms link on the Researcher's Guide: http://www.washington.edu/research/guide/forms.html.

This will take you to links for UW Specific forms and granting agency forms. You can access PDF and Web forms as well as fill-in templates in Word and Excel for both PC and Macintosh.

NIH now offers Forms 398 (for most new grant applications), 2590 (for non-competing renewals), and 416-1 (for fellowships) on their web site in fillable PDF and Rich Text Format ( RTF) versions. With RTF files, you can fill the forms in with MS Word on either a PC or Macintosh computer, a major improvement over having only PDF forms. Formatting challenges (as of July 2003) are not as great as in the past, but give yourself extra time or ask an experienced user. An experienced Macintosh user recommends 1) unprotecting each .rtf document at the beginning and never protecting it again and 2) on the "abstract" page, lock the size of the text box where the abstract goes, to keep it from growing as you type. Find these revised forms at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/forms.htm.


What forms are best?

There is no one "best" site for forms. Obviously, NIH forms from the NIH web site will be accepted. NSF requires submission of grants through their on-line FastLane system. The forms available from the UW Researcher's Guide web site have been widely used by many grant writers and accepted by most major granting agencies. Some reliable, long-standing forms sites offer the disclaimer that the forms they post are not "official" and thus they can offer no guarantees. If in doubt, call the agency to which you are submitting your proposal and seek advice.


What is a GC-1?

A GC-1 form is the UW internal routing form that must accompany a grant application as it makes the rounds for internal review and sign-off before submission to the granting agency. As of July 1, 2003, all proposals submitted at the UW must use the electronic version of the GC-1, the eGC-1. The electronic GC1 will eventually make electronic routing and approval available to all researchers. While folks must fill out the eGC-1, full electronic routing is still in the future. Now you have to print the eGC-1 after filling it out online, and hard copy it around for signature.The paper GC-1 form is no longer accepted.

The "System to Administer Grants Electronically," or SAGE, is the new UW electronic proposal submission system that will contain a new grants database, an electronic GC1 form (eGC1) and electronic routing for approval signatures. The eGC-1 is the first step in implementing this system. UW grant writers will be able track when an internal review step is completed and remove this source of anxiety (that's the good news). For more information, see the SAGE eGC-1 FAQs.

Those required to approve the eGC-1 form include, at a minimum, the P.I., his/her Department Chair, Dean of the P.I.'s School or College, and the Office of Sponsored Programs. Other departments, schools or colleges (for most schools), offices and agencies within UW may also need to review the proposal and sign the eGC-1 form, depending on the inclusion of co-investigators from other units, the scope and content of the proposed work, and the rules of a particular School.


Do I need an eGC-1?

You must have an eGC-1 form to go with any grant or contract proposal that you submit as an investigator at UW. Under no circumstances may a person employed by UW submit a grant or contact proposal that has not been reviewed and approved (i.e., signed) by OSP.


How long does it take to get approval of my grant at the various steps?

It is impossible to a give firm answer to this question. Usually the real question is, how late can I wait? How dangerously do you want to live? The official word from GCS is

"the proposal should be approved by the department chairperson and submitted to the dean at least two weeks prior to the date on which the proposal must be mailed. . . . . After approval by the dean's office, the original and two copies of the proposal should be forwarded to the Office of Sponsored Programs at least ten working days prior to the mailing date necessary to meet the sponsor's deadline."

It is a poorly kept secret that many grant writers and their staff abuse these guidelines and, through the heroic efforts of staff who review proposals, the applications nearly always make the deadline.


Why do I have to get approval for______?

No matter how you fill in the blank, you need to get approval for certain activities you propose in a grant because somewhere there is a binding regulation that requires it. The privilege of accepting Federal or State money in a grant carries with it the obligation to accept their regulations. (This is the Perverse Version of Golden Rule: Those that have the gold make the rules.) Failing to comply with these regulations can result in denial of funds or other, more serious consequences for the University. Many of these regulations have been promulgated by the Federal government; some are University rules that allow UW to comply with a Federal or State law. Asking "why" beyond this point may be an interesting mental exercise but it won't get your proposal written.


What do I do if some of the research will be done at another institution or site?

Congratulations. You have entered the intriguing world of subcontracts. This question does not lend itself to a quick answer but be aware that much of the trouble grant writers have with subcontracts comes from not initiating the subcontracting process early enough. Start by reading GIM 7: Subcontracts (http://www.washington.edu/research/osp/gim/gim7.html). A Subcontracts Checklist can be downloaded from the G&C Services web site.


Where do I find information on________? (when I need a subcontract? F&A rates? Salaries? Benefit rates? UW resources? Deadlines? Contents of a human subjects form? Etc, etc.

UW has one or more web sites to answer these questions and most others. If your topic is not in the above list, try searching for it from the home page of the UW web site. The intra-UW search engine is powered by Google and works very well. For the above popular subjects, check out the information below.

Subcontracts
This is found in Grants Information Memorandum (GIM) 7 at http://www.washington.edu/research/osp/gim/gim7.html
Facilities and Administrative (F&A) rates
Formerly called indirect costs, these figures are available from GIM 13, at: http://www.washington.edu/research/osp/gim/gim13.html
Salaries
Access salaries on line for already employed UW people on the HEPPS driver, but remember that grant budgeting may require entering a projected salary, not the current one. The HEPPS driver is an older main frame application that does not currently have a web interface. To access the HEPPS driver (and other UW financial information) you must apply for access, obtain a SercurID user card, and be trained in how to use this system. For an introduction to doing UW administrative work with these on-line systems, go to http://www.washington.edu/admin/adminsystems/INTRO/. Good luck--you'll need it.
For physicians
For physicians who receive part of their salary from professional fees, you will need to contact the administrator of the person's home department.
For To-Be-Named employees
For To-Be-Named employees, the salary ranges are shown on the Human Resources web site. For classified staff hires the salary info can be found at http://www.washington.edu/admin/ocpsp/compensation/alpha.sort.files/alpha.sort.html.
For professional staff
For professional staff, the site is http://www.washington.edu/admin/hr/ocpsp/prostaff/index.html Note: this site lists salaries for different grades, not for specific job titles. You must get prior approval from UW Human Resources to hire at a specified grade.
For faculty salaries
Contact the administrator of the department hiring the person.
Benefit rates
Employee benefit rates are found in GIM 3: http://www.washington.edu/research/osp/gim/gim3.html
UW resources
The Researcher's Guide has a list of UW resources in the navigation bar along the left side (http://www.washington.edu/research/guide/).
Deadlines
For internal UW deadlines for submitting proposals the official word is found in GIM 1: http://www.washington.edu/research/osp/gim/gim1.html.

Deadlines for the granting agencies vary and can be found on the agency forms and/or the agency's web site.
National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA)
An organization of individuals involved in the administration of sponsored programs at colleges, universities and teaching hospitals: http://www.ncura.edu/content/