Closeup of number keys on an old-fashioned manual calculator.

FY2021 grant budget template available

Fringe benefit rates are set each fiscal year by the university’s budget office. Because these rates change from year to year, our grant budget template — which calculates fringe benefits for personnel on proposed projects — must be updated each fiscal year. The budget template for FY2021 is now available. (Please note that there is now only one budget template for all proposals, including those submitted to NSF.)

Submitted grant budgets must reflect the correct fringe benefits, so no outdated budget templates can be accepted by Research & Sponsored Programs. Please take a minute to download and save the FY2021 template and delete any outdated ones you may have saved.

Photo by George Hodan, via

Tablet device with the word "policy" and parts of the definition of the word policy visible on the screen.

Changes announced for policy on tuition waivers for grant-funded research assistants

As of July 1, 2020, Miami University discontinued waiving the full amount of in-state tuition for grant-funded graduate research assistants. Under the new policy, in-state tuition waivers will be scaled to the amount of direct costs in a grant. The additional out-of-state surcharge above in-state tuition will continue to be waived for all grants. Investigators are now required to include a minimum of 4.3% of the direct costs of a project as tuition for each graduate student stipend, unless a funding agency specifically prohibits charging tuition. If you are requesting more than $250,000 per year in direct costs, or there is no limit on the amount that can be requested, full in-state tuition must be included at the current rate of $523 per credit hour. Tuition is not subject to facilities and administration (F&A) charges. The established minimum percentage will be evaluated annually and may change as tuition rates change.


As part of a benchmarking exercise during strategic plan formulation, the research office learned that as recently as five years ago, most universities in our research expenditure bracket in Ohio and in the Midwest made it a common practice to waive fully both in-state and out-of-state tuition on grants that included a stipend for a graduate research assistant. Last year, as the research office updated its strategic plan, the same benchmarking exercise demonstrated that nearly every university that had, five years ago, been waiving full tuition was now expecting principal investigators to cover at least a portion of tuition on smaller grants and to cover full in-state tuition on major grants (≥$250,000 per year). This change means that Miami’s practice of waiving full tuition made us an outlier. The new policy aligns our practices to national norms.

As a result of the benchmarking and program review, beginning this past academic semester, Research & Sponsored Programs staff started asking some PIs to include partial tuition on their grants. On June 4, Jim Oris, then-Vice President for Research & Innovation, held an online forum with over 30 attendees to discuss a possible change in policy. Provost Osborne subsequently approved the change to take effect July 1, 2020.

The percentage calculation

Nearly all universities consider an NIH R01 grant the standard for a “major grant” and require grant budgets to cover the full cost of in-state tuition for their graduate research assistants. Typically, an R01 uses a modular budget that allows up to $250,000 in direct costs per year.

Using this same standard – an NIH R01 grant with a modular budget (i.e., $250,000 per year) – full in-state graduate tuition for a single research assistant was calculated as a percentage of the annual direct costs. Assuming full time graduate enrollment of 9 hours during each fall and spring and 3 hours during summer, for a total of 21 credits per calendar year, full in-state graduate tuition for a single research assistant amounts to 4.3% of $250,000. The fairest approach is to apply the 4.3% standard evenly across all grants that include stipends for GAs, as an offset to the cost of tuition. In cases where the 4.3% does not cover full in-state tuition, the remaining in-state tuition will be waived (as will the full out-of-state surcharge).


NIH grant

Our most common NIH grant is an R15 (AREA) mechanism, which is $300,000 in direct costs over three years, or $100,000 per year. Applying the 4.3% to such a budget will require the proposed budget to include $4,300 per year per GA in tuition, for a total of $12,900. The balance will be covered by a tuition waiver.

An NIH R21 has a direct cost limit of $275,000 over two years. This is typically budgeted as $150,000 in Year 1 and $125,000 in Year 2. Applying the 4.3% minimum tutition requirement, the proposed budget will include $6,450 in tuition for Year 1 ($150,000 x .043) and $5,375 in tuition for Year 2 ($125,000 x .043). The balance will be covered by a tuition waiver.

NSF grant

A typical NSF grant averages $123K in direct costs per year for three years. Applying the 4.3% to a budget of that size will require that $5,289 per year be included for tuition for each GA. The balance will be covered by a tuition waiver.

Image by Nick Youngson for Alpha Stock Images via The Blue Diamond Gallery, used under Creative Commons license.

Closeup of a web browser address bar with http://www visible in the address bar. An arrow points to the address in the address bar.

Find the information you need on the OARS website

Computer keyboard with an FAQ key in place of a return/enter key.

This post is a combination of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) and a tour of the OARS website. The purpose is to show you where to find the information you need to learn about funding opportunities, prepare proposals, and build your grantsmanship skills.

Who do I contact if I need to talk to an actual person?

We’re starting with this question because while we want you to be able to use our website to find the information you need, but we don’t want you to spend an inordinate time trying to chase something down. Especially if someone in our office can answer your question off the top of their head!

Your first point of contact will probably be your OARS consultant — either Anne Schauer or Tricia Callahan. They can either answer your question directly, or get you connected to someone else in our office who can.

Anne and Tricia divide their workload by department and center/institute. To find out who works with your department or center/institute, follow these steps:

  • Click on the Proposal Preparation Resources link in the lefthand navigation on the OARS homepage (

    Screenshot of OARS homepage, with Proposal Preparation Resources link in lefthand navigation circled.

  • Scroll down the list of departments and centers/institutes in the righthand column and click the + next to the one you’re affiliated. The item will expand to display the consultant assigned to that department or center/institute.

    Screenshot of Proposal Preparation Resources webpage, with + sign next to Architecture & Interior Design circled and the name of the OARS consultant for that department circled.


Feel free to contact Anne or Tricia at any time. Anne can be reached at 513-529-3735 or Tricia can be reached at 513-529-1795 or Both are located in 102 Roudebush Hall.

How do I find out about OARS events?

OARS offers a range of professional development opportunities, including:

  • eSPA and SPIN training
  • General grantsmanship presentations and workshops
  • Presentations and workshops focused on a particular agency or program
  • Networking events
  • Researcher appreciation events

The full calendar of OARS events is available in just two clicks from the OARS homepage:

  • Scroll down until you can see the “News and events” widget in the lefthand column.

    Screenshot of OARS homepage with News and events widget circled.

  • Click on the + next to “Calendar of events and deadlines” to expand that option, then click on the word here in the text.

    Screenshot of News and events widget, with + next to Calendar of events and deadlines circled and the word here in the expanded text circled.

  • Use the arrows at the top of the calendar to scroll between months in the calendar.

    Screenshot of OARS Calendar of Events, with month navigation arrows circled.

In addition to OARS events, the calendar also includes research-oriented events sponsored by other Miami departments or by outside parties. Finally, the calendar also includes application and submission deadlines for internal and external competitions and submission opportunities.

How do I get started if I am a new researcher or an experienced researcher who is new to Miami?

Click on Getting Started in the lefthand navigation on the OARS homepage.

Screenshot of OARS homepage with Getting Started option in the lefthand navigation circled.

From there, you can click on the arrows to expand information about each step in the process of seeking external funding.

Screenshot of Getting Started webpage with arrows next to each external funding step circled.

Where can I find information about funding opportunities?

Click on Finding Funding in the lefthand navigation of the OARS homepage.

Screenshot of OARS homepage, with Finding Funding circled in the lefthand navigation.

You will then see additional links to resources for finding funding to support your research or other project.

Screenshot of Finding Funding webpage

Where do I find Miami’s DUNS, EIN, and other institutional information that needs to be included in my application?

Follow these steps:

  • Click on the Proposal Preparation Resources link in the lefthand navigation on the OARS homepage (

    Screenshot of OARS homepage, with Proposal Preparation Resources link in lefthand navigation circled.

  • Click on the budget resources link in the center of the page.

    Screenshot of Proposal Preparation Resources webpage, with Budget resources link circled.

  • Click on the arrows to expand the various categories of information.

    Screenshot of Budget Resources page, with + signs next to categories of information circled.

How do I get approval of a proposal from my chair and dean and from OARS?

Miami University began uses an electronic sponsored programs administration (eSPA) system to help manage research administration and electronic submission of proposals. Specifically, Miami has implemented two programs within the Evisions Research Suite: Cayuse 424, which is a Federal proposal development and system-to-system platform, and Cayuse SP, which reduces the need for paperwork and transforms proposal routing into an electronic process.

You can access Miami’s eSPA system by clicking on the Quick Link on the Miami homepage.

Screenshot of OARS homepage, with eSPA-Cayuse Research Suite link in Quick Links widget circled.

If you need help with eSPA, contact your OARS consultant.

Internet photo by Rock1997 via Wikimedia Commons .FAQ photo by photosteve101 via Flickr. Both used under Creative Commons license.

A hand holds a set of car keys.

Writing a grant proposal is a lot like buying a car

A salesperson and a customer shake hands in front of a car.

Like buying a vehicle, writing a grant proposal is an important investment worth taking the time to do right. Doing research to ensure you are on the right lot and looking at the type of vehicle that best suits your needs will reduce wasted time and increase the likelihood of a successful outcome. From there, all that’s left to do is narrow down your options and negotiate the best price.

Do your research

When shopping for a car, research is important to ensure you find the one that best suits your needs. Does the car offer all the options you need? For instance, do you often haul your children’s furniture from home to dorm and back again? If so, a Mini Cooper likely isn’t your best option. Also, knowing your own constraints (e.g. finances, height, family size) might dictate whether you’ll be shopping for a new car or a used one, a compact or a sedan, a Lexus or a Kia.

The same holds true when searching for a grant sponsor. Do the sponsoring agency and particular program fit your project needs? If you only need $1,000 in materials to carry out your project, you shouldn’t search for a Federal grant opportunity because those are usually reserved for projects with bigger budgets. Instead, look for internal and local sources of funds, such as your department, college, or the Committee on Faculty Research (CFR). If you are going for Federal funding, it’s important to choose the right agency. If your research project is focused on a specific health outcome, likely you need to do your shopping on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) lot, not at the National Science Foundation (NSF) dealership. Knowing and understanding the mission of the sponsoring organization is of utmost importance prior to developing your grant application. If missions are misaligned, then you need to find another dealer.

Narrow down your shopping list

With literally hundreds of car makes and models available, how do you decide which is best for you? When considering your purchase, everything counts, from number of seats and doors to size, performance, and cost. The key is to narrow down your search by creating a short list of must-have features, then doing some side-by-side comparisons.

When searching for a sponsor, you may or may not have hundreds of options depending on your project needs. The chart below offers guidelines for narrowing down your search options.

Funding Source Typical Duration Average Award Size Impact
Horizon 2020 1-5 years $50,000-$500,000 National-Global
U.S. Federal funding agencies 1-5 years $25,000-$500,000 National
State agencies 1-3 years $10,000-$100,000 Statewide
Local agencies 1 year $1,000-$5,000 Local-Statewide

Know when the price is right

Once you’ve selected the model, options, and color, it’s time to get serious about price. The key to successful negotiation is knowing the value of the car, the invoice price, and the MSRP. In other words, what is the dealer’s limit? Also, what is your limit? Calculate what you can afford.

When writing a budget, you need to know the sponsor’s limit. Is there a cap or ceiling on the amount of funding you can request? If there isn’t a cap, is there a typical amount awarded by the program to which you are applying? Are there specific items the sponsor won’t pay for, like major equipment or personnel? Also, will your budgetary needs be supported by the sponsor? Ask for what you need and don’t sell your project short. If a sponsor cannot support a major piece of equipment that you need to conduct your research, then you either need to find a way to support that equipment (e.g., internal equipment funds from OARS or budgeting for equipment rental rather than purchase) or find a new or additional sponsor.

Take a test drive

Test-driving can help you make your final decision, so take your time with it and be sure to drive on both city streets and the highway. Don’t feel like you need to rush the process. Instead, use this time to pay attention to the little things: road noise, the number of cup holders and USB outlets, and extra features you hadn’t noticed before. After the purchase, it’s too late, so leave ample time for this important feedback.

The same holds true with grant applications- test drive them with the sponsor. Contact the sponsor early with your project idea. Many sponsors have a program officer who is responsible for answering questions regarding particular programs. The program officer wants quality applications that meet the mission of the agency and program, so they want to hear from you. As soon as you identify a program, contact the program officer and ask if you can share a one-page concept paper that includes your project goals and objectives, along with a little background detailing the need for, and significance of, the project.

Once you have a green light from the program officer, test-drive your application with colleagues both in and outside your area of expertise. Doing this will allow you to fine tune your application, ensuring it is understandable to an informed audience and ensuring an error-free application. Once you submit the application, it’s too late to make changes, so leave ample time for collection of this important data.

Have fun with it

Both buying a car and writing a grant proposal can be harrowing processes. Try to take the hassle out of both by beginning early, doing your homework, reading reviews (or sample applications), and working with people who are knowledgeable about the process. For car buying, this should be a salesperson. For writing a grant proposal, this should be your OARS representative. We are here to help and have years of experience submitting to hundreds of programs while getting feedback and advice from dozens of program officers and grants management folks regarding common pitfalls. Additionally, we can provide information commonly needed to complete forms (e.g., DUNS and EINs), and we can assist with budget development and help route your proposal through the internal approval eSPA system, allowing you to spend more of your time on writing your narrative, communicating with your program officer, and tidying up your final draft.

Just like TrueCar and similar services help take the hassle out of the car buying process, OARS can help take the hassle out of the grant submission process. So give us a call!

Written by Tricia Callahan, Director, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Car keys photo by Negative Space via Pexels. Handshake photo by Legal Tell All via Vimeo. Both used under Creative Commons license.

Large analog clock on outside of building. The business name -- Time -- is on a neon sign above the clock.

Changes to Federal labor rules will affect some research personnel

A blank IRS W-2 Wage and Tax Statement form.

UPDATE: On November 30, Miami University announced that in response to the federal judge’s injunction it will suspend, indefinitely,  changes it  planned to comply with the new FLSA overtime eligibility rules.
UPDATE: On November 22, a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction agains the FLSA action described below. It is likely these changes will not take effect December 1 as planned.

Recently the U.S. Department of Labor announced changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This post summarizes those changes, discusses how they are being implemented at Miami University, and explains how those changes might affect researchers’ grant budgets.

What is FLSA?

The FLSA is a law that contains overtime pay provisions for U.S. workers. Currently, U.S. workers earning an annual salary of less than $23,660 are entitled to overtime compensation if they worked greater than 40 hours per week. U.S. workers who are paid an annual salary of at least $23,660 and are engaged in executive, administrative, or professional duties are exempt from this provision.

What changes are being made to the FLSA?

The changes made to the FLSA relate to the salary level that determines if an employee is exempt from the FLSA provisions for overtime (such as is the case for unclassified staff at Miami) or non-exempt from those provisions. In other words, the new FLSA provisions affect which employees are overtime eligible.

Effective December 1, 2016, the minimum annual salary threshold for exemption from overtime provisions will be set at $47,476 and will increase every three years thereafter.

What does this mean for grant budgets and for grant-funded employees?

In general, this means that  full-time employees who earn less than the $47,476 threshold will be required to track their work hours and must be paid overtime if they work greater than 40 hours a week. Researchers cannot allow or expect these non-exempt employees to work more than 40 hours per week without paying overtime.

Which grant-funded positions are most likely to be affected?

Postdoctoral researchers are the most likely to be affected by these changes. Postdoctoral candidates currently making under the threshold will be overtime eligible. Grantees may be able to raise the postdoc salary above the exemption threshold if there is room in the budget and if budget revisions are allowed by the sponsor. Alternatively, researchers who oversee grant-funded employees must monitor employees’ work hours and compensate them for any overtime beyond 40 hours per week.

How should I plan for future grant budgets?

For all new proposals, researchers are encouraged to budget their postdoc compensation at a minimum of $48,000, with 3% increases yearly.

What are some of the Federal-granting agencies doing to help researchers compensate for the increased threshold for exemption?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will increase postdoctoral stipends to levels at or above the proposed FLSA revisions. Projected postdoctoral stipends for Federal FY2017 can be found here. Look for the NIH to post guidance in the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts regarding re-budgeting for current postdocs and employees over the new exemption threshold.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) postdoctoral fellowship programs already includes a stipend in excess of the FLSA final threshold. For grant-supported postdoctoral researchers making under the new threshold, NSF is leaving it up to principal investigators (PIs) and their institution to re-budget existing awards to comply with the new federal overtime rule. If additional funds are needed to cover any overages, grantees should contact their NSF Program Officer to discuss supplemental funding. See the NSF FLSA FAQs for additional information.

What is Miami doing about reclassification of impacted positions?

Definitions of unclassified and classified service can be found in the Miami University Policy Library. Specific questions regarding FLSA and employment at Miami University should be directed to Human Resources or Academic Personnel, as appropriate.

Starting August 1, 2016, Miami is centrally funding any increase in postdoctoral salary necessary to bring an individual above the new FLSA minimum so that all postdoctoral associates will be exempt from overtime. Because it is funded centrally, the salary increase will not affect current grants this fiscal year. However, central university funding will not be available indefinitely, so PIs affected by this increase are expected to seek supplements from their funding agencies during the upcoming year.

Updated November 28 to include information about the Federal court injunction. Updated November 30 to include information about Miami University’s response to the federal judge’s injunction. 

Written by Tricia Callahan, Director of Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

W-2 photo by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr. Time photo by Thomas Hawk via Flickr. Both used under Creative Commons license.

Tony Smith, of Advanced Mobile Systems, installs a pier to support the FEMA-provided mobile home that the Grice family will temporarily live in while they begin to rebuild their lives.

New Federal guidelines require completion of new form

Screenshot of online form. Text: Miami University. Please provide the following information: Subrecipient/contractor name. Project title. Prime sponsor (i.e., name of funding agency). Miami Principal Investigator. SUBRECIPIENT - All of the characteristics listed might not be present in all cases. In determining whether an entity should be classified as a subrecipient or a contractor, the substance of the relationship is most important. Please check all that apply: Scope of work represents an intellectually significant portion of the overall programmatic effort and is measured against the objectives of the Federal program. There is an identified Principal Investigator for the subrecipient who has responsibility for making programmatic decisions. Proposed work could result in the development of intellectual property. Is expected to author or co-author publications on the results of its work.

The new Uniform Administrative Requirements for Federal Awards (commonly referred to as Uniform Guidance) mandates that recipients of Federal funds document their process of classifying third parties included in grant proposals as either subrecipients or contractors. In order to meet this requirement, OARS and Grants & Contracts have developed an online form that must be completed, saved as a PDF, and attached to your eSPA proposal record for all proposals that include funds going to a third party.

A separate form is required for each entity to be included in your proposal budget. Although this requirement is for funds from Federal sources, consistency principles dictate that we apply this same scrutiny to all proposals, whether the sponsor is Federal or non-Federal. Nothing is new in the criteria for determining whether a third party is classified as a subrecipient or a contractor — the only thing new is the requirement to document our process for making the determination.

A link to the online form can be found in the Proposal Preparation Resources section of the OARS website, as well as on the Budget and Subcontract pages in eSPA. If you have any questions about this new form, please contact your OARS representative. Use of this form will begin immediately.

Photo of contractor by Amanda Bicknell, from the FEMA Photo Library, via Wikimedia Commons, used under public domain.

“Research Whisperer” explains how to build a simple research budget

An Apple keyboard with a green budget key in place of the shift key.

We’re pleased to reblog this Research Whisperer post by Jonathan O’Donnell. (Please note that the blogger is from Australia, so all costs are in AUD. Also, some research administration terms and cost rules may differ from those in the U.S.)

Every research project needs a budget*.

If you are applying for funding, you must say what you are planning to spend that funding on. More than that, you need to show how spending that money will help you to answer your research question.

So, developing the budget is the perfect time to plan your project clearly. A good budget shows the assessors that you have thought about your research in detail and, if it is done well, it can serve as a great, convincing overview of the project.

Here are five steps to create a simple budget for your research project.

1. List your activities

Make a list of everything that you plan to do in the project, and who is going to do it.

Take your methodology and turn it into a step-by-step plan. Have you said that you will interview 50 people? Write it on your list.

Are you performing statistical analysis on your sample? Write it down.

Think through the implications of what you are going to do. Do you need to use a Thingatron? Note down that you will need to buy it, install it, and commission it.

What about travel? Write down each trip separately. Be specific. You can’t just go to ‘South East Asia’ to do fieldwork. You need to go to Kuala Lumpur to interview X number of people over Y weeks, then the same again for Singapore and Jakarta.

  • Your budget list might look like this:
  • I’m going to do 10 interviews in Kuala Lumpur; 10 interviews in Singapore; 10 interviews in Jakarta by me.
  • I’ll need teaching release for three months for fieldwork.
  • I’ll need Flights to KL, Singapore, Jakarta and back to Melbourne.
  • I’ll need Accommodation for a month in each place, plus per diem.
  • The transcription service will transcribe the 30 interviews.
  • I’ll analysis the transcribed results. (No teaching release required – I’ll do it in my meagre research time allowance.)
  • I’ll need a Thingatron X32C to do the trials.
  • Thing Inc will need to install the Thingatron. (I wonder how long that will take.)
  • The research assistant will do three trials a month with the Thingatron.
  • I’ll need to hire a research assistant (1 day per week for a year at Level B1.)
  • The research assistant will do the statistical analysis of the Thingatron results.
  • I’ll do the writing up in my research allowance time.

By the end, you should feel like you have thought through the entire project in detail. You should be able to walk someone else through the project, so grab a critical friend and read the list to them. If they ask questions, write down the answers.

This will help you to get to the level of specificity you need for the next step.

2. Check the rules again

You’ve already read the funding rules, right? If not, go and read them now – I’ll wait right here until you get back.

Once you’ve listed everything you want to do, go back and read the specific rules for budgets again. What is and isn’t allowed? The funding scheme won’t pay for equipment – you’ll need to fund your Thingatron from somewhere else. Cross it off.

Some schemes won’t fund people. Others won’t fund travel. It is important to know what you need for your project. It is just as important to know what you can include in the application that you are writing right now.

Most funding schemes won’t fund infrastructure (like building costs) and other things that aren’t directly related to the project. Some will, though. If they do, you should include overheads (i.e. the general costs that your organisation needs to keep running). This includes the cost of basics like power and lighting; desks and chairs; and cleaners and security staff. It also includes service areas like the university library. Ask your finance officer for help with this. Often, it is a percentage of the overall cost of the project.

If you are hiring people, don’t forget to use the right salary rate and include salary on-costs. These are the extra costs that an organisation has to pay for an employee, but that doesn’t appear in their pay check. This might include things like superannuation, leave loading, insurance, and payroll tax. Once again, your finance officer can help with this.

Your budget list might now look like this:

  • 10 interviews in Kuala Lumpur; 10 interviews in Singapore; 10 interviews in Jakarta by me.
  • Teaching release for three months for fieldwork.
  • Flights to KL, Singapore, Jakarta and back to Melbourne.
  • Accommodation for a month in each place, plus per diem, plus travel insurance (rule 3F).
  • Transcription of 30 interviews, by the transcription service.
  • Analysis of transcribed results, by me. No teaching release required.
  • Purchase and install Thingatron X32C, by Thing Inc. Not allowed by rule 3C. Organise access to Thingatron via partner organistion – this is an in-kind contribution to the project.
  • Three trials a month with Thingatron, by research assistant.
  • Statistical analysis of Thingatron results, by research assistant.
  • Research assistant: 1 day per week for a year at Level B1, plus 25.91% salary on-costs.
  • Overheads at 125% of total cash request, as per rule 3H.

3. Cost each item

For each item on your list, find a reasonable cost for it. Are you going to interview the fifty people and do the statistical analysis yourself? If so, do you need time release from teaching? How much time? What is your salary for that period of time, or how much will it cost to hire a replacement? Don’t forget any hidden costs, like salary on-costs.

If you aren’t going to do the work yourself, work out how long you need a research assistant for. Be realistic. Work out what level you want to employ them at, and find out how much that costs.

How much is your Thingatron going to cost? Sometimes, you can just look that stuff up on the web. Other times, you’ll need to ring a supplier, particularly if there are delivery and installation costs.

Jump on a travel website and find reasonable costs for travel to Kuala Lumpur and the other places. Find accommodation costs for the period that you are planning to stay, and work out living expenses. Your university, or your government, may have per diem rates for travel like this.

Make a note of where you got each of your estimates from. This will be handy later, when you write the budget justification.

  • 10 interviews in Kuala Lumpur; 10 interviews in Singapore; 10 interviews in Jakarta by me (see below for travel costs).
  • Teaching release for three months for fieldwork = $25,342 – advice from finance officer.
  • Flights to KL ($775), Singapore ($564), Jakarta ($726), Melbourne ($535) – Blue Sky airlines, return economy.
  • Accommodation for a month in each place (KL: $3,500; Sing: $4,245; Jak: $2,750 – long stay, three star accommodation as per TripAdviser).
  • Per diem for three months (60 days x $125 per day – University travel rules).
  • Travel insurance (rule 3F): $145 – University travel insurance calculator.
  • Transcription of 30 interviews, by the transcription service: 30 interviews x 60 minutes per interview x $2.75 per minute – Quote from transcription service, accented voices rate.
  • Analysis of transcribed results, by me. No teaching release required. (In-kind contribution of university worth $2,112 for one week of my time – advice from finance officer).
  • Purchase and install Thingatron X32C, by Thing Inc. Not allowed by rule 3C. Organise access to Thingatron via partner organistion – this is an in-kind contribution to the project. ($2,435 in-kind – quote from partner organisation, at ‘favoured client’ rate.)
  • Three trials a month with Thingatron, by research assistant.
  • Statistical analysis of Thingatron results, by research assistant.
  • Research assistant: 1 day per week for a year at Level B1, plus 25.91% salary on-costs. $12,456 – advice from finance officer.
  • Overheads at 125% of total cash request, as per rule 3H.

Things are getting messy, but the next step will tidy it up.

4. Put it in a spreadsheet

Some people work naturally in spreadsheets (like Excel). Others don’t. If you don’t like Excel, tough. You are going to be doing research budgets for the rest of your research life.

When you are working with budgets, a spreadsheet is the right tool for the job, so learn to use it! Learn enough to construct a simple budget – adding things up and multiplying things together will get you through most of it. Go and do a course if you have to.

For a start, your spreadsheet will multiply things like 7 days in Kuala Lumpur at $89.52 per day, and it will also add up all of your sub-totals for you.

If your budget doesn’t add up properly (because, for example, you constructed it as a table in Word), two things will happen. First, you will look foolish. Secondly, and more importantly, people will lose confidence in all your other numbers, too. If your total is wrong, they will start to question the validity of the rest of your budget. You don’t want that.

If you are shy of maths, then Excel is your friend. It will do most of the heavy lifting for you.

For this exercise, the trick is to put each number on a new line. Here is how it might look.

Simple research budget

Budget items Number of items Cost per item Total cash cost In-kind cost Notes
Melbourne – Kuala Lumpur economy airfare 1 $775.00 $775.00 Blue Sky Airlines
1 month accommodation 1 $3,500.00 $3,500.00 1 month x long stay via TripAdvisor
30 days per diem 30 $125.00 $3,750.00 University travel rules
Kuala Lumpur – Singapore economy airfare 1 $564.00 $564.00 Blue Sky Airlines
1 month accommodation 1 $4,245.00 $4,245.00 1 month x long stay via TripAdvisor
30 days per diem 30 $125.00 $3,750.00 University travel rules
Singapore – Jakarta economy airfare 1 $726.00 $726.00 Blue Sky Airlines
1 month accommodation 1 $2,750.00 $2,750.00 1 month x long stay via TripAdvisor
30 days per diem 30 $125.00 $3,750.00 University travel rules
Jakarta – Melbourne economy airfare 1 $535.00 $535.00 Blue Sky Airlines
Travel insurance: 90 days, South East Asia 90 $1.61 $145.00 University travel rules
Transcription: 30 interviews with foreign accents 1800 $2.75 $4,950.00 Quote from transcription service
Access to Thingatron $2,435.00 Favoured client rate, Thing Inc.
Chief Investigator: 0.2 of Academic D.2 $36,457.00 Includes 25.91% salary on-costs
Teaching relief: 90 days of Academic D.2 $25,342.00 Includes 25.91% salary on-costs
Research Assistant: 0.1 of Academic B.1 $12,456.00 Includes 25.91% salary on-costs
Sub-total $67,238.00 $38,892.00
Overheads $84,047.50 University overheads at 125%
Total $151,285.50 $38,892.00

5. Justify it

Accompanying every budget is a budget justification. For each item in your budget, you need to answer two questions:

  • Why do you need this money?
  • Where did you get your figures from?

The budget justification links your budget to your project plan and back again. Everything item in your budget should be listed in your budget justification, so take the list from your budget and paste it into your budget justification.

For each item, give a short paragraph that says why you need it. Refer back to the project plan and expand on what is there. For example, if you have listed a research assistant in your application, this is a perfect opportunity to say what the research assistant will be doing.

Also, for each item, show where you got your figures from. For a research assistant, this might mean talking about the level of responsibility required, so people can understand why you chose the salary level. For a flight, it might be as easy as saying: “Blue Sky airlines economy return flight.”

Here is an example for just one aspect of the budget:

Fieldwork: Kuala Lumpur
Past experience has shown that one month allows enough time to refine and localise interview questions with research partners at University of Malaya, test interview instrument, recruit participants, conduct ten x one-hour interviews with field notes. In addition, the novel methodology will be presented at CONF2015, to be held in Malaysia in February 2015.

Melbourne – Kuala Lumpur economy airfare is based on current Blue Sky Airlines rates. Note that airfares have been kept to a minimum by travelling from country to country, rather than returning to Australia.

1 month accommodation is based on three star, long stay accommodation rates provided by TripAdvisor.

30 days per diem rate is based on standard university rates for South-East Asia.

Pro tip: Use the same nomenclature everywhere. If you list a Thingatron X32C in your budget, then call it a Thingatron X32C in your budget justification and project plan. In an ideal world, someone should be able to flip from the project plan, to the budget and to the budget justification and back again and always know exactly where they are.

  • Project plan: “Doing fieldwork in Malaysia? Whereabouts?” Flips to budget.
  • Budget: “A month in Kuala Lumpur – OK. Why a month?” Flips to budget justification.
  • Budget justification: “Ah, the field work happens at the same time as the conference. Now I get it. So, what are they presenting at the conference?” Flips back to the project description…

So, there you have it: Make a list; check the rules; cost everything; spreadsheet it; and then justify it. Budget done. Good job, team!

This article builds on several previous articles. I have shamelessly stolen from them.

* Actually, there are some grant schemes that give you a fixed amount of money, which I think is a really great idea. However, you will still need to work out what you are going to spend the money on, so you will still need a budget at some stage, even if you don’t need it for the application.

Source: How to make a simple research budget

Building blocks photo by André Hofmeister via Flickr.  Budget keyboard photo by Got Credit via Flickr. Both used under Creative Commons license.

NSF update summarized

Logo of the National Science Foundation

Last week at the 9th Annual Meeting for Pre-Award Research Administrators (PRA), sponsored by the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA), Jean Feldman, head of NSF’s Policy Office within the Office of Budget, Finance & Award Management, offered a concurrent session in which she updated attendees on happenings at the NSF. A summary of this information is provided below:

  • NSF issued a new proposal guide on November 20, 2104. Most of the changes in the new document are related to NSF’s implementation of the new UG, as summarized below.
    • Administrative and clerical salaries and wages can be charged as direct costs as long as: 1) they are explicitly identified in the approved budget or have written approval from NSF and 2) they are integral to accomplishing the goals and objectives of the project and 3) they are not included in the facilities and administrative (F&A) costs base. You must be able to answer “Yes” to the question, “Are these costs necessary to complete the project as proposed?” to charge these salaries and wages as direct costs.
    • Compensation for care for children, older adults, and other qualifying dependents is allowable for those traveling to attend a Federally-funded conference if those costs are 1) over and above the costs of regular care (e.g., overnight or weekend care) and 2) consistent with regular benefits of the home institution. If the home institution does not normally cover these costs, the Federal government cannot be asked to cover them.
    • Participant support costs are to be excluded from all Federally-sponsored awards. Any participant support costs listed under “Other” in the participant support category in the NSF budget must be heavily justified.
    • General operating computing devices that are essential to the project and allocable — even if they are not 100% dedicated — can now be requested under materials and supplies.
    • NSF will pay an institution’s Federally-negotiated F&A rate unless the NSF Director gives approval to use a reduced rate (as in the case of the MRI program, for example). For domestic sub-recipients, NSF will pay the negotiated rate unless the sub-recipient does not have such a rate, in which case NSF will pay 10% or negotiate an award-based rate with the sub-recipient, at the sub-recipient’s discretion. Foreign sub-recipient will be paid F&A at a 10% rate, unless they already have an existing negotiated rate.
  • Look for new NSF award terms and conditions to be published by NSF. Once published, ensure our award documents (and subaward documents) are not referencing old documents.
  • Three new notifications and requests now require prior NSF approval:
    • Moving funds into the participant support OTHER category
    • Moving funds into administrative support
    • Long-term travel by PI
  • If an NSF deadline falls on a day when the government is shut down by inclement weather, the deadline is postponed to the next day on which the government is open for business.
  • Each individual prime and sub-recipient budget justification can now run up to three pages.
  • Ideas Lab is a new merit review strategy/funding mechanism being used at the National Science Foundation to address grand challenges. While Feldman offered no specific information about this program, a “Dear Colleague” letter from January 2014 indicates that the “Ideas Lab process is modeled on the ‘IDEAS Factory’ program developed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) of the United Kingdom. The Ideas Lab process starts with submission of a brief application to participate in the Ideas Lab, indicating a Principal Investigator’s interest in and preliminary ideas regarding the specific Ideas Lab topic. A diverse sub-set of participants from a range of disciplines and backgrounds will be selected from the submitted applications by NSF and will be brought together in an intensive, interactive and free-thinking environment, where participants immerse themselves in a collaborative dialog in order to construct bold and innovative approaches. In the IDEAS Factory model, the five-day Ideas Lab culminates with the development of multidisciplinary collaborative concepts by teams of participants; a sub-set of these teams are then invited to submit full proposals.”
  • Clarification was given on the “2-month salary rule,” which states that a PI may have only two months’ NSF salary across all NSF grants. However, a PI may be able to justify more than two months and re-budget as long as the change does not impact the scope of the project. Such re-budgeting might be justified, for example, in the event that a postdoctoral researcher could not be hired and the PI is therefore required to take over the activities that were intended to be the responsibility of the postdoc.
  • Technical reports are overdue on the 91st day after a proposal end date.
  • Final financial reporting must be done in the Award Cash Management system, no later than 120 days after a proposal end date.
  • All new rules apply to new awards or amended existing awards made on or after December 26, 2014. Therefore, if a new increment is awarded, then the new rules apply to all available funds.

Written by Tricia Callahan, Director of Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

“Information” image by Magnus Akselvoll via Flickr.  Used under Creative Commons license.