Information about how to prepare a research application
Preparing a Proposal
Competition for research funding is increasing and only proposals of the highest quality have a good chance of success.
- Check the funder’s guidance
Funders publish generic or specific guidelines for their schemes. This will cover issues such as eligibility, application requirements, financial details, selection process, timetable of events. Sometimes the requirements are very detailed (such as instructions on number of pages, specific fonts and font sizes).
- Check the assessment criteria
Make sure your proposal directly addresses the criteria set out by the funder. There is no point spending a lot of time on a proposal which does not even meet the funder’s requirements.
- Check the timescales
You will need time to put together the scientific parts of the proposal, draw up a robust budget, involve any collaborators as necessary, follow internal LSHTM processes to get the proposal and the budget approved, and ensure the full proposal is presented in line with the funder’s guidelines. All this must be done in sufficient time to meet the deadline for submission.
- Check with the experts
Identify colleagues who have previous experience of successfully applying to the funder and ask for their advice. Follow faculty procedures to ensure that your proposal is reviewed prior to submission.
- Check internal approval procedures
Familiarise yourself with internal approval procedures so that you are clear what you need to do and how long it takes. Make sure you have administrative support to help prepare the application. Raise any queries about budgeting, contractual issues and application procedures with Research Operations Office. If this is an online submission requiring official approval, make sure that your Dean of Faculty and Research Operations team are aware of the deadline.
Standard Application Process
Check the funder’s guidance notes for the scheme
Make sure you:
- understand the funder’s requirements
- understand the funder’s application submission process
- understand how the application will be assessed
- check that you and your collaborators are eligible for the scheme
- complete any pre-submission registration requirements
If you have any queries, you should check with Research Operations Office and/or contact the funder for advice.
Obtain ‘approval in principle’ from your faculty
Draw up a high level research plan (see below) so that you have enough information to complete the Letter of Intent form following the Letter of Intent procedure user guide. This informs your faculty that you wish to submit an application to the funder. The faculty may approve your intention subject to certain conditions.
Draw up a research plan
This might involve the following steps:
- Define your objectives; define the various tasks and activities that must be completed in order to meet each objective
- Identify the project team and the roles and responsibilities of each member
- In simple projects, objectives are probably achieved in a linear fashion. In more complex projects, objectives may be run in parallel and coordinated by different members of the project team
- Estimate the time required to complete each activity; draw up a Gantt chart or similar to represent the different stages of the project
- Use the time estimates to identify the involvement of each member of the project team (assume a full-time member of staff [1.0 FTE, or full-time equivalent] = 220 days or 44 weeks or 1650 hours)
- Identify other resources that will be needed (equipment, travel, project-specific consumables and fieldwork costs)
Check that your research plan is feasible:
- Staff capacity – will staff be available to work on the project?
- Cross-faculty projects – are the non-lead faculties aware of the project and is there agreement about how it will be managed?
- External collaborators/project partners – have these costs been approved and submitted to the lead partner at LSHTM in the correct format?
- Space – is there sufficient lab and office space for staff?
- New equipment – what is the funder’s policy on funding equipment? Is a contribution required from your faculty?
- Facilities charges – will the funder pay a contribution towards the costs of shared equipment and research facilities? How should these be estimated?
- Professional services/fees – have written quotes been obtained? Do tendering requirements apply?
- Open access publishing and data management – what are the funder’s expectations of publishing and data access? How does this fit with LSHTM policies?
- Administrative support – do you have sufficient administrative support at the appropriate level to enable you to manage the project effectively? does the funder allow you to include the costs of project administrative support?
- Day to day consumables – does the funder expect you to cover day to day office costs (eg. photocopying, phone calls, stationery) from project overheads?
Internal peer review is a good way of strengthening the quality of your proposal. Discuss how best to do this with your Head of Department.
Obtain internal approval for the full proposal
Set up a budget for the proposal using the project costing tool pFACT. LSHTM runs regular training courses on pFACT for beginners and user documentation is available on the pFACT Help page. There is also a checklist you should use to ensure you have captured all the costs required to undertake the research work.
pFACT will automatically calculate the full economic cost (FEC) of the project. The FEC does not depend on the funder and shows the total cost to the School of undertaking a given piece of work, including both the direct costs of the project and the costs of the administrative, estates and IT services that will support it. The price (ie. the amount we charge the funder) will be determined by the ‘income template’ that is selected for the funder. There are suitable income templates for the key funders and some generic templates that suit most other types of proposal. If there is any doubt about which income template to choose for the proposal, you should contact the Research Operations Office.
Once the budget is complete and the scientific case is written, you should follow the 'pFACT approval' procedure which is the formal sign-off required before submission to the funder. It can take at least 5 working days for pFACT proposals to be fully approved by all parties.
Complete the funder’s application form
Once pFACT approval has been obtained, you can submit the funder’s application form.
Some application forms require data to be entered in a particular format. You should check the pFACT Help page to see if there any instructions on how to transfer data from the pFACT proposal to the funder’s form. If you have any queries you should contact Research Operations Office.
Many funders require proposals to be submitted through an online submission system. Sometimes this is a two-stage process. The Principal Investigator first submits the application form to the Institutional Authority (ie. Research Operations Office). The Institutional Authority must then approve the form before it can be formally submitted to the funder.
It is the responsibility of the Principal Investigator to clarify the submission process for the funder in advance with Research Operations Office and to ensure that applications are submitted in good time.
The majority of proposals are straightforward but there are some complications which should be considered at an early stage to avoid later delays in the approval and submission process.
Is this a response to a restricted call?
Funding schemes that impose limits on the number of applications per institution are managed by the Vice-Director’s Office, as a preliminary selection process will be required.
Does the application involve a new funder or funding scheme?
If so, the terms and conditions of funding must be reviewed by Research Operations Office as part of the approval process. ROO may wish to establish the terms and conditions of a new scheme and would certainly need to perform a credit check of new funders to assess the acceptability of payment terms.
Should the application budget be converted into a foreign currency?
Most budgets are submitted in GBP, EUR or USD. Costings should be converted to the currency using the conservative exchange rate for the month. These rates are maintained in the pFACT system. Costs are always entered to pFACT in pounds sterling but may be reported in foreign currency if required.
If the budget should be converted to a currency other than EUR or USD, you should first contact Finance Department to find out what exchange rate to use and then ask Research Operations Office to set up the exchange rate in pFACT.
Does the application require a contribution from LSHTM?
Many funders expect a contribution from the School.
The Wellcome Trust assumes that certain costs, such as senior staff time, will be contributed by the School.
RC-UK applications assume that the research institution is prepared to contribute 20% towards the full economic cost (FEC) of the project. This is why LSHTM’s budget (pFACT) approval procedure includes a financial assessment to check that cost recovery is sufficient for this to be the case. There are some proposals to RCU-UK (particularly clinical trials, which include a lot of administrative support) which need to be budgeted very carefully to ensure that it is feasible for LSHTM to contribute 20% FEC.
RC-UK funders also expect research institutions to cover 50% of the cost of items of equipment over £10K. This should be discussed with your faculty at an early stage in the application, as you will require approval from your Dean of Faculty.
Some funders offer fellowships to senior staff which cover only 50% of salary costs. The expectation is that remainder will be covered by the research institution. In these cases, the Dean of Faculty will need to provide a letter of support to attach to the application.
Does the proposal involve collaborators from other universities (UK or overseas)?
Principal Investigators should be aware that proposals involving partners from other organisations take longer to process internally. The lead partner (LSHTM) must take responsibility in such cases for coordinating all aspects of the application, including costing and pricing, negotiating funder terms and conditions, oversight of tendering processes, setting up subcontracts with the partners, transferring funds to them and subsequent project and financial management.
At application stage the main difficulty is getting the partners to supply their budgets in the correct format and level of detail. However, at contract negotiation stage there may be lengthy delays as subcontracts and third party agreements are set up. The EC requires partners to set up a consortium agreement to deal with this aspect of project management.
Will any research work be carried out off-site?
In cases where research work led by LSHTM is to take place off-site (such as clinical studies) there may be additional contractual issues, such as additional indemnity or insurance cover.
Note that this is different from subcontracted or collaborative work, which is carried out by project partners at other organisations.
Careful consideration should also be given to the impact of off-site research work to the proposal costs. For example, RC-UK may require an adjustment to the estates costs where a researcher works abroad, or at another institution, for 6 months or more. Equally, off-site providers may charge bench fees for the cost incurred by the presence of LSHTM staff.
Will the research project involve humans, human tissue or human data?
All health related projects involving humans, human tissue (including cells) and/or data are defined as ‘healthcare research’. The design of such projects must comply with regulatory requirements (including the Data Protection Act 1998, Medical Devices Regulations 2002, Clinical Trials regulations 2004 and Human Tissue Act), the Research Governance Framework and Good Clinical Practice.
Healthcare projects must have a sponsor organisation. The sponsor is the legally named organisation responsible for the initiation, management and/or financing (or arranging the financing), of a research project. Sponsorship assessment must be completed before ethics approval can be sought and the grant application submitted.
Healthcare projects and clinical trials must perform certain assessment and registration processes:
- Register with the Joint Research Compliance Office
- Insurance assessment
- Sponsorship assessment
- Ethics approval
More information is available from Quality and Governance Manager.
Online submission systems
A growing number of funders now require applications to be submitted online.
|Funder||System Name||Is approval from ROO required?|
|Arthritis Research UK||CC Grant Tracker||No|
|Breast Cancer Campaign||CC Grant Tracker||Yes|
|British Heart Foundation||GMS||Yes|
|BUPA Foundation||CC Grant Tracker||No|
|Cancer Research UK||eGMS||Yes|
|Leverhulme Trust||CC Grant Tracker||Yes|
Principal Investigators must register to use the online system and then create an account.
- PIs should register directly through the funder’s submission portal.
In some cases, Research Operations Office (ROO) have to confirm the registration with the funder before the PI can go on to create an account (examples are Je-S system and the US eRA Commons system).
- PIs must still follow LSHTM procedures by seeking approval first at Letter of Intent stage and then at pFACT (budgeting) stage.
- PIs should check each online submission process carefully.
Submissions via online portals are not always direct. For example, Je-S system requires ROO to approve applications form before they can be submitted to the funder; eGRANTS requires approval from both Dean of Faculty and ROO; Grants.gov requires ROO to submit the proposal on behalf of the PI.
- Je-S system deadlines are strictly enforced.
The deadline will always be 4pm on a particular day. The Je-S portal is closed at that point and no further submissions to the call can take place.
|Funder||System Name||Is approval from ROO required?|
|US Govt Agencies||Grants.gov||Yes|
|National Institutes of Health (NIH)||Grants.gov||Yes|
The EC requires coordinators (but not participants) to use EPSS – the Electronic Proposal Submission System. Each call requires a separate registration.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Gates applications are submitted online but once they have been approved in pFACT do not have to be approved by ROO. The budget must be presented using a special financial template and you can find instructions on how to complete this template on the Submissions section of the pFACT Help page.
This is a one-stop portal where applicants can find and apply for US Federal Government grant opportunities. Applicants can search for funding opportunities, register to receive funding alerts, download application packages and upload completed applications.
All grant applicants must register for a Grants.gov account. But you do not need to register if you are a Co-Investigator or Researcher on an application submitted by another institution.
This is used by NIH and other US Government Agencies in conjunction with Grants.gov. Applications are submitted by grants.gov but are then supported (from submission through to grant closure) by eRA Commons.
This means that applicants submit applications via grants.gov but all further communication (by email) takes place within the eRA Commons system.
All applicants need to have an eRA Commons user account and can use the account to review the status and details of their application. ROO is responsible for creating an eRA Commons User Account for applicants from LSHTM. You should supply the following information:
- Full name
- Email address
- Date of birth (mm/dd/yy)
Applications to National Institutes of Health (NIH)
This is a complicated application system so you must leave plenty of time to complete it properly.
Applicants (lead partners) must be registered with both grants.gov and eRA Commons.
The application form is downloaded from grants.gov and completed offline. The application form is a pdf file and can only be opened if Adobe Reader 9 is installed on your computer.
NIH application packs provide detailed instructions on how to complete the form. There are numerous files that need to be attached to the form. Remember that you may need to attach dummy files temporarily in some mandatory fields in order to progress from screen to screen. Detailed instructions on how to complete a NIH application form can be found in the Submissions section of the pFACT Help page.
Partners from other universities must each complete a ‘subgrantee’ budget and the lead partner must then attach the subgrantee budget, section by section, to the main budget.
When the application is ready to submit, it should be emailed to ROO for approval and submission to grants.gov. It is then automatically routed to the eRA Commons system and an email is sent to the PI and the submitter in ROO with a tracking number. Shortly after this, another email will be sent either to confirm that the form has been fully validated and submitted to the funder, or to identify a list of errors to be corrected before the form is resubmitted.
The application must be error-free before it is submitted to the funder and it is important to leave around 48 hours for this process to be completed. Remember that the NIH application deadline refers to the date when eRA Commons finally submits the form to NIH and not to the date when the form is submitted to grants.gov. The PI will receive an email from eRA Commons to confirm that submission has taken place.