The core mission of Office of Research Development in the Division of Natural Sciences is to identify proposal and funding opportunities that might be of interest to natural sciences faculty and to provide pre-award support for large, complex, interdisciplinary, and/or multidisciplinary proposals. In practice, we provide support to anyone who requests support as much as we are able, prioritizing based on the size and complexity including number of collaborators at Duke and elsewhere, size of the budget, special proposal requirements, etc.
Office of Research Development
How Proposals are Processed for Submission to Funding Agencies
All research proposals for Duke University (excluding the Medical School) are submitted through the Office of Research Support (ORS). Principal Investigators (PIs) bear a legal responsibility for the work to be done, including budget management, but ORS provides guarantees to the funder that Duke University will bear the responsibility for providing resources and good management practices for proposals and awards.
Five Days Before Proposal Deadline
Five business days (or more) before the proposal is due to the funding agency your grant manager will submit your proposal for institutional review into the Sponsored Projects System (SPS). SPS gathers information Duke needs to vet a proposal and routes the proposal automatically to the home departments and schools of the faculty involved in the proposal. The purpose of the review process is to make sure that the requirements of the solicitation are met and the departments and schools that may be making commitments in the proposals have had a chance to check the budget, etc. for accuracy and appropriateness. The five day requirement is firm. If a few key features of the proposal cannot be submitted to SPS on time (usually an abstract, a budget, the solicitation name or number, and some identifying information about the PI and Co-Investigators), a waiver is required. With very few exceptions, if the proposal is being submitted via grants.gov, SPS feeds directly into the grants.gov system.
Once the proposal has been submitted and an award is granted, ORS will set up the account codes needed to manage the financial aspects of the grant. Your grant manager or business manager will usually interact with ORS in that process. After that, the PI is responsible for meeting all of the technical and financial requirements of the award and will work with their grant manager to ensure compliance with the financial requirements.
The Office of Sponsored Programs is responsible for post-award management for all of Duke University, including the School of Medicine. Most of your interaction with the Office of Sponsored Programs will probably be through a grant manager or your department’s business manager.
Winning Grants Starts with Well Written Proposals
Researchers spend many years honing their craft in writing scholarly papers, but grant writing is a different animal altogether. Understanding the differences will make you a more successful grant writer and result in less frustration when you get reviewer feedback.
1. Know your audience
Whether a proposal is in direct response to a government or foundation solicitation or it is an unsolicited application, having a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the funder is still a major factor in how you write your proposal. A grant application is not written to your most expert peer; it should be written in more general laymen’s terms—with an educated but not expert reviewer in mind—and designed to convey your ideas in the context of solving a problem or advancing the state of the science. NIH is more focused on clinical advances and NSF is more focused on educational advances, but they both want to know why your research is necessary to move their research agendas forward. In other words, you should write your objectives with the following idea in the back of your mind: If my research is not funded, this is why that would be a huge mistake and have an impact on science and the human condition.
2. Sell your ideas
Proposals are sales documents. Your language should be clear and concise and demonstrate your passion for your work and its benefit to humanity. Try to capture on paper how you describe your research to your non-expert family and friends. That is the tone you want in your proposals. Then be sure to have an editor, like your research development partner, and some peers you trust who have had success winning grants from your target agency, review your proposal and offer feedback. Consider this your grant proposal peer review, just like you would have for a journal article.
For an excellent overview of good grant proposal writing vs. good academic writing, please see this article by Dr. Robert Porter of the University of Tennessee: Why Academics Have a Hard Time Writing Good Grant Proposals.
Program/Project Officers: Your Partners in Research
Success in sponsored research is not only about great research ideas. It’s also about building and nurturing relationships, managing and meeting expectations, and helping your funders meet their objectives and goals on time and within budget.
1. Talk to program officers before you submit your proposal.
Many researchers do not take the time to share project ideas with government officials before they submit them. While it is true that once a solicitation has been released, many government officials will not/cannot discuss the competition with applicants, many agencies welcome discussions throughout the process (e.g., defense and intelligence community sponsors). But EVERYONE welcomes and encourages these conversations before solicitations are released. In fact, Program Officers are excited to talk to researchers and offer feedback on project ideas. Most Program Officers are fellow scientists. They want the best research funded. That is how they are evaluated and how they build their research portfolios. Help them be successful by viewing them as collaborators and partners. In the Defense community, there are many examples of long-term partnerships between program officers and researchers where research is funded over decades because it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
Schedule some time to talk to your Research Development specialist today about your research plans to determine best funders and the right strategies for reaching them.
Dr. Robert Porter of the University of Tennessee offers some great guidance on how to talk to program officers pre-award. See: Can We Talk? Contacting Grant Program Officers
2. Follow up regularly with your Program Officer post-award.
Government Program Officers rely on their researchers to communicate not only according to contractual or established deadlines and methods about traditional project management topics (personnel changes, budget, deliverables, etc.), but also in informal ways throughout the research programs. Consider contacting your program/project officer with:
- High-quality graphics or photographs of compelling results
- Copies of publications that resulted from their funding
- Notification of conference presentations, posters, or invited talks discussing funded work (ask if your PO will be attending those conferences and be sure to thank them for their support in your presentations and posters!)
- Ideas about future research possibilities stemming from current funded research or new ideas altogether.
The message is that you are thinking about and standing by to meet their needs.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has provided guidance on pre- and post-award communication with their Program Officers in this presentation.
The Office of Research Development can provide the following pre-award services for your next proposal. Please contact Carmel Lee, Director of Research Opportunities for more information.
Review solicitations for large and multi-investigator requests, identify key required features, and work with PI to establish proposal development timelines.
- Provide customized and tailored templates
- Develop compliance matrix to ensure no requirements are missed
- Draft proposal schedule to establish interim milestones that will reduce last-minute panic and increase time for review and rewrites
Assist in team development and support, including scheduling and logistics for meetings (working in conjunction with the lead PI)
- Assist with outreach to external collaborators/subcontractors
- Work with your administrative support personnel to ensure meetings are effective
Strategize best ways to frame project ideas in the context of funder goals and mission
- Work with you to refine your Specific Aims, Project Goals, and other reviewer-centric documents to increase your chance of funding
Support budget development
- Work with your department’s grant manager on budget preparation and application logistics to ensure ORS approval
Research and write (or co-write) non-technical proposal sections
- Collect and format biosketches, current and pending/other support, budget justifications, facilities and equipment, and management approaches
Edit and format proposal and prepare file(s) for submission
- Apply years of experience editing hundreds of federal proposals in sciences, engineering and IT
- Understand federal proposal requirements and ensure compliance
Large Scale, Multi-Institution or Multi-Department Proposals
Some large proposals require extensive interaction with industry partners, ranging from letters of support to full-blown involvement in research. Research Development support includes working closely with both Duke Corporate and Foundation Relations professionals to identify appropriate industry contacts, gather letters, help negotiate research agreements, and maintain appropriate communications with industry representatives. Ongoing communication between Research Development and Corporate and Foundation Relations ensures that Duke’s research agenda is forwarded to those external partners who have the greatest interest in collaboration.
Duke Research and Proposal Development Resources
Office of Research Support (ORS)
- Grant Writing Resources (https://ors.duke.edu/orsmanual/proposal-writing-guides)
- Facilities and Shared Resources Write-ups (https://ors.duke.edu/resources)
- Writing Data Management Plans (http://library.duke.edu/data/guides/data-management/)
Foundation Relations provides support for PIs interested in applying to private foundations for funding. Many of these calls are limited opportunities that have restrictions, so please work with the Foundation Relations team if you have questions.
- Vera Luck supports Natural Sciences faculty in Foundation Relations. Please contact her for support on any Foundations-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Foundation Directory Online allows PIs to search for Foundation funding opportunities. This database is accessible with your Duke NetID and password.
ORS maintains a list of current funding opportunities from multiple sources, both Federal and Foundation. You can subscribe to this list here: https://researchfunding.duke.edu/subscribe.asp. Email updates are sent each Monday morning.
Duke maintains a license to the Community of Science (COS) PIVOT tool, a database that researchers, research development staff, and administrators can use to identify sources of funding, funding opportunities, and potential internal and external collaborators
- Pivot Cheat Sheet – How to use Pivot to find funding opportunities
- For one-on-one and group Pivot training, please email ORS at email@example.com.
Proposal Checklists and Templates
NIH Submission Guide: This helpful guide takes you through the process of crafting a compelling idea, running it by an NIH Program Officer, getting feedback from your successful colleagues, a managing your timeline for submitting a winning proposal to NIH.
NIH Compliance and Responsibility Matrix: This downloadable table breaks down all of the PHS 398 requirements for NIH grants, allowing you to ensure you have addressed all of the requirements for submission.
NSF Writing Template: Download this proposal template, which includes all of the required sections and instructions to write your next NSF proposal in a format that is compliant with NSF guidelines.
NSF Biosketch Template: Download this biosketch template, which includes all of the required sections and instructions to complete your NSF biosketch in the required format.
- Grants.gov (http://www.grants.gov)
- Federal Business Opportunites, a.k.a. FedBizOpps (https://www.fbo.gov/)
National Science Foundation (NSF)
- NSF FastLane (https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/index.jsp)
- NSF Grant and Proposal Guide, effective February 2014 (http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappguide/nsf14001/gpg_index.jsp)
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- NIH Overview of Grants & Funding (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/grants_process.htm)
- NIH PHS398 Instructions and Forms (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/phs398/phs398.html)
- NIH Funding Vehicles (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/funding_program.htm)
- NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT) (http://report.nih.gov/)
- NIH 2013 Extramural Research Funding Databook and Reports (http://report.nih.gov/nihdatabook/index.aspx)
Department of Defense (DoD)
- Army Research Lab Extramural Basic Research Focus Areas (http://www.arl.army.mil/www/default.cfm?page=70)
- Air Force Research Areas (http://www.wpafb.af.mil/library/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=8973)
- DARPA Research Areas (http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/)
- Office of Naval Research (http://www.onr.navy.mil/)
Department of Energy (DOE)
- Open Funding Opportuntity Announcements (FOAs): http://science.energy.gov/grants/foas/open/