Frequently Asked Questions
What you need to know about research development and grants management in the College!
FAQ (Proposal Development)
The key information that should be included are the 'why,' 'what,' 'how' and timeframe for completion of your activities on the proposal. This is not the same as a budget justification or a description of your credentials and qualifications. Please see the central resource page for a template and instructions.
Ideally, yes, and some sponsors may specifically request them as an appendix item to an application. If not requested, but the application provides an opportunity to attach additional documents or appendices, it is still advisable to include them. LOCs help demonstrate that your relationship with a collaborator is strong, which instills confidence in a sponsor that the project you are proposing will be successful. Letters, generally one page to two pages at the most, should include three main components in which the collaborator:
- expresses strong support for the project
- identifies how the project aligns with their organization’s/lab’s mission or research priorities/interests
- describes the role they will have and the contributions they will make to the project
Start this step early in the grant writing process, as often the drafting, finalizing, signing, and organizational approval process, if applicable, can take a significant amount of time.
We encourage investigators to reach out to us as early as possible in this collaborative process so that they can receive the full support and services of our office. View our timeline and how we can help.
Proposals are generally processed on a first-come, first-served basis. In times of high proposal volume, it is especially important to begin working with us well ahead of the published deadline to ensure a successful and smooth submission.
Note that proposals with complex elements (i.e., subrecipients/subcontracts, cost sharing/matching, original signatures on documents, hard copy/mailing/FedEx, foreign collaborators, single IRB, program income, potential export control, IP considerations, industry partnerships and external submission systems) will require additional processing time for coordination and review.
You can complete our online proposal form and provide basic information on what you intend to submit.
Within 24 to 48 hours, barring delays caused by the form being submitted on a weekend or holiday, you will receive an email from firstname.lastname@example.org titled Proposal Notification Received by CHS-SPO. Please take careful note of and adhere to the deadlines specified in this email.
CHS-SPO requires the following:
- Submit final budget and all documents 10 business days before deadline.
- Route proposal in RAMS-SPOT seven business days before deadline.
- Submit any revised, final documents three business days before deadline.
These deadlines will be included in the email mentioned above and represent the minimum amount of time required to process a proposal. It is highly recommended that faculty meet these checkpoints in advance of the deadlines. All documents and proposal related communication should be sent to email@example.com.
Please note that proposal documents do NOT have to be final at time of routing, with the exception of the budget. A member of the CHS-SPO team will notify you when all documents due at the first deadline have been reviewed and uploaded to RAMS-SPOT (final budget and all draft documents), so that you can proceed with routing your proposal for review. Without this confirmation you will be unable to route.
- Log into RAMS SPOT.
- Enter your log-in information (eID username and password). Upon entering your log-in information, your workspace should come up. You will see your proposal title and number (FP0000XXXX). Click on the proposal.
- On the next screen, on the left hand side, you will see a 'My Current Actions' header. Under the header, click 'Route for approval.'
- A pop-up screen should appear that includes all of the PI certifications. Please review the certifications and select Humanities and Sciences as your approver.
- Finally, click 'Ok.' By clicking 'Ok' you are electronically signing off on the proposal. That's it! Your proposal should now be routed for CHS approval.
Note: If off-campus, this will require the ability to access VPN!
The proposal is reviewed and approved at the College level by the CHS-SPO team lead. Following the completion of this step, the proposal is sent to the central Office of Sponsored Programs (Office of Research and Innovation) to be reviewed and approved at the university level. Communication will occur between central OSP, CHS-SPO and the faculty member about any changes that are needed before submission. Faculty are welcome to continue editing their proposal documents during the time that the College and university review and approval processes are taking place. However, no edits can occur after three business days prior to the application deadline.
We want your proposal to be submitted on time and be free of errors. This allows us to account for unanticipated issues that may arise during submission such as technical difficulties, computer failures and system issues (e.g., grants.gov validation errors or Fastlane site crashes).
External collaborators (non-VCU personnel) are often subrecipients and consultants (paid or unpaid). Please be sure to include potential subrecipient contacts in the online form so that our office can initiate the administrative process at those institutions/entities. General items needed from subrecipients include a signed institutional letter/consortium form, scope of work, detailed budget and justification, bios/CVs and other information per sponsor requirements. In most cases for consultants, we simply need a letter of commitment detailing their planned activities and compensation for those activities, and a biosketch/CV.
Internal collaborators are investigators from other departments/units at VCU with whom you are working on a project. When you are the lead PI, it is important that you let us know who your internal collaborators are so that we can work with our counterparts in their units to verify salary information and coordinate necessary approvals. When you are not the lead PI, it is equally important that you let us know when you are working on a proposal in another unit, so that we can work with our counterparts to ensure that they have the information they need for submission.
Definition: Project costs that are not borne by the external sponsor. Cost sharing of effort is the provision of faculty and/or staff time and related fringe benefits that were committed and provided in support of a project but are paid for by other sources of funding.
Oftentimes sponsors will require that some of the overall project costs be supported by the institution. Guidelines will stipulate when mandatory cost sharing or matching is required. If there is any required cost sharing/matching from the sponsor in the application guidelines please contact our office to discuss.
If your intention is to support a CHS graduate student (masters or doctoral) via a graduate research assistantship (GRA) then stipend and tuition should be included in your budget, as long as the sponsor allows for these expenses. Please discuss with us so that we can confirm the correct stipend and/or active tuition rates. Given the extensive costs of tuition and impact on budgets we recommend that in-state rates be included. Please discuss with CHS-SPO in advance if other rates need to be used.
If your intention is to support a non-CHS graduate student, please contact our office so that we can confirm the stipend and tuition rate for the outside school/unit.
The minimum annual salary for postdocs is mandated by FLSA and should be budgeted according to the effort requested. University guidelines require that postdoctoral health insurance be provided for the individual. Given this, health insurance is budgeted in proposals that include postdoctoral effort.
Congratulations! Once an official award notice is uploaded to RAMS-SPOT and/or received by central OSP, they will review and execute the agreement. The financial information will then be forwarded to VCU Grants, Contracts & Effort Reporting (GC&E). GC&E will then set up an index in Banner (VCU’s accounting system) for your project. Setting up the index usually takes about a week once GC&E receives the award confirmation, after which you will receive an email from GC&E with your index number. You must have an index number to begin spending.
Once you have your index number, you can work with your department’s fiscal manager to hire personnel, make purchases and spend funds according to the terms and conditions of your awarded budget.
The PI dashboard is a monitoring tool that allows you to view all of your financial grant information in one place. To access it, go to your MyVCU page and click on VCU Reporting Center. There is a Research Dashboard tab at the top that will take you to your personal dashboard portal. On your dashboard, you can see all of your grant expenditures, personnel commitments on grants, current and pending projects, monthly expense reports and more! If you’d like a personalized tour of the dashboard system, please email us! We will be glad to set one up for you!
Most likely, it’s because you are working on (or have worked on) a sponsored project at some point over the past year. All you have to do is log into the ECC system using the instructions in your email and verify that the percentages listed from the payroll system match your actual effort within a reasonable variance. If they match (or are within a reasonable proximity), you can certify your effort within the system. For more information about effort reporting, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Training on effort certification is provided by central OSP via their online blackboard training (Mandatory Sponsored Project and Effort Reporting Training). Feel free to refer back to your initial training materials on this process.
Beginning July 1, 2015, CHS implemented the use of the PI dashboard for certification of monthly expense reports. If you have an active grant (5-ledger) index, then you are likely already aware of the requirement that each grant index needs to be reconciled on a monthly basis. In the past this has been an issue for units struggling with limited resources and high workloads, resulting in a significant audit risk. The expense report certification through the PI dashboard streamlines the process and allows us to document that each responsible person has reviewed his or her grant indexes appropriately.
Each month, you will need to access the monthly expenditure reports in dashboard for all your active grant indexes and certify that you have done so. Certification is an assurance that you have looked at the information – not that it is perfect. If there are problems in your report, you should discuss them with your fiscal manager as soon as possible to resolve them. Think of this as your way to 'balance your grant checkbook' every month.
If reports are not certified, you will receive reminders from the system. Eventually, if reports are significantly in arrears, department chairs and fiscal managers will be notified to follow up with you.
Each month, fiscal managers will use the dashboard monthly expenditure reports to expedite the reconciliation process, verifying that all expenditures are appropriate and that required documentation is on file.