Collaborative Proposal FAQ

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What are the first steps to preparing a collaborative grant proposal?

After finding a suitable grant proposal solicitation:

  1. Scan the solicitation for words like “must.” Additionally, keywords used repeatedly may be particularly important.
  2. Potential collaborators – To help find collaborators, contact a relevant program such as

                                i.            Huck Institute of the Life Sciences

                              ii.            Social Science Research Institute

                            iii.            Child Maltreatment Solutions Network

  1. Interdisciplinary – For large interdisciplinary research projects, contact SIRO: The Strategic Interdisciplinary Research Office (SIRO).
  2. Concept Paper – Write a concept paper and discuss it with the department head(s) and/or unit director(s) with whom the collaborators are affiliated.
  3. Faculty Interest – Department heads may be aware of other faculty who are interested in the solicitation.
  4. Career Trajectory – If you are a junior faculty, your department head can advise on the fit between the project and your career trajectory.
  5. Contact Program Officer – Contact a program officer to determine whether your interpretation of the solicitation is accurate, before you start writing the proposal in earnest.
  6. Read the History – You should read the funding history of the program if it is ongoing. Agencies such as NIH and NSF have online abstracts.
  7. Research Staff – The research staff in your department and in units such as SSRI will be helpful.
  8. Colleagues – Colleagues familiar with the agency can also give you their interpretation of the solicitation.
  9. Proposal Examples – If possible, obtain copies of successful proposals from the agency or the grants office.

                                i.            NIH proposal examples.

Is there a unit on campus that can help with large, interdisciplinary proposals?

  1. Yes. The Strategic Interdisciplinary Research Office (SIRO) supports both the development of proposals and the administration of large and strategic projects at PSU.
  2. Supported projects typically involve significant efforts from faculty from two or more colleges or institutes, and are of strategic importance to the PSU research enterprise.
  3. Projects like these are typically quite time consuming and labor intensive to propose and manage, and SIRO is able to support these greater needs.
  4. SIRO also provides comprehensive pre- and post-award support for multiple institutes.

Is internal support available?

  1. If you need internal support during proposal preparation (e.g., to bring colleagues here from other institutions, to engage reviewers, to visit program officers, or for graduate student assistance), discuss it with your department head during the initial discussion.
  2. The initial discussion is also the time to explore the possibility of College or research center support with the Associate Dean for Research.

How should I secure cost sharing if required?

    Negotiate cost sharing of any kind with the Associate Dean for Research well before submission, preferably at least one month in advance.

Is there a suggested project plan for preparing a collaborative proposal?

Yes, here is what we recommend:

  1. Interpretation of Solicitation – Reach consensus among group members on the interpretation of the solicitation.
  2. Outline – Develop an outline of the research plan.
  3. PI Selection – If not already decided, select the principal investigator based on their reputation, research funding record, time available, and commitment to the project.
  4. Work Plan and Timeline – Develop a detailed work plan and timeline for completing the proposal, and establish time and effort commitments from all participants.

                                i.            Without a firm timeline with definite tasks connected to responsible parties, the probability of breakdown increases daily.

  1. Plan B – Devise a Plan B in case one or more researchers must either leave the group or modify the time and effort they can devote to the project.
  2. Focus – A project can lose focus if the PI(s) give undue weight to being inclusive rather than focusing on the intellectual agenda. Discuss this candidly and reach a consensus from the start.

How should we write a large proposal?

  1. First Draft – the “committee” approach often works, e.g., various team members draft sections of the proposal based on their expertise/interest. Then the group circulates the sessions and discusses in a group brainstorming session.
  2. Organizing – After the first draft, the project director (PI) assumes responsibility for integrating the sections so the proposal flows smoothly.

                                i.            S/he determines if pieces need more detail, if they are cohesive, and annotates as necessary before sending the entire document back to the group.

                              ii.            S/he would develop an appropriate process for circulating the proposal drafts, but should not feel compelled to circulate everything to everyone every time.

  1. Decisions – Sometimes a vote is not appropriate or there is no consensus; then, the project director must make the decision. Discuss this immediately with the group to avoid bruised egos or misunderstandings.
  2. Grants Office Role – During proposal development, the grants office is available for:

                                i.            Budget and budget justification development

                              ii.            Guidance on solicitation and agency regulations

                            iii.            Review of proposal content

                            iv.            Assembly of proposal

                              v.            Transmittal to sponsor (electronic or paper)

                            vi.            Any other assistance required.

It is therefore helpful to include selected grants office staff members in some group meetings so our assistance can come from a more informed perspective.

Can we have an external consultant/reviewer? If so, when, and who will pay for any fees?

    Yes. If time permits, you should engage a reviewer(s) for feedback on early and near-final drafts. The Research Office can assist with any fees involved.

If we submit a proposal through an institute/ center, and the director of the institute/center is in the field of the proposal, should s/he should automatically be the PI?

    Only if the proposing group decides this. Usually, groups choose directors based on reputation in field, record of sponsored funding, and leadership qualities.

What is the difference between a collaborative proposal and NSF’s Collaborative Proposal mechanism?

  1. In a collaborative proposal (other than for NSF), disparate investigators come together to propose a project on which they will work together.
  2. A tutorial on collaborative research is available from the Federal government.
  3. For the NSF Collaborative Proposal mechanism, investigators from two or more organizations simultaneously submit parts of the same proposal, with each organization requesting a separate award, rather than one organization requesting subawards.
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