FAQs for Researchers
The following is a list of frequently asked questions regarding a variety of key research issues including proposal submission, IRB, financial conflict of interest, incentives, post award, time and efforts, etc.
I. Funding Opportunities
1. Where can I find funding opportunities?
Faculty may subscribe to a variety of funding listservs to receive update. In addition, The Office of Research and TAMHSC VPR’s office also subscribe to a variety of funding listservs and routinely send out notices regarding funding opportunities. Researchers may also utilize Maestro to search for funding opportunities.
2. What should I consider in contemplating a proposal submission?
In considering a submission, researchers should begin by considering the alignment between the researcher’s idea and the funder’s interests/mission. Once a potential match is identified, the researcher should consider a number of other issues that impact the investment of time and energies in preparing a competitive submission. These considerations include sufficiency of funding (is the amount sufficient to conduct the research), timing (does the submission date allow sufficient time to prepare a competitive submission, is the funding term sufficient to complete the work), limited submissions (does the funder only allow one submission per institution), opportunity for collaboration, indirect rate limitations, and cost sharing of resources requirements.
II. Proposal Submission
1. I have identified a potential funding opportunity. How do I start the process?
2. What is SRS? Who is the authorized representative on grants/contracts?
Texas A&M Sponsored Research Services (SRS) serves the entity responsible for proposal submission and grants administration for Texas A&M System. SRS is considered the authorized submitter for proposal submissions.
3. What is Maestro? How do I approve proposals in Maestro?
Maestro is the electronic grants management and proposal routing system utilized by Sponsored Research Services. Investigators can access Maestro to approve proposal and view project account information including real time financial summaries. Maestro may be accessed via the quick links on the SPH website. When a proposal is pending approval, the PI will be notified via Outlook to log into Maestro and approve the proposal. Maestro uses the same username and password as SSO.
4. What is a limited submission? How does it impact me?
A limited submission occurs when a funder allows a limited number (usually one) from an organization. In the event an investigator identifies a funding opportunity that is a limited submission, they should notify the Office of Research. The Office will work with TAMU’s VPR to formally issue the limited submission opportunity. Investigators will then be invited to submit an e-proposal through the TAMU system. A panel will select the one proposal to go forward to the funder. It is important to identify when a RFA is a limited submission because often if a university submits more than the required number of applications, all applications could potentially be withdrawn. The limited submission site is available at http://vpr.tamu.edu/researchdevelopment/funding/lsp.
5. What materials are required to initiate the proposal routing?
In order to route a proposal through SRS, the following items are required: title, abstract, assurance form, budget and justification.
6. How do I develop a draft budget?
Please contact the SRS pre-award manager to initiate the process.
7. What is an indirect rate? What is the university’s indirect rate?
Also referred to as the Facilities and Administrative Rate (F&A), the indirect rate is the amount of overhead which is applied to projects to cover those costs that are not readily allocable to a project as a direct cost but are part of the cost of supporting research and outreach (facilities, library, administration). The current university approved rate for FY2014 is 45.5% for research, 26% for other sponsored activities, 26% for off-campus, and 7% for IPA agreements.
8. The funder maximum indirects are less than full indirects. What is required to obtain approval for this rate?
For Federal funders, if the indirect rate maximum is included in the RFA or posted publicly on the funder’s website, then no additional approvals are required in advance of routing. If non-federal funders, if less than full indirects is requested, the rate must be approved by the Vice President for Research in advance of the routing. Please contact the SPH Office of Research to obtain the waiver form. NOTE: Principal Investigators should request full indirects to the extent permissible by the funder.
9. International Funding: I am submitting to a funder in a foreign country. What indirect rate should be used?
Pursuant to Texas A&M System policy, full indirects should be requested in proposals submissions to international funders.
10. Corporate Partners: I am working with a for-profit corporation, what indirect rate should be used?
Pursant to Texas A&M System policy, full indirects should be included in proposals submitted to for-profit organizations.
11. Other types of funders: I am working with an organization without an indirect rate or a rate that is less than our university's rate. What approvals are required to submit to this funder?
Best efforts should be made to identify the organizaton’s indirect rate. It may be posted publically or it may be documented internally. If the organization does not have a standard rate or if they have a rate that is not publically posted, the organization representative should send verification of the organization’s indirect rate (0%, a reduced rate, etc.) to the PI and Office of Research. Approval of the rate by the HSC Vice President for Research approval is required before a proposal is routed or submitted to the funder.
12. Key Deadlines: What are the deadlines for proposal submission?
Proposal should be routed 1 week before the deadline including the title, abstract, budget, justification, and assurance. Final documents should be submitted to SRS by 3PM, 48 hours before the funder’s deadline to ensure adequate time for SRS to quality check the submission. If the deadline is missed, the PI will receive an email from SRS indicating the risks of late submission and notifying the PI that there may not be time for SRS to do a normal review of the application prior to submission. Any consequences of late submission are the responsibility of the PI.
13. Consultants and Subcontracts: What is the difference between a consultant and subcontract and what is required from each for routing?
A consultant is an individual that performs the work outside of his/her normal employment and an agreement is not required unless the consultant will be paid more than $5,000. Consultant payments are generally on an hourly basis. A subcontract is an agreement executed with an organization and includes a scope of work and budget.
14. What is cost sharing? How is it tracked?
Cost sharing is the commitment of time or effort by an investigator, staff member, or student that is covered by the university and not the funding source. Cost sharing must be approved in advance of proposal routing and project initiation. Example: A Principal Investigator wants to commit 25% to a project but the budget can only support 15%. The remaining 10% can be shown as a cost share. Cost sharing is a real commitment of resources requiring tracking and reporting. Therefore, it is important that the investigator carefully consider the cost sharing implications before proposing. Also note that the cost sharing portion contributes to the investigator's overall 100% effort.
15. What is leverage?
Leverage refers to commitments of time, funds, equipment, space, or other resource that are contributed to the project at no cost to the funder. Leveraging of resources is a means to demonstrate project commitment and support as well as increase the infrastructure available to the project without increasing the cost to the funder.
16. What are the common funding mechanisms (grants, contract, fixed price, deliverables based, hybrid, task orders)?
Grants are the most common funding mechanism and refer monetary awards granted to institutions. Contracts are instruments that are legally binding and often tie payment to delivery of a prescribed set of deliverables. Contracts may be fixed price which means the grantee receives a maximum amount of funding and unused funds are retained by the university. Cost reimbursable refers to a payment mechanism in which the funder pays the grantee for expenses as incurred. Deliverables based contracts tie payment to a set of deliverables. Hybrid agreements may contain elements of fixed price and cost reimbursable payments. It is important that investigators understand the payment type before initiating proposals and projects.
17. What is the difference between a graduate assistantship, wage position, and a stipend?
A graduate research assistantship is a salaried employment position. A wage position is an hourly position without benefits. A stipend is a flat payment; it does not create an employment relationship.
III. Post Award
1. What happens after I am notified of funding support? When can I start the project?
After you are notified of funding support by the funder, Sponsored Research Services should be contacted to initiate the award or contracting process. The investigator should also ensure IRB requirements are met. Projects involving human subjects must have approval by the IRB office before work can be initiated or expenditures can be incurred. SRS will freeze the account until IRB approval (or exemption) is obtained.
2. Who sets up the account? Where can I find my account number?
After the award or contract is executed, SRS sets up the account in FAMIS. Once set up, the investigator receives a notice of award (NGA) from SRS that includes the account number, contract reporting provisions, and general project information. It is strongly encouraged that the investigator reviews the award notice carefully in advance of project initiation to ensure compliance with the funding provisions.
3. How do I check on my balance? How do I interpret the financial reports?
Investigators can check their account balances in Maestro.
4. What is bridge or interim funding?
In the event of an anticipated significant delay in funding (1 or 2 months), bridge or interim funding may be requested as a means to initiate the project. In the event a project is not funded or not funded for the period in which expenses are incurred, the department, college, or school is responsible for covering the charges incurred during the interim funding period.
5. What is a no cost extension?
A no cost extension is a request to the funder by the PI for additional time to complete the project; no additional funds are awarded. The no cost extension request must be submitted according to the timeline in the notice of award and must be submitted by SRS. No cost extension periods are generally 6 to 12 months. From time to time, a second no cost extension may be granted with justification.
6. What is a cost extension?
A cost extension grants additional time and funding to the project. A cost extension must be submitted by SRS according to the NGA provisions.
7. What is carryover? How is it requested?
Carryover refers to carrying the unused funds from a prior year to the next year. Consult the notice of award to determine if this is allowed as this varies by funder. The carryover request must be submitted by SRS.
8. Can I rebudget between categories?
It depends. The notice of award will generally delineate rebudgeting requirements. Some funders allow up to a 25% rebudget while others are more restrictive.
9. How do I add investigators and/or research staff to my projects?
Once an investigator receives the formal notice of award from SRS, they should contact HR to add team members to the project in accordance with the approved budget.
10. What if I have subcontracts or consultants? How do I initiate their payment?
When a contract or grant is executed that includes a subcontractor, SRS post award negotiators will being the process of negotiating a subaward or consultant agreement. It is advised that upon award, the PI follow-up with the designated SRS administrator to initiate the process to ensure it is completed in a timely manner and to alert SRS to any potential changes or additions.
11. How do I submit reimbursement requests?
Investigators requesting travel or other reimbursement from a research account administered by SRS should complete the applicable reimbursement form available at the SRS website. https://srs.tamus.edu/forms/srs-forms/.
12. How do I submit vendor invoices for payment?
For expenses incurred on SRS projects, the investigator should sign the vendor invoice, denote the account number and send to firstname.lastname@example.org. NOTE: Invoices not paid within 30 days are subject to an additional interest charge denoted as a prompt payment interest charge. Invoices should be reconciled at least monthly to ensure payment is made promptly.
13. How do I request participant incentives (gift cards, etc.)?
In the event a project involves the distribution of participant incentives (cash or gift cards), the investigator should confirm the following: 1) the project budget includes incentives and 2) incentives were included in the IRB application. If incentives were not included initially, their inclusion could represent a change in scope, and approval from the funder will need to be requested before the incentives are purchased. An investigator may either purchase the incentives directly using personal funds and seek reimbursement after the cards are distributed or the investigator may request petty cash to be used to purchase the incentives. Please work with your project administrator in either scenario to ensure that all documentation is in place including receipts, participant distribution log, and close-out petty cash documentation. In the event incentives are not completely and accurately documented and reconciled, reimbursement may be denied.
14. How do I request a working fund?
Petty cash may be requested for use in the purchase of gift cards or distribution of cash as incentives. In order to request petty cash, complete the petty cash request form on the Financial Management Operations (FMO) website at http://fmo.tamu.edu/accounts-payable/working-funds/. Petty cash should be reconciled routinely and must be closed out before a project is closed out or additional petty cash is requested.
15. Where can I find the travel and purchasing policies as well as other forms (interim funding, delegation of authority, etc) required by Sponsored Research Services?
The SRS travel policy is available on the SRS website. https://srs.tamus.edu/forms/srs-forms/.
16. How are invoices submitted to sponsors?
SRS is responsible for sponsor invoicing according to award guidelines. Sponsor invoices may be submitted monthly, quarterly, or at other intervals depending on the award type and award provisions.
17. What is FAMIS?
FAMIS is the Financial Accounting and Management Information System for Texas A&M System. Since the FAMIS information is reflected in the more user friendly Maestro it may not be necessary for investigators to have FAMIS access.
18. What is Canopy?
Canopy is an on-line system used for financial management/monitoring; it includes information from the FAMIS system but is more user friendly. Canopy uses the same username and log in as FAMIS.
19. Who prepares the financial reports for sponsored research?
SRS prepares monthly, quarterly, and close-out financial reports (FSR).
20. What happens if I have funds remaining at the end of the project term? (Cost reimbursable versus fixed price)
If a project is cost reimbursable and funds are unexpended, those are forfeited (returned to funder). If a project is fixed price and funds are unexpended, those are rolled to a lapsed balance accounts (less applicable indirects applied). SRS requires that if more than 25% remains unexpended, a justification is also submitted prior to rolling the unexpended to a residual balance account.
21. What is a cash or lapsed balance?
A lapsed or cash account is an account set up to receive (deposit) unexpended funds from fixed price contracts.
22. Tuition: Can my GARs tuition be covered on my grant or contract?
Many funders, particularly federal funders, allow and encourage the inclusion of tuition and fees for graduate research assistants in project budgets. The university has a standard hourly rate to include in grants and contracts to cover tuition and fees. Please consult the guidance to determine if tuition/fees are allowed. Upon receipt of an award that includes tuition/fees, the student should submit the tuition statement to the PI for signature/approval. The statement then is sent to SRS for payment to Student Business Services. This process should be initiated at least two weeks before tuition/fees are due to avoid the student being dropped for late payment.
IV. Project Management
1. What are best practices in monitoring/managing my project and account?
Investigators should review their financial summaries and payroll monthly in Maestro to ensure the project expenditures match the proposed budget and adjust accordingly.
V. Human Subjects
1. When do I need to submit an IRB application?
Research involving human subjects must be submitted to the TAMU HSPP for administrative or IRB review prior to initiation including:
Research sponsored by TAMU
Research conducted by or directed by any employee, student, or trainee of the University in connection with his/her TAMU responsibilities
Research involving access to any property or facility of TAMU other than access to open spaces that are available to the public at large
Research that uses TAMU resources (includes the use of non-public information)
“Human subjects” are defined as as a living individuals about whom an investigator conducting research obtains data through intervention or interaction or other means that includes identifiable private information.
More information about the TAMU IRB procedures can be found at the following URL: http://rcb.tamu.edu/humansubjects.
2. Can the PI determine if a project is IRB exempt?
No. The IRB office makes the determination regarding whether a research project is exempt.
3. How do I submit a Human Subjects Application?
An IRB application should be submitted for any project that meets the federal definition of research. Research in this context is defined as a systematic investigation including research development and testing and evaluation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge. Activities which meet this definition constitute research whether or not they are conducted or supported under a program that is considered research for other purposes. Texas A&M has migrated to an online application that can be found at the following URL: https://iris.tamu.edu/. To be able to login to this system known as iRIS, you will need to use your UIN number and respective password. If you have trouble logging in, please call the iRIS Helpline with the telephone number listed on the login page.
University requirements specify that students cannot serve as principal investigators on protocols, even for their own thesis or dissertation research. Students can serve as protocol directors with their respective graduate advisors serving as principal investigators.
4. What is iRIS?
TAMU uses an online submission system for IRB applications called iRIS. The portal is found at https://vpr.tamu.edu/compliance. iRIS uses the same username and password as the SSO System.
5. What is CITI training? When must it be renewed?
CITI is a web-based ethics training course for those conducting research with human subjects. All principal investigators, co-investigators, and study personnel must complete CITI training with a minimum score of 90 percent. The course may be re-taken as many times as necessary to obtain a 90 percent average overall. Investigators can re-enter the modules with their lowest score and re-take the associated quizzes to reach a score of 90 percent. The URL about this training and instructions for signing in are located at: http://rcb.tamu.edu/humansubjects/training.
Human subjects' training must be renewed every three years, i.e., before the three-year anniversary of the investigator's most recent human subjects in research training. The online refresher course provided by CITI takes approximately one hour to complete. The completion report for the refresher will be due at the time of expiration. CITI provides a 30, 60, and 90 day reminder on expiration dates. Once an investigator's training has expired, any approvals or exemptions will be withdrawn until training is updated.
1. What is HIPAA?
The SRPH Office of Research has an extensive website regarding HIPAA and Protected Health Information. It is critical that investigators identify, secure, and protect any PHI. The HIPAA site is available at http://www.srph.tamhsc.edu/research/hipaa/.
1. What is the financial conflict of interest (FCOI)?
A conflict of interest occurs when an individual’s private interests compete with his/her professional obligations to the TAMUS system to a degree than an independent observer might reasonably question whether the individual’s professional actions or decisions are determined by considerations of personal gain, financial or otherwise.
In situations in which the research and interest are related, U.S. federal regulations define significant financial conflicts of interest:
- With regard to any publicly traded entity, value of any remuneration received from entity that exceeds $5,000 within last 12 months
- With regard to any non-publicly traded entity, value of any remuneration received from entity that exceeds $5,000 within last 12 months
- Intellectual property and royalty interests (e.g., patents, copyrights), upon receipt of income related to such rights
- The occurrence of any reimbursed or sponsored travel related to institutional responsibilities unless sponsored by a federal, state, or local government agency, an institution of higher education, an academic teaching hospital, or a research institute that is affiliated with an institution of higher education
- Gifts, when the value of a single gift exceeds $250 or when the aggregated value of multiple gifts from single entity exceeds $250
- Any fiduciary position (e.g., on Board of Directors) held by investigator or covered family member within past 12 months in which received any remuneration or reimbursement for expenses
2. When is FCOI disclosure required?
At hire, on an annual basis, pre-award as part of grant submission, post-award, and when there is any change in status.
3. How is FCOI certification documented?
FCOI certification is completed through Maestro. You will receive an annual notice asking you to renew your certification.
4. Who must complete the FCOI training and certification?
Anyone who meets the broad definition of investigator.
5. How long is my FCOI training valid?
FCOI training is valid for four years.
VIII. Time and Effort Reporting
1. What is Time and Effort reporting?
Time and effort (T&E) reporting refers to the federal requirement that anyone paid on federal funding sources must verify 100% of their effort.
2. How is Time and Effort tracked/reported? (SSO)
Time and effort is tracked in the Time and Effort System in Single Sign On.
3. How do I approve Time and Effort?
Twice each year, you will be asked to approve Time and Effort for the following periods via the SSO system (January-June; July-December).
4. Is Time and Effort different from payroll certification?
Yes, Time and Effort asks you to verify 100% of your effort; payroll certification asks you to verify that individuals are correctly paid on projects.
IX. Payroll certification
1. What is payroll certification?
Payroll certification refers to verifying that individuals paid from a project worked on the project and at the levels at which they were paid. Investigators should review payroll expenditures on a monthly basis to ensure accuracy. Payroll information is available through Maestro.
2. By when must payroll/efforts be submitted for processing?
Requests to have individuals paid on certain projects should be submitted the SRPH HR office by the 10th of the month in which they are to be paid.
3. What happens if I see an error in payroll?
Contact the SPH HR office to review and correct as soon as possible.
X. Other Key Topics
1. What is the research committee? Who are the representatives?
The SPH Research Advisory Committee consists of representatives from each department with significant research activities.
2. Where can I locate the Research policies and procedures?
3. What is the annual Excellence in Research Award?
Each year, the SPH recognizes outstanding Doctoral and Masters level students in the area of Research Excellence. Nominations are due in January to the SPH Office of Research.
4. What is the CPI?
The CPI is the Council of Principal Investigators for Texas A&M University System.
5. What is eRA commons?
eRA commons is the federal contract management system that enables PIs, Program Officials, and signing officials to interact. Each investigator who submits a proposal must have a eRA commons user ID. This must be requested at least two weeks before a proposal submission. PIs can log into eRA commons to see submitted, pending, awarded, and completed proposals. Award information including scores and summary sheets for federal projects are available through eRA commons. The eRA commons password is changed every three months. It may be reset through the eRA commons site.
6. What is Grants.gov?
Grants.gov is the central receiving entity for electronic proposal submissions. Grants.gov also posts all federal funding opportunities.
7. What is FastLane?
FastLane is the on-line submission system for National Science Foundation submissions.
8. What is the SF424? What is the PHS398?
SFS424 is the standard guidance and forms used in submitting electronic proposals to NIH and selected other federal funders. SF424 replaces the PHS389 guidance which was used for many years to submit proposals in paper format. Please check the specific RFA to determine which format to utilize in submitting proposals.
9. What is Laserfiche?
Laserfiche is the electronic document management system used by TAMHSC administration to share documents such as invoices, contracts, etc. It is used extensively by each departmental administrative assistant as well as COM Business Affairs, Office of Research and Graduate Studies, and other departments to transmit/process/archive documents electronically.