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We all know sponsor deadlines govern research administration, but what about your own internal deadlines before proposals are submitted? How strictly should you enforce such policies? There is no universal standard.

In my prior life in research administration, I worked at two academic institutions with strict proposal review policies. As much as I loathed them at times, like when running several blocks uphill in San Francisco carrying paper forms for ink signatures, I saw their purpose. But universities vary widely, so I wanted to get the opinion of folks in the field today.

I recently chatted with two Cayuse customers to see how they handle internal proposal review deadlines. These are front-line proposal specialists who work under tight sponsor deadlines and varying degrees of proposal volume. Here’s what they had to say.

Strong policy enforcement: review time creates higher quality

At one large public university, their written policy is enforced and largely followed: a finalized, “submit-ready” proposal is due to the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) three business days before the sponsor deadline.

Last-minute proposals had been a real problem in the past, so now OSP actively educates their campus and principal investigators (PIs) via a newsletter and trainings to remind them of this deadline policy, especially before busy grant submission seasons. Newer faculty, researchers and postdocs need to be well-informed of the OSP proposal process and available resources. They have the support of department heads, who want to know if any PIs are late so they can follow up if necessary.

The strong policy enforcement is also due to a cultural change on campus: proposal funding rates are lower, so the shift is to higher quality, not quantity. The three-business-day policy allows OSP to do a proper review of proposals, thereby reducing errors and increasing the quality.

Low policy enforcement: added stress yet surprising benefits

At a medium-sized public university, internal proposal deadlines led to a lot of pushback from PIs. Now their OSP accepts proposals right up to the wire. The proposal specialist I chatted with mentioned some benefits to this approach:

  • He didn’t like saying no to PIs who missed an internal deadline
  • Sometimes PIs find out about funding opportunities at the last minute, and he likes to be a facilitator when that happens
  • PIs aren’t afraid to approach OSP anymore, which builds a better relationship between them

That said, this “anything goes” approach has its drawbacks:

  • The proposal specialist’s job is stressful, and the work is hard
  • There is often a “day-of” surprise factor
  • This OSP is often only able to review the most necessary parts of the proposal, like the budget and campus policies

This OSP will still stop a proposal if they catch something like unapproved cost sharing in the budget.

The goal is research, not rules

Regardless of how strictly internal proposal deadlines were enforced, each specialist that I talked to cited their OSP’s desire to uphold their one of their institution’s core missions: to do research. This is why, in some cases, OSP was willing to bend their own rules in certain circumstances to allow for late-breaking proposals to be submitted. All agreed that their Cayuse electronic research administration systems were way more efficient than running across campus for paper and ink signatures!

What do you think? Should internal grant proposal deadlines be strictly enforced, or is a lax approach better? Please let us know in the comments section below.