Research Dissemination and the Need for Grants: A Basic Overview of the Funding Process, Part 4

Part 4 of 4: Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 now!

What happens after I’ve submitted my grant proposal and before I hear back?

Though I’ll be using the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which is a federal grant agency, as an example for outlining this process, other federal grant agencies should reflect a similar form of rigor.

Note: Prior to submission, you may be able to get a program officer at the agency to look at a draft of your application. This opportunity is welcome with the NEH and will not affect any evaluation decisions after submission.

  1. Application submitted by Office of Sponsored Research: All applications come to the funder through a portal via
  2. Panel sort: Representative reviewers are selected, comprised of scholars and previous grantees, to provide a first evaluation level of grant applications. Reviewers are given applications to independently assess quality of content. Reviewers are chosen from various different types of fields so that the applications can be assessed in consideration of different perspectives. Each reviewer will make comments and assign a quality score to their assigned applications.
  3. Review panels: A small group of reviewers, plus an NEH program officer, will come together to discuss their collectively assigned applications. They will have the opportunity to declare their reasoning behind the scores they gave, and in consideration of the other reviewers’ comments, may or may not choose to change their score. The scores are given to the NEH staff and will be used in conjunction with the overall comments to help the next levels of evaluations. In some cases, this step is virtual instead of in a physical space, in which it would not be possible for reviewers to change their scores.
    1. Note: the peer reviewers are evaluating solely on the quality of the content, based on the agency’s review criteria, which will have been listed in the grant posting.
  4. Staff recommendations based on merit peer review evaluations.
  5. National Council review: Each council member is selected by the President every six years and have to go through Senate confirmation. They meet three times per year and evaluate the applications that are still being considered. A listing of the agency’s council members can be viewed online.
  6. Chairman’s decision: The Chairman of the agency makes the final evaluation. Information about the Chairman can be viewed online.
  7. Funding decision is finalized.
  8. Award notification.

The NEH provides details about this process on the NEH website here. As a comparison, a breakdown of the National Science Foundation’s process is described on the NSF website.

More Resources

  • Proposal guides collection hosted by the UNC-Chapel Hill Funding Portal
    Portal includes tips from NIH and NSF, as well as a collection of historic successful grant proposals from UNC-Chapel Hill.
  • Award Lifecycle overview by the Office for Sponsored Research at UNC-Chapel Hill
    Suggests various internal, external, and state resources; defines various components related to Concept and Funding, Proposal Creation, Proposal Submission, Award Negotiation, Award Setup, Award Management, and Project Closeout.
  • Funding and Doing Sponsored Research in the Humanities by Beyond the Book, a funded speaker series for graduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill
    Provides slides from 2019 presentations and basic explanations of funding, grants, research development planning, funding tools, and institutional memberships that UNC subscribes to to help faculty, staff, and students plan research.

Thanks for following along! If you have any further questions, you’re always welcome to contact us in the Scholarly Communications office in the University Libraries at UNC-CH.

Research Dissemination and the Need for Grants: A Basic Overview of the Funding Process, Part 3

Part 3 of 4: Missed Part 1 or Part 2? Catch up now!

Funding and Open Access

It is common for Open Access publishers to charge authors APCs (Article Processing Charges) in order to make your work freely and openly accessible for others. APCs can be surprisingly expensive–they can get up to $5,000. Despite research showing increased engagement and citation potential for articles that are open access, APCs can be a big disincentive for a researcher to consider publishing Open Access.

As of a 2013 federal government decision, grants from federal agencies now almost entirely require public access to the completed work, including the data acquired to create the work. Each federal agency has an individual policy relating to this federal requirement. Though private foundations are not required to stipulate public access, some, such as the Gates Foundation, have chosen to enforce such a policy.

So, how to pay for the inevitably likely APC associated with making published work publicly available?

First, funders likely aren’t going to want to provide you a grant just for your APC. They want to be associated with sponsoring the work that is involved with research, so requesting a grant for research that is already completed and ready to be published is less enticing to them. If this is the type of grant need you have, however, there may be smaller pots of funds at the university level available to you to specifically pay for publication charges–for example, UNC’s Office of Research Development’s Publication Grants.

If you are preparing a grant proposal for your research to be supported financially, add publication fees in as a “Direct Cost.” This does require you to be already planning at the stage of your grant proposal to publish the conclusion of your research as Open Access, but it’s a good start to be thinking about, especially if you know the funding organizations expect this conclusion anyway.

There are free options for Open Access publication, though, if you want to avoid paying APCs. Publishing in institutional repositories, such as the Carolina Digital Repository (CDR) is a collection of scholarly content–publications, datasets, etc.–correlated with researchers at UNC and its contents can be findable even from a Google search. The UNC Dataverse can also be a free place to house your data (specifically) openly. If you want your work in a repository devoted to your discipline, you could deposit in an open access subject repository, such as these.

Just be sure before submission to any repository that your publisher will allow you to place your content in these free repositories. More information about how to check that is in the Author Rights library guide.

Open Access can be challenging for humanities researchers, whose primary dissemination type is in books. However, open access books can increase engagement, citations, and viewability–an incentive that non-profit scholarly publishers may support, even if they don’t currently know about the “TOME” initiative.

What grant writing support is available for me?

The listed offices below are some of the many available support options available for researchers at Carolina.

Departments generally have a small number of grant support staff housed within their department building. They may be known as “Contracts and Grants Officers” (mentioned earlier in the Cast of Characters in Part 1). They can help you with any aspect of the grant process you might need, and are a great resource for faculty since they are devoted to that department and not part of a centralized grants department. Pre- and post-grant award, they can help you in the following ways:

  • Answer grant proposal questions.
  • Review grant proposal.
  • Approve and submit grant proposal to the centralized grants office OSR at UNC. They are an authorized signatory for your department.
  • Keep track of financial reports.
  • Monitor whether you are on time with tasks and expenditures according to your grant schedule (in project management, this is known as monitoring the “burn rate”).
  • Add and pay personnel.
  • Reimburse for travel and pay bills.
  • Pay for computer equipment.

UNC’s centralized grants office, the Office for Sponsored Research, is responsible for checking compliance issues and for officially submitting the grant proposal to the grant funder. Everything in the grant proposal must be legal (aka “compliant”), for human or animal studies have regulated protections, which your proposal must show you have considered. Because you are affiliated with a university, you cannot individually submit your grant application directly to a funder–grants are awarded to UNC on behalf of its requesting faculty member. Only a few exceptions exist: for example, you as an individual can apply for the National Endowment for the Humanities’s Summer Stipend or Fellowship Program because these are funds specifically allocated for individual scholars. Any grant application submitted goes through a portal to the funder. The funder will then submit any money awarded back to the institution via the Office for Sponsored Research, who will disburse the grant funds.

Other centralized research support offices, such as the Office for Research Development. This office focuses primarily on the pre-award stage for faculty seeking to go after larger, federal grants. They encourage dissemination collaboration and co-authorship with others around the world, for this variety of expertise makes a larger project–and thus a larger grant needed–possible to advance the field. As the hit rate for large grants can be very competitive, the ORD strives to help make researchers’ grants more competitive and targeted to the funder’s expectations.

Other centralized research support offices, such as Corporate and Foundation Relations office. This office manages relations with the Gates Foundations and any smaller private foundations.

The Graduate Funding Information Center is an office supporting graduate students in their pursuits for grant funding. Besides providing scheduled workshops about how to use their online graduate student grant databases, they also offer individual consultations to help craft strong applications. The Office of Graduate Education offers grant writing support for School of Medicine graduate students.

Office of Postdoctoral Affairs has a consultant for funding and research development. They offer support for postdoctoral researchers by offering classes on finding funding and funding resources and consultations on research project development. They are keen to help develop researcher skills and translate research interests into appropriate funding opportunities.

NC TraCS (North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences) institute at UNC-CH School of Medicine offers help reviewing the grant proposal, identifying funding sources, and offering training on grant applications.

Other locations on campus at UNC-Chapel Hill are listed on the Funding Information Portal, in addition to various external training guides and successful UNC-CH proposal examples.

Data Management Team at the University Libraries offers consultation and plan review support on building and revising the data management plan which is required in grants.

The funder organization itself. In many cases, the funding organization has program officer staff whose job it is to help answer researchers’ questions, and even review grant applications, to make your interaction with grant services more accessible. If your application has been denied, they can provide comments that had been considered for determining what was lacking.

Stay tuned for Part 4: What happens after I’ve submitted my grant proposal – and resources!

Research Dissemination and the Need for Grants: A Basic Overview of the Funding Process, Part 2

Part 2 of 4: Missed last week’s blog post? Read Part 1 now.

Indirect Costs: What are they and why must they be in my grant budget?

If grants are so vital towards conducting research studies, then needing to account for “university indirect costs” in the grant budget request seem like getting the grant would be that much harder. So why can’t we just cut out indirect costs, since they’re not related to the study anyway?? First, we must dispel a myth: The amount for indirect costs is so high–at UNC, it is 55% of the costs that the researcher needs–that if it is added to the amount the researcher actually needs, then this inflated total request could be the reason the funder declines the application, because they don’t think it deserves that much. This is false, according to the National Endowment for the Humanities. The total amount requested is not considered in the evaluation: the content is–and if the total amount requested is more than the NEH can or is willing to offer, their budgeting office will send you a negotiated reduced offer.

In the grant application, the indirect cost sum is totaled up in a separate column from the direct costs, so there is transparency in what the researcher needs versus what the university’s agreed percentage for receiving federal grants is.

Also, when calculating 55.5% of the “direct costs” to make an indirect costs total, you don’t actually include any direct costs funds that are related to rent, student fees, and participant fees. So you actually calculate 55.5% of a “modified direct costs” total.

How does the Indirect Cost rate get calculated?

The federal government and each public university come to a federally approved rate about that university’s indirect cost percentage paid in a grant, so it would be unfair for a federal agency to consider this amount in the evaluation. This is called “Uniform Guidance” (more at All federal grant agencies must comply with a public university’s indirect cost percentage, but state and private funders do not apply.

Here’s why UNC’s Indirect Cost rate is 55.5%: The Office of Sponsored Research’s Cost Analysis and Compliance team sends out a survey every 4-6 years to all departments and offices on campus, to look at the percentage of the department that is taken up by research space–for example, 100% of the university libraries is considered research space. The team then pulls the percentages from all the departments together–they are looking to see what proportion of the entire campus is taken up by research space and how it is used (example breakdown shown at They then negotiate and agree upon an Indirect cost amount for all federal agency funders with the university’s assigned “cognizant agency,” which, for the East Coast, is the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The indirect costs (also known as F&A rate, or Facilities & Administrative rate) can then help to pay for infrastructure for the university’s research spaces and other related costs related to university research. This is especially important, considering that state funding for university operations has decreased dramatically (according to Figure 3 of Pew’s 2015 report and Figure 2 in The Lincoln Project’s 2015 report), so F&A allows an opportunity to receive funding for departments. For each grant that comes in, the university will disburse a percentage of the indirect cost funds to the grant awardee’s department,

who can use the money at its discretion. The UNC School for Library Science (SILS), for example, gets 19.5% of the 55.5% Indirect Costs money from a grant awarded to a SILS faculty member. The rest of that 55.5% may go to the University Libraries and facilities and grant support staff around campus.

Of that portion given to the grantee’s department, some may go back to the grantee (the PI) but this is not required of the department. Especially for departments that have poor departmental funding, this indirect costs portion can help pay for departmental rejuvenation, such as paying for technical equipment in the department to allow for the department to stay state-of-the-art and support future research endeavors, as well as paying for any grant support staff within that department. If the PI has been given back some of the indirect costs moneys, any payments will be required to be reported for federal auditing purposes (so travel fees for conferences is allowed, but buying alcohol at a conference dinner isn’t allowed!).

Stay tuned for Part 3: Funding and Open Access

Research Dissemination and the Need for Grants: A Basic Overview of the Funding Process, Part 1

Part 1 of 4: Read each week as we explain the inner-workings of grant funding and how it impacts researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill and the broader scholarly community.

Research nowadays often is dependent upon grant funding, regardless of what field you’re in. For the sciences, grant funding can help researchers afford the chemicals and student labor to make scientific discoveries. For the humanities and social sciences, it can hugely help with human subject research, such as offering cash incentives to human subjects for participating in the study.

Beyond getting the money to be able to afford doing the study, getting grants also offers prestige for the university and for you–big grants show departments that people believe in your research, which means (hopefully!) more grants and tenure. Big grants also show legislators that important research is happening at this university. In 2019, $1.1 billion from taxpayers pays for research at UNC, but this funding, in addition to tuition fees, is not enough. Grants are required to fill in additional research needs.

The problem is that the availability of grants can be very, very limited, and thus cause forced competition and stress for career success, even for tiny grants. The split between the disciplines also makes distinct differences in practices for securing grant funding;  foundation sponsors are the primary source for humanities funding, one reason being that many federal agencies see more directly relevant public policy correlations with STM research funding.

When it comes to getting grant funding, a lot goes into the process–which will be explained in the next few weeks. Let’s first pull out a brief cast of characters here at UNC:

  • The researcher: wants to submit a convincing application and create a budget for how much grant money to request in order to conduct a research study
  • The researcher’s department’s grants “officer”: supports when drafting grant proposals and adhering to an awarded grant; located within the researcher’s department
  • The Office for Research’s “Office for Sponsored Research”: reviews and approves finished grant proposals as UNC’s authorized signatory, and submits it to the funder
  • The funder: reviews submitted grant proposals, awards funds to the Office for Sponsored Research for disbursement, and expects acknowledgement for sponsoring the research
  • And the extras: those offices that may have small pots of internal UNC “research related” funds to allocate. These may include departmental funds or Office of Research Development funds. There are also various offices that offer support events or training workshops to help researchers be more cognizant of what they have to do

In the next few weeks, we’ll break down some steps and rationale of the funding process, as well as offer some sources for you to get support you need here at Carolina.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Indirect Costs: What are they and why must they be in my grant budget?