Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote in grantwriting,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

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Manic Monday #1: Reporting Requirements

In this discussion digest, we who are principal investigators or co-PIs of sponsored projects (especially federally funded research) will discuss:

  • Sustained development

    • renewals

    • supplements: e.g., NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) and Research Experiences for Teachers (RETs)

    • new proposals

  • Bookkeeping: budgetary and inventory accounting

  • Reporting requirements: keeping the sponsor satisfied, or at least off your case

  • Gearing up for that next grant: writing up results from prior support, building a bibliography of reviewed literature and your own credentials, etc.

  • Leveraging existing support: how to put your research assitants to work on other projects without cutting corners on this one

Today, I will start by discussing reporting requirements.

What are reporting requirements?

A federal funding agency such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) or Naval Research Lab (NRL) will always require some form of technical project reporting by the PI, almost always in the form of written reports according to some template. When I was a PI on a couple of Army Research Lab (ARL), these were annual updates to a statement of work, required for project renewal; on the Office of Naval Research (ONR) project on which I was the lead PI, they were quarterly reports. In both cases, Microsoft Word files were provided to the senior project personnel to fill in.

Oftentimes, the funding agency will sponsor site visit or have the PIs travel to a relatively central location (such as the lead institution or that of one of the co-PIs) for a meeting. Sometimes these are annual; for development-intensive defense projects, they can be semi-annual or quarterly, though usually 1-3 of the quarterly reviews are still delivered in writing. At the site visits and other meetings, technical presentations and demos to justify continued funding are expected. Depending upon the solvency of the program, these are sometimes competitively reviewed - meaning that if each PI does not deliver results as good as or better than those produced by other funded institutions in the program, they could find their funding reduced or terminated in the next cycle!


On your funded projects, keeping a well-formatted and current bibliography can help you beat the reporting deadlines, while saving you time in preparing publications and ensuring that you have "ammunition" for the next two or more PI meetings. It is important to always stay at least one or two meetings ahead of the game, and when possible, to let the project's momentum carry you forward. You will need to keep your bibliography handy for new grants if your project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which expects a section called "Results from Prior [NSF] Support" on all proposals that are not your first one in a subject area.

In your bibliography, you should of course keep all of the publications: those written by you, students, alumni, collaborators, and other colleagues whose work has built upon or drawn from (sometimes even competed with) yours. You will often be asked to list how many Ph.D. dissertations and master's theses have resulted from the funded project. More often than not, you will be asked how many were supported by the funding, which gives you leave to list doctoral and master's programs in progress for as many quarters, semesters, or years as your student is being paid from the grant. If one of your students is drawing partial funding from the grant, you are generally allowed to list him or her as well, as long as you indicate the fraction of his or her time dedicated to the project. (Naturally, the numbers should add up across projects and not appear as if your students are being spread too thinly, but use your judgement here.) Also, you can sometimes list undergraduates supported by your project or who completed honors theses, independent study projects, or summer internships under your supervision - especially if they are members of underrepresented groups. Find out from your program manager who counts as a minority! For instance, Dr. Sylvia Spengler, a bioinformatics program officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF), reminds us that in biology, women are not minorities, where in computer science, they certainly are.

List each paper that was published in a strongly-refereed journal. In certain fields, such as computer science, certain meetings (conferences, workshops, and symposia) also count as refereed publications, especially if your paper was nominated for or won an award, such as a "best of conference".

Finally, you will be asked to list technical innovations, patents, and other intellectual properties resulting from the grant. Your bibliography can help you at least get a handle on the technical innovations. Organize them by topic and preferably with some supporting evidence. Filings for U.S. process patents and product patents are best, but other capitalization will often serve just as well.

An anecdote

For example, I once worked for a research lab that was well-funded by a defense agency. The PI's policy was to always keep the lab equipped with the latest "commercial, off-the-shelf" (COTS) technology, including desktop PCs, operating systems, compilers, etc. Fully a third to half of our time was spent doing systems administration, including installations, testing, configuration, maintenance, and initiation of "return to manufacturer authorizations" (RMAs). Thus, we were always able to "ride the curve" of Moore's Law: for CPU, memory, GPUs, and network communications and storage. Even our choice of OS kernel (Windows NT 4) had a positive influence on our fundability. This approach is, of course, not recommended if you are funded to do primarily basic research (not just a 6-1 project but fundamental theory and foundational research, rather than applications); on the other hand, agencies such as DARPA have become much more pragmatic about being "technology hunters" (end users) rather than "technology suppliers" (developers or producers).

How agencies ensure that you will report

As I mentioned above, most agencies make at least part of the "merit review" aspect of grant renewals competitive, and contingent on prior results. Some, such as NSF, also make the timely payment of future awards contingent upon timely reporting, at least nominally so. If you log into FastLane and have a project on which you owe an annual or final report, make sure you get it turned in right away, as you will get nagged until it is done. (I'm glad to say that I've never been late with an NSF report, though I have seen a few "warning" messages on the grants of some better-funded lead PIs. :-D)

Next time, I will tell you about applying for follow-up funding on grants from agencies such as the NSF. Sometimes these are competitively reviewed by a panel of external reviewers brought in by the agency; in cases such as supplementary internships (e.g., NSF's REU program), they are reviewed by the program manager and almost automatic, if you provide proper justification and demonstrate that you have planned the use of the supplement carefully.

William Hsu
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