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  • 1.  Re-thinking the 5-day rule

    Posted 09-13-2021 07:02
    I know this comes up all the time.

    It seems to me that universities that don't have a 5-day (or 10 or whatever) rule for getting complete proposal documents to Sponsored Programs think that having such a policy would help.  Those universities that have such a policy know that it doesn't.

    Faculty that have been caught - even when proposals failed- don't change their behavior.
    At least half the time, the Grants and Contracts Officers will take the proposal anyway - subverting the policy themselves.  I did the same thing when I was a GCO.  So.... you know.... karma and all that.  In some ways, that's a by-product of the staff being invested in the research we support.

    Slapping the hands of the trouble-makers doesn't work - which is really all a policy does.
    Appealing to their nature as upright citizens who want to do right (e.g. if they only understood how much work we have to do on a proposal, they wouldn't put us in this position) doesn't work.  I'm sure they DO want to do right by us; they don't wish us ill.  They just don't care all that much about what we do.  The science comes first - before everything.  Administration just has to wait, in their minds.

    Maybe our job isn't to punish emergencies (even those unnecessarily caused by the faculty member) but rather to prevent them.  I admit to occasionally wanting to open up a can of Ala-freakin'-bama all over a few people.  (Make some popcorn, ya'll.  There's gonna be a show.)  But truly..... my better nature should prevail.

    The thing is, I think actually making this better involves interruption of A LOT of systems - and I don't control very many of them.  I'm looking at the links between research development and research administration - and making RD less optional (with what authority, you ask?  Fair point.)  Maybe cohorts of people (small ones) working together to prepare their first NIH proposal - working together but each on their own proposal.  Maybe re-thinking notifications of upcoming grant proposals - although I doubt that will be much help.  Maybe a little.  Heck, I'vve considered putting together a SWAT-team for emergency proposals to try to get them out the door - and then billing the department for use of the team.  OK, I was a little cranky that day.  That ideas strays off the "prevention vs. management" tangent, anyway.

    I don't know.  Does anyone have insight on this?  Everything is on the table, as far as I'm concerned.


    Andrea Buford
    Director, Office of Sponsored Programs
    Oakland University

  • 2.  RE: Re-thinking the 5-day rule

    Posted 09-14-2021 03:58

    Hi Andrea, 

    The arbitrary deadlines always irked me a bit, even in instances where I was the 'boss' having to enforce them- ha! Reality is that one size doesn't fit all, which we know too well. It may be easy to thoroughly review an R01 in just a few hours at first look and be ready for S2S without any sweat--  in that case, a 5-day rule may seem overly restrictive. On the other hand, could be you get a proposal for some one-off sponsor you've never dealt with, involving sub partners you've never engaged before, and requires a submission system you've never used. In that latter case, 5 days might not save you even though technically fits the deadline (may or may not be based on true events).

    I do agree with you that a 'systems theory' view is almost always the answer to doing better. What we do has a lot of parts and players. If you have the resources and institutional backing to put some of those suggestions in place, stellar!  But unless/until that comes to fruition for offices...

    From the pure 'to policy or not to policy' core of it all:  I'm more of the mindset of honest expectation-setting when it comes to proposal timeline enforcement. In my nearly 15 years and several institution experience, I can count on one hand the number of times we've NOT submitted a proposal that showed up in 11th hour. That said, seems much more realistic to just have a shared understanding that proposals submitted with more time get a better review and more comprehensive support. Proposals that don't, well- don't. How granular that becomes is up to your office. I know some offices out there have set up a Gantt-looking timeline chart of what scope and depth of services/review remain available if a submission is received by X# days ahead of sponsor deadline-- and I think that's a brilliant approach. It allows OSP to be a bit more nimble while avoiding the 'breaking your own policy' conundrum).   



    Cira Mathis, CRA, PMP
    Manager, Internal Programs
    University Sponsored Research
    Khalifa University, Abu Dhabi

  • 3.  RE: Re-thinking the 5-day rule

    Posted 09-15-2021 09:44
    Edited by Jennie Kulczyk 09-15-2021 09:44
    @Cira Mathis I like the Gantt-looking timeline idea! Do you know the names of institutions that might have this published on a public site, so I could check out a sample in action?​

    Jennie Kulczyk
    Business Systems Analyst
    University of California, Santa Cruz

  • 4.  RE: Re-thinking the 5-day rule

    Posted 09-16-2021 09:58
    HI Jennie,

    Ours isn't on a public site, but here's the simple graphic to our "30-10-3 policy":

    ("Independent review" means the assigned Grant Administrator and a Signing Official thoroughly review the application)


    Lisa Churchill
    Grants Administration Manager/Signing Official
    The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

  • 5.  RE: Re-thinking the 5-day rule

    Posted 09-16-2021 10:18
      |   view attached
    Regarding timelines and submissions, I will attach a resource we publish for our PIs at CSUN. There is a quick timeline on our website with details in the attachment.

    Note the language intentionally focuses on the "ideal". Our practice is similar to what others are saying - we do our best to communicate this timeline, but inevitably we have PIs who push submissions to the last day/hour.


    Sherrie Hixon
    Director, Strategic Research Initiatives & Innovation
    California State University, Northridge (CSUN)


    PI_Timeline_detailed.pdf   371 KB 1 version

  • 6.  RE: Re-thinking the 5-day rule

    Posted 09-17-2021 08:50
    Jumping on my soapbox:

    Like many of you, my group struggles with this issue frequently. My office initiated an external submission policy a few years ago. At the onset of the policy release, there was a noticeable reduction in last minute submissions. That regrettable situation, however, has ramped back up.

    We are not unreasonable. This policy provides relief to a number of circumstances out of the investigator's control. However, most of the late submissions we see are within the control of the investigator or the academic unit.

    My team wants to support our investigators - it is part of our mission. Putting us in the situation to drop everything to attend a last minute submission does not allow my team to provide optimal service and is unfair to other investigators who "follow the rules."

    Gina Hedberg
    Exec Director, Office of Sponsored Projects Adm
    University of South Alabama
    Mobile, AL

  • 7.  RE: Re-thinking the 5-day rule

    Posted 09-14-2021 12:39
    Hi Andrea -

    I can completely understand and relate to your frustration. From personal experience, I was able to gain buy-in for the internal deadline from many of my PIs (you'll always have those that think the rules don't apply to them...) by meeting with them as a department/division or as individuals as they were brought on board in research. By carefully going through pretty much the entire submission process with them, step-by-step, and letting them know where I could help, it increased compliance. I was also careful to let them know that I supported not only their department/division but also (at least) 4 others, with a minimum of 10-15 proposals (usually closer to 30) going in at the same time for the same deadline. By getting their documents to me in a timely fashion, it allowed me to perform a more thorough review to ensure compliance with regulations and submissions issues, and even do some formatting and proofreading. I also didn't hesitate to mention that often, when we waited until the last minute, inevitably, we have computer issues - or the NIH does as everyone waits until the last minute and there is little I can do to help them make sure their proposal is submitted (I may have stressed that part a mentioned a couple of "horror" stories... ;-)).

    Good luck!!! I find that using a bit of "honey" bought more compliance than vinegar. Sweet talk them into how it benefits them to comply with the deadline! :-)

    Tammy Jobes
    Sponsored Projects Administrator
    Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare

  • 8.  RE: Re-thinking the 5-day rule

    Posted 09-15-2021 04:47
    Hi Andrea.

    There is no getting around this deadline issue -- some will comply and others will not.  We are also guilty of subverting the three days noted in our policy.  However, we do stipulate that if proposals are not received by our office by the noted time, it may not get the full and proper SPA review it deserves before we "click the button".  Unfortunately, that caveat does not spur the masses into action.

    We also send out communications prior to big deadline days (NIH in particular) reminding the research community to be pro-active.  I have to add that I think the services we have in place (S2S) allows for quicker review once SPA receives proposals - no matter when that is.  It's not like the good ol' paper days or even PDF packet days where we did not know of errors/warnings until after-the-fact.  The deadline issue seems a bit less stressful when you know that at the least, the app has zero errors and is compliant from a systemic standpoint.  That being the case, I would never de-emphasize the importance of a stated deadline policy ---- earlier is always better.

    How's that for wishy-washy?

    Tim Foley
    Training Specialist
    Wayne State University

  • 9.  RE: Re-thinking the 5-day rule

    Posted 09-16-2021 05:23
    We did put a deadline policy in place a few years ago and while it has not eliminated last minute proposals, it definitely has reduced them. As part of our policy, if PIs cannot or do not meet the internal deadlines, they have to email their research dean to ask for an exception to the policy and we establish a new deadline. Many, but not all, of the research deans are good about reaching out to my team to ask for our input before granting the exception and they include language in the email that late proposals (i.e. proposals that did not meet internal deadlines) are not guaranteed to be submitted on time and on-time proposals will be given priority. They also communicate that we may not be able to do a full review and it is the PIs responsibility to make sure there are no errors in the proposal. I think having the message coming from the dean's office helps. It also keeps the research dean informed and they start to realize who the repeat offenders are. I have also thought about the idea of an outline of services and what PIs can expect depending on when we receive documents but we have not developed anything like this yet. I would be very interested in any examples of that approach.

    Sarah Pratt
    Associate Director, Research and Sponsored Programs
    Western Michigan University

  • 10.  RE: Re-thinking the 5-day rule

    Posted 09-16-2021 08:47
    That's a great point about involving the research dean Sarah. As you said, making them discuss WHY they are so late with the research dean will prevent a lot of last minute submissions, especially for pre-tenure faculty members who (I assume) would like to make a good impression with said deans.

    I think (hope?) that PIs understand that a proposal that comes in last minute is getting a very cursory review in terms of compliance vs. one that was in weeks ahead of time. But of course, we want all of our PIs to be successful, so we do our best to accommodate them, regardless of the impact it has to our schedules/calendars.

    Kevin Lewellyn
    IBC Chair
    University of Mississippi