Sponsored Research FAQ

Frequently asked questions – and answers – about sponsored programs and research. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, or if the answers spark other questions, please contact Brian Thomas.

Sponsored projects are activities that are sponsored, or funded by an external organization, such as a federal, state, or private organization or agency. A sponsored project may support research or other scholarly activities such as instruction, training, or service. A sponsored project is governed by a sponsored project agreement that typically includes the following:

  1. A well-defined scope of work.
  2. Financial accountability and reporting requirements.
  3. A specified period of performance.
  4. A specific deliverable or set of deliverables.

Determining whether external funding should be handled as a sponsored project or as a gift can sometimes be tricky. This is in part due to the fact that some donors may designate or refer to a gift as a “grant.” However, a sponsored project entails a specific scope of work, is subject to terms and conditions, covers a specific period of performance, and typically specifies delivery of a product or technical report. A gift, on the other hand, is a voluntary and nonreciprocal donation of personal (cash, securities, books, equipment, life insurance, etc.) or real property provided by a non-governmental donor for which no goods or services are expected, implied, or forthcoming. For a full description of gifts, grants, and contracts please see the 3D memo on this subject issued October 25, 2017.

There are many reasons to pursue sponsored research. These include the following:

  • Being awarded an externally funded grant is a significant scholarly achievement demonstrating the excellence of your work.
  • External funding allows you to apply greater resources to your research than you would otherwise be able to.
  • External funding can give your research broader impact. Receiving a grant from a federal or state agency or from a private foundation gives your research broader exposure. Having your research supported by external organizations indicates that your work furthers the mission of the agency or foundation, which can bring your research to the attention of policy makers and industry leaders.
  • External funding can be used to support your research efforts during the summer.
  • External funding can be used for course releases during the academic year, which can allow you to spend more time on your research.
  • A portion of the indirect costs generated by sponsored research in PCOM is returned to faculty members to further support their research.

There are too many potential sources of funding to list here, but to give you an idea, here is a sampling of sponsors who have supported the research of PCOM faculty:

  • The National Science Foundation
  • The National Institutes of Health
  • Air Force Office of Scientific Research
  • National Security Agency
  • The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • The Ford Foundation
  • The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
  • The Institute of Consumer Money Management
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • The TIAA Institute
  • The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority
  • The Foundation for Auditing Research
  • The Institute for Fraud Prevention
  • VentureWell
  • Arnold Ventures
  • The Center for State and Local Government Excellence
  • The IBM Center for the Business of Government
  • RAND Corporation

There are many potential funding sources for your research. Finding the right one requires matching your research interests to the funders needs. Here is a list of suggestions to help you narrow down the list of potential funders to those that fund the type of work you’re interested in:

    1. Talk with Brian Thomas about your research interests and potential project ideas. He is familiar with many funding agencies and foundations and can help you hone in on the sponsors most likely to be interested in your work.
    2. Subscribe to NC State’s Funding listserv on the Research Development Office’s website.
    3. Subscribe to Tom Birkland’s Research Blog. Tom is the Associate Dean for Research and Engagement in CHASS.
    4. Contact program officers at agencies and foundations who are running programs that look interesting to you. Do not be intimidated by the idea of emailing a program officer out of the blue to discuss your research and whether or not it fits with their program. It is the job of program officers to invest the resources under their stewardship in research that furthers their agency and foundation goals.  They are looking for your good ideas.
    5. Network with other faculty and professionals inside and outside of your field both here at NC State and in the larger academic and professional communities. If people in your network have received sponsored funding in the past, ask them about their experience and tell them about what you are trying to do.
    6. Use InfoEd SPIN. This system is a funding opportunity database available to NC State faculty, staff and students. For more information on how to use the system and set up a profile go here.
    7. Explore and pursue internal funding opportunities. NC State’s Research Development Office maintains a website dedicated to our internal funding opportunities. These programs can be a stepping stone to receiving external funding.

When a sponsor agrees to fund your research proposal a grant agreement is established between the sponsor and NC State. The parties to this agreement are the sponsor and NC State. However, it is  the principal investigator (PI) who has the primary responsibility for achieving the technical success of the project and also for complying with all applicable financial and administrative policies and regulations. Our sponsored programs office (SPARCS) maintains this list of PI responsibilities.

No. Only individuals in the sponsored programs office (SPARCS) with delegated signature authority may agree to the terms of a sponsored project agreement and enter the university into such an agreement. The list of individuals with signature authority is available at the bottom of this page.

Indirect costs, also known as facilities and administrative costs (F&A) or overhead, are the costs associated with conducting sponsored programs that can not be directly attributed to a specific project. Indirect costs typically include administrative and clerical salaries, facilities management and utility costs, general purpose equipment, and office supplies. Indirect costs also support the systems and offices that facilitate compliance with the many federal, state, and institutional regulations and policies governing sponsored research. These offices include: Sponsored Programs and Regulatory Compliance Services (SPARCS), the Office of Contracts and GrantsResearch Compliance, and the IRB (human subjects protection) Office.

NC State’s indirect rate for on-campus sponsored research is 52% of modified total direct costs (MTDC). When thinking about how much of a project’s budget must be set aside for indirect costs keep in mind that our indirect rate is applied to a project’s MTDC. For example, if your total MTDC equals $100,000, then your total project cost would be $152,000 ($100,000 x 1.52% = $152,000). For more information on NC State’s indirect cost rates for other activities and off-campus activities see this page.

NC State’s indirect cost rates are generally applied on all proposal budgets unless the indirect rate is limited by a specific federal statute or regulation. Similarly, if the sponsor you are working with is a non-profit organization with a published, consistently applied policy limiting or prohibiting the expenditure of grant funds on indirect costs NC State can agree to waive or reduce indirect costs.

IRB stands for Institutional Review Board. IRBs are established to review all proposed research involving human subjects through the lenses of ethics and compliance prior to the conduct of that research. The mission of the NC State IRB is to advocate for and protect human subjects participating in research by working with investigators to facilitate ethical and compliant research. It is extremely important that IRB approval is obtained for studies that need it.  Therefore, the rule of thumb is: “if in doubt, ask the IRB”.  The university can face significant legal and regulatory penalties for failing to comply with IRB standards.  In addition, your research may be invalidated by not having the correct IRB approval.

The best guidance for determining whether or not a study requires IRB approval, and the type of approval required, is provided by the IRB office. This is accomplished through completion and submission of an IRB application by the research staff or through consultation with IRB staff. Keep in mind that the IRB does not grant retroactive approval. Further, any implementation of research with human subjects without appropriate IRB approval is considered noncompliance. The consequences of noncompliance are detailed on the IRB website.

To determine whether or not a project requires IRB approval, the IRB office begins by asking three questions. Researchers should familiarize themselves with these questions. They are:

  1. Is the proposed project research as defined by IRB regulations?
  2. Is the proposed project research with human subjects as defined by IRB regulations?
  3. Which IRB needs to review the project (is NC State engaged in research with human subjects as defined by IRB regulations?

More information on each of these questions is available in the NC State IRB Guidance section of the IRB website.

Here are additional resources for understanding the rules and regulations governing research with human subjects:

  • The NC State PRR on human subjects research is available here.
  • A very helpful document for understanding the definition of research for IRB purposes is available here.
  • Projects in PCOM can sometimes fall into a gray area between research requiring IRB approval and other activities like evaluations and assessments that may not require IRB approval. This matrix is helpful for understanding the difference.
  • Definitions and common terms used in human subjects research can be found here.
  • If you are trying to determine whether or not the pilot work or feasibility study you are contemplating requires IRB approval you will want to read this document.
  • If you are planning to use Amazon’s MTurk for data collection please review this document for guidance.

The federal Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards (commonly called “Uniform Guidance”) requires that charges to Federal awards for salaries and wages are based on records that accurately reflect the work performed. Employees engaged in sponsored activities are required to periodically review and certify their effort, if costs for labor (salaries/wages, benefits) are charged directly to sponsored projects, cost shared against a nonfederal funding source, or funded from a federal appropriation. There are two certification periods each year – one covering the academic year (August 16 – May 15) and one covering the the summer (May 16 – August 15).

Managing the regulatory and fiduciary responsibilities of sponsored research funds is indeed a complex undertaking. This type of funding is highly regulated and there are multiple internal parties involved in the process and many phases within the “life cycle of an award.”

Navigating this process can be challenging. For assistance please contact Brian Thomas at 919-513-1792 or bmthoma6@ncsu.edu. Brian can advise on how to accomplish your research goals while maintaining compliance with regulations across all aspects of sponsored research.