Below are the latest University Research Foundation Guidelines, revised as of June 27, 2001.

The Guidelines and additional information may be found on line at www.upenn.edu/research/FoundationGuidelines.htm.

For the recipients of the Spring 2001 awards, see Almanac May 29, online at www.upenn.edu/almanac/v47/n35/RF-Awards.html.

University Research Foundation Guidelines

Statement of Purpose

The University Research Foundation (URF) is an intramural resource to support faculty research for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Helping established faculty perform exploratory research, particularly on novel or pioneering ideas, to determine the feasibility and develop preliminary data to support extramural applications.
  • Helping junior faculty undertake pilot projects that will enable them to successfully apply for extramural sources of funding, and aid in establishing their careers as independent investigators.
  • Providing support in disciplines where extramural support is difficult to obtain and where significant research can be facilitated with modest funding.
  • Providing modest institutional matching funds that are awarded contingent upon a successful external peer-reviewed application that requires an institutional match.


Disciplines--The URF supports research in all disciplines, including international research. For purposes of review, applications are assigned to four broad disciplinary areas, liberal arts, social and behavioral sciences, natural and engineering sciences, and biomedical sciences.

Term--Grants are given for a single year only. Applications for a second year of funding may be submitted but usually receive low priority. Funds must be spent within 12 months of the beginning of the grant, and may not be "banked" for future use. Unexpended funds must be returned to the Foundation.

Budget--Applications up to $50,000 will be entertained, but most grants are for no more than $25,000. Because the total cost of meritorious requests exceed available funds by several fold, applicants are encouraged to request only absolutely essential resource.

Eligibility--Eligibility is limited to Standing Faculty (tenure track or tenured faculty), Standing Faculty--Clinician-Educators, and Research Faculty.

Application Process

Dates--Applications are accepted twice each year, for November 1 and March 15 deadlines. If the date falls on a weekend or holiday the deadline is the next working day. Every effort will be made to process applications and notify applicants of the outcome within 10 weeks after the deadlines.

The Application--Brevity and clarity will enhance the likelihood of success. All applications should be limited to 10 pages (applications for > $25,000 can be up to 15 pages) and should include the following items:

  1. A Research Foundation Proposal Cover Sheet.
  2. An abstract, no more than 200 words, written for the educated non-specialist.
  3. A description of the research proposal, which should be no more than 5 single spaced pages for grants up to $25,00 and no more than 10 pages for grants > $25,000. Proposals should provide background, hypothesis or purpose of the research, significance of the research, methods used, work to be undertaken, and outlook for future extension of the research and its potential for external funding (see also criteria for evaluating proposals, below).
  4. A single page biographical sketch.
  5. A budget, with justification for each item requested. Items that can be requested include faculty release time, summer stipends, research travel expenses, supplies, minor equipment specifically designed for the proposed research. Items that are usually excluded include renovations of the physical facilities, major equipment, and extension of projects that are already well funded.
  6. Other research support, including current funding with a list of titles, amounts, sources, and grant periods, expired funding for the prior three years, plus pending applications. Applicants with "start up packages" should provide detailed dated budgets.
  7. All Assistant Professors in their first three years are required to include a letter from their department chair indicating their career plans within the department, and listing all department funding, including startup packages and the like. In addition, the letter should document the degree of independence of these investigators.
  8. Regulatory issues--If research involves human subjects, animals, biohazards, or other regulatory issues, the application should identify those concerns and provide documentation that they have been addressed. This may require IRB or IACUC or Environmental Safety review and approval. It should be emphasized that full regulatory compliance applies to Research Foundation grants, which must meet the same standards applied to larger extramural applications. Regulatory documentation can be provided as an appendix to the body of the application and will not be included in the page count. For advice please consult the Office of Regulatory Affairs.
  9. Conflict of Interest--The applicant should explicitly make a statement whether or not the application involves any potential conflict of interest, and any such conflicts should be described. For instance, if the research could forward the interests of a company in which the applicant has a pecuniary interest, this should be disclosed. Conflict of interest documentation (if required) can be provided as an appendix to the body of the application and will not be included in the page count.

Submission--An original and ten copies of the complete proposal with the cover sheet should be submitted to the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, 119 College Hall/6303.

Review Process

All applications are reviewed by one of four faculty committees, in the four disciplinary areas mentioned above. Every attempt is made to spread funding equitably across the major disciplines. Each application is reviewed for a variety of attributes, including:

  • Scientific merit, creativity and innovation
  • Feasibility
  • Appropriateness for the modest funding provided
  • Significance of the research
  • Time-limited opportunities that require immediate funding
  • Prospects for future extramural funding
  • Matching support from other sources
  • Availability of alternate funding sources
  • Career development of young researchers
  • Evidence that junior applicants will be working as independent investigators
  • Forwarding of school or institutional objectives, such as interdisciplinary research

Certain frequently found weaknesses should be avoided, such as:

  • "Re-inventing the wheel" due to ignorance of prior published work, often in cognate fields
  • A fishing expedition without a focused hypothesis
  • Requests for equipment, such as computers, that could be funded by the School
  • Requests for faculty salary that exceeds the scale of URF grants
  • Repeated requests for research projects that are eligible for but have failed to garner external reviewed support

Since meritorious requests exceed available funds, reviewers often reduce budgets to extend the number of applications that can be supported. The review committees make their recommendations to the Vice Provost for Research, who makes the final decisions about funding, based on year-to-year availability of resources. Decisions will be made shortly after review committees have met and should be distributed by e-mail within 10 weeks of the date of submission.

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 1, July 17, 2001