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University Research Foundation Guidelines

Below are the latest University Research Foundation Guidelines, revised as of February 11, 2003. The Guidelines and additional information may be found on line at

For the recipients of the Fall 2002 awards see Almanac February 11, at

Statement of Purpose

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

  • 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.
  • Helping established faculty perform exploratory research, particularly on novel or pioneering ideas, to determine their feasibility and develop preliminary data to support extramural applications.
  • 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.
  • Under compelling circumstances, established investigators may be funded to support a well-justified brief gap extramural support or a documented unanticipated short-term need.


Disciplines--The URF supports research in all disciplines, including international research. For purposes of review, applications are assigned to four broad disciplinary areas: humanities, 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 resources.

Eligibility--Eligibility is limited to University faculty, in any track, at any professorial level. Instructors and Research Associates may apply but need to establish (by letter from the Department chair) that they will receive appointment as assistant professors by the following July 1st.

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:

1. A Research Foundation Proposal Cover Sheet, which can be downloaded from the Website for the URF.

2. An abstract, no more than 200 words, written for the educated non-specialist. The application should also be classified under one of the five priorities listed above.

3. A description of the research proposal, which should be no more than 5 single spaced pages for grants up to $25,000 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).

Note: an application formatted for another sponsoring agency or failing to conform to the guidelines will not be reviewed.

4. A single page biographical sketch.

5. A budget, with justification for each item requested. Items that can be requested include 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. Faculty summer salaries or release time are usually not funded, since priority is given to the actual costs of the research project itself. Because it may not be possible to fully fund meritorious proposals, the budget should prioritize items in order of their importance to the project.

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. If applicable, prior grants from the University Research Foundation should be itemized, with dates, title, and amount of funding, plus a statement whether external funding was received as a result of the URF grant.

7. Assistant Professors in all tracks (including tenure track, CE track, and research track) 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 establish that the applicant will be working as an independent investigator or scholar. Instructors and Research Associates are eligible only if it is planned to appoint them as assistant professors by the following July 1st, as certified in a letter from their department chair. This letter should also document the department plans for their career, future commitments of independent space and of department or school resources, and convincing evidence of their independent status as investigators or scholars. Additional documentation can be provided as an appendix and will not be included within the page count.

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 will be addressed. Please note that IRB approval may be required for human subject research in all disciplines, including the sociobehavioral sciences and humanities as well as in the biomedical disciplines. If IRB or IACUC or Environmental Safety review and approval is required, it may be obtained after the application has been approved, but before funds are expended or research has been initiated. It should be emphasized that Research Foundation grants 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

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

  • scholarly 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 exceed the scale of URF grants
  • Repeated requests for research projects that are eligible for but have failed to garner external peer 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.

Critiques of applications are not provided for successful or failed applications, since this would place an excessive burden on the faculty who volunteer their time as peer reviewers. Applicants are welcome to consult the chair of the review committee for any informal information that may be available.

Questions should be directed to: Lanese Rogers, Office of the Vice Provost for Research, 119 College Hall/6303. (215) 898-7236

Procedures for Approved URF Grants

1. Transfer of funds. Within one month following notice of award, recipients are required to arrange a transfer of award funds from the Provost's Administrative Office to their home department. This transfer should be arranged by the Business Administrator for the home department. The process is initiated by submitting the financial form, which accompanies the award letter to: Stacy Fletcher, Office of the Vice Provost for Research, 119 College Hall/6303, FAX (215) 573 2108

Regulatory approvals--If regulatory approvals (IRB, IACUC, and the like) are required and have not been obtained at the time of the award, they must be obtained prior to the utilization of funds or initiation of the research. Failure to comply would be considered a serious transgression of the policies of the University of Pennsylvania.

2. Report. A brief (1-2 pages) report is required to be submitted to the Office of the Vice Provost for Research one year after the date of the award. This should describe the work accomplished, the planned date of completion, and whether there are residual unused funds in the budget. In general, it is expected that the scope of research would be completed within one year of the date of award. Also, if alternative funding has been obtained, recipients are expected to return unexpended funds.


  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 22, February 18, 2003