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Below are the latest University Research Foundation Guidelines, revised as of September 30, 2005. The Guidelines and additional information may be found online at www.upenn.edu/research/FoundationGuidelines.htm. For the recipients of the Fall 2004 awards, see Almanac March 15, 2005. The recipients of the Spring 2005 Awards were published in Almanac September 6, 2005, which is also available online at www.upenn.edu/almanac/volumes/v52/n02/urf.html.

University Research Foundation
Newly Revised Guidelines
November 15

Click here to view the URF Conference Support Guidelines.

Statement of Purpose and Guidelines

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 limited institutional matching funds that are awarded contingent upon a successful external peer-reviewed application that requires an institutional match.

•   Providing, under compelling circumstances, established investigators with funds to support a well-justified gap in 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: Biomedical Sciences, Humanities, Physical Sciences and Engineering and Social Science and Management.

Term–Grants are given for a single year only. Applications for a renewal of a previously funded project 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. If justified in writing, carryover of unexpended funds may be approved by the Vice Provost for Research. Request for carryover of unexpended funds should be made prior to the expiration of an award.

Budget–Applications up to $50,000 will be entertained.

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 the applicant will receive an appointment as an Assistant Professor by the time of the award.

Conference Support–Scholarly conferences of a research nature will be considered for funding at the level of up to $3,000 per conference (See Conference Support Guidelines on page 5).

The Application

Applications that fail to meet the guidelines will not be reviewed.

Dates–Applications are accepted twice each year, for November 15 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. Please number all pages at the bottom right hand corner. Use one-inch margins and a 12-point font. Applications should be limited to ten pages and must include in this order:

1.  A completed, Research Foundation Proposal Cover Sheet (with all signatures). The form can be downloaded from the website for the URF, www.upenn.edu/research/FoundationGuidelines.htm. The completed cover sheet must indicate the appropriate review committee (Biomedical Sciences, Humanities, Physical Sciences and Engineering and Social Science and Management), and the application should be classified under one of the bulleted Statement of Purpose categories listed above.

2.  An abstract of no more than 200 words, written for the educated non-specialist.

3.  A description of no more than 5 single-spaced pages of the research proposed. Proposals must 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 Review Process below).

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

4.  A single page biographical sketch for the principle investigator and all co-investigators. The biographical sketches do not count against the page limit.

5.  A budget, with justification for each item requested. Items that can be requested include research costs associated with travel expenses, supplies, and salaries of non-faculty personnel essential to the project. Equipment costs up to 100% of the proposed budget may be eligible for funding but such requests must be justified in the application as essential to the research. In addition, if all or most of the budget is to be used for equipment, the applicant must document that other resources are available to conduct the proposed research. Specific research objectives should be identified and described. The review will focus not on the equipment being requested but on the scientific program to which it will be applied. Faculty salaries, including summer salaries or release time, are not funded. Because it may not be possible to fund meritorious proposals fully, the budget must prioritize items in the order of their importance to the project.

6.  Research support, including other current funding with a list of titles, amounts, sources, and grant periods, expired funding for the prior three years, and pending applications. Applicants with start up packages must provide detailed dated budgets. Prior grants from the University Research Foundation must be itemized, with dates, title, and amount of funding, plus a statement about whether external funding was received as a result of the URF grant. Other research support for co-investigators should be identified.

7.  Assistant Professors in all tracks (including Tenure, Clinician Educator, and Research track) are required to include a letter from their department chair indicating their career plans within the department, future commitment of independent space and of department or School resources including all department funding (start up packages, etc.). In addition, the letter should establish that the applicant will be working as an independent investigator or scholar. Such 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. If IRB, IACUC or Environmental Safety review and approval is required, it may be obtained after the application has been approved, but before funds are provided or research has been initiated. For advice please consult the Office of Regulatory Affairs, www.upenn.edu/regulatoryaffairs.

9.  Conflict of interest. The applicant should explicitly make a statement about 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 financial 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. See www.upenn.edu/research/rcr/conflict.htm.

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, 118 College Hall/6303. In addition, a PDF version of the full proposal including the cover sheet proposal must be sent as one attachment via email to: vpr@pobox.upenn.edu.

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

•  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

•  advancement 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

•  repeated requests for research projects that are eligible for but have failed to garner external peer reviewed support

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.

If awarded:  

•  Regulatory approvals must be obtained before funds are transferred to the department.

•  The home department must have a 26-digit budget code.

•  A brief (1 to 2 pages) report should be submitted to the Vice Provost Office of Research within one year of the date of the award.



  Almanac, Vol. 52, No. 7, October 11, 2005


October 11, 2005
Volume 52 Number 7


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