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Proposal Preparation

Useful institutional info      New Sponsor / Subcontractor Requests

As soon as a solicitation of interest has been identified, the proposal guidelines within the solicitation should be reviewed in detail:

1. Confirm eligibility and feasibility

The first thing to do is to determine if it would be a worthwhile opportunity to pursue.  There are two main considerations: eligibility and feasibility:

  • Eligibility of the institution, an individual investigator, and the project itself must be assessed to ensure that a project would be eligible for funding.
  • Feasibility relates to time and resource availability – both in terms of proposal-related feasibility (i.e. is it realistically possible to submit a complete, on-time proposal to the sponsor based on the deadline) and project-related feasibility  (i.e.  will all of the resources – personnel, facilities, and equipment – needed to execute the proposed project be accessible and available). 

2. Identify key proposal elements and any special considerations

Key administrative components of the proposal should be identified. These include: Formatting and submission requirements, budget, external collaborations (e.g. subcontracts), compliance, and special requirements. Pay particular attention to those elements that may require additional support, review, or approval and/or require additional lead time (e.g. if Northwestern intends to subcontract to another organization).

3. Determine whether a relevant proposal checklist exists

Sponsored Research offers proposal preparation checklists for major sponsors and proposal types. These checklists may help principal investigators and/or administrators efficiently address standard budgetary and administrative elements in proposals. Always keep in mind that checklists are not meant to replace or supersede proposal guidelines.

4. Inform Sponsored Research early of intention to submit a proposal

Early communication with your Sponsored Research Grants Officer can significantly and positively impact proposal preparation and submission. For example, some solicitations contain terms that Northwestern would find objectionable (such as cost sharing requirements or publication restrictions) and may be prohibitive to applying. Early communication allows Sponsored Research staff to help you identify and address potentially problematic terms and head off subsequent problems.

PI Eligibility and Submission Considerations

Applicant Organization and Submission of Proposals

Northwestern University faculty members holding regular or research faculty appointments on a full-time or part-time basis submit proposals for research or sponsored programs through Northwestern University as the applicant organization with the following exceptions:

  • Faculty associated with the Veterans Administration (VA) submit their Merit Review and other VA program proposals through the VA system.
  • Faculty based at either Lurie Children’s Hospital or Evanston Hospital submit proposals through the hospital or, with the approval of the hospital, can submit through the University.
  • Faculty holding contributed service appointments may submit proposals either through the University or through one of the affiliated hospitals.

Proposals involving faculty from several University departments, schools, or centers, or affiliated hospitals normally will identify the University as the applicant organization.

For proposals submitted through the University, the following is understood:

  • The University is responsible for oversight of regulatory and other administrative matters that affect research activities.
  • It is not the intent to increase the overall cost of a research effort or to decrease the recovery of reasonable cost to an affiliated hospital. The affiliated hospitals will be reimbursed for reasonable, allocable, allowable, and auditable direct and indirect costs through the mechanism of a subcontract or purchase order.
  • It is the responsibility of faculty applicants and their department chairs to insure that the appropriate costs, both direct and indirect, are recognized and budgeted, and that budgets are approved in advance by the University and any third party, including an affiliated hospital.

NIH Loan Repayment Program (LRP)

The National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program provides support to health professionals in order to repay their student loans with the purpose of recruiting and retaining highly qualified health professionals as research investigators.  Visit our NIH Loan Repayment Program page for more information about eligibility criteria and the Northwestern application submission process.

NIH Multiple PD/PI Option


The multiple-Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) option presents an opportunity for investigators seeking support for projects or activities that require a team science approach. This option is targeted specifically to those projects that do not fit the single-PD/PI model and is intended to supplement and not replace the traditional single PD/PI model.  The multiple PD/PI policy allows investigators to choose either a single or multiple PD/PI approach for virtually all NIH programs. Key features and aspects of the policy include:

  • multiple PD/PIs share responsibility and authority for the project
  • all PD/PIs will be listed in the summary statement, Notice of Award, and listed in CRISP
  • All PD/PIs have access to status information through eRA Commons.

The first PD/PI listed must be affiliated with the applicant institution and will serve as the contact for NIH.  More information about the multiple PD/PI model can be found here: .


Some types of applications including individual career awards (K08, K23, etc.), individual fellowships (F31, F32, etc.), Dissertation Grants (R36), Director’s Pioneer Awards (DP1), Construction Grants (C06/UC6), Grants for Repair, Renovation and Modernization of Existing Research Facilities (G20) and Shared Instrumentation Grants (S10) do not accommodate more than a single PI.  The restriction to a single PI will be described in announcements for those programs.

Decision to Use the Multiple PI Option

The decision to apply for a single PD/PI or multiple PD/PI grant is the responsibility of the investigators and the applicant organization and should be determined by the scientific goals of the project. It is important to note that NIH expects the availability of the Multiple PI option to encourage interdisciplinary and other team science approaches to biomedical research. When considering multiple PD/PIs, please be aware that the organizational structure and governance of the PD/PI leadership team as well as the knowledge, skills, and experience of the individual PD/PIs will be factored into the assessment of the overall scientific merit of the application.

Multiple PD/PI Leadership Plan

Multiple PDs/PIs on a project share the authority and responsibility for leading and directing the project, intellectually and logistically. For applications designating multiple PD/PIs, a new section of the research plan, entitled “Multiple PD/PI Leadership Plan” must be included. A rationale for choosing a multiple PD/PI approach should be described. The governance and organizational structure of the leadership team and the research project should be described, including communication plans, process for making decisions on scientific direction, and procedures for resolving conflicts. The roles and administrative, technical, and scientific responsibilities for the project or program should be delineated for the PD/PIs and other collaborators. If budget allocation is planned, the distribution of resources to specific components of the project or the individual PD/PIs must be delineated in the Leadership Plan. In the event of an award, the requested allocation may be reflected in a footnote on the NGA.

Principal Investigator Eligibility

Any individual who holds one of the following positions can be identified as a PI and submit proposals to external sponsors:
  • tenure-track faculty (full, associate, and assistant professors)
  • non-tenure-track research faculty (full, associate, and assistant professors)
  • non-tenure-track clinical faculty (full, associate, and assistant professors)
  • instructors
  • adjunct faculty
  • emeritus faculty
  • senior research investigators
  • librarians
  • curators
On a case-by-case basis, an individual who holds one of the following positions can be identified as a PI upon approval from the Vice President for Research or his delegate:
  • visiting faculty
  • visiting scholars
  • lecturers
In general, research associates may not serve as PIs, but may seek approval from the vice president for research. In almost all cases, postdoctoral fellows and research assistants (graduate students) may NOT serve as PIs; however,  postdoctoral fellows who have no more than four (4) years of postdoctoral research experience may serve as PIs for NIH K99 applications.  See NIH FAQ on eligibility.

Process to Request Principal Investigator Status

When an individual without one of the above-listed automatically PI-eligible positions considers submitting a proposal as a principal investigator, a formal request must be prepared setting forth a rationale for the individual to serve as principal investigator. This request should be submitted via the Change Request module in InfoEd. Please note that approval for principal investigator status is on a proposal-by-proposal basis.

Statements for Grant Applications for PIs with Joint Appointments

For PIs with joint NU/NMG appointments, cut and paste applicable sample text into your application forms:

For NU/NMG PIs without VA appointments

Dr. ___________ has an appointment with Northwestern University (NU) and with the affiliated Northwestern Medical Group clinical practice plan (NMG). The institutional base salary used in this application represents the combined salary from both NU and NMG, which is paid by NU under a common paymaster. The number of person months in this application represents NU effort on the proposed project in relation to professional effort encompassed by the dual NU and NMG appointments.

For NU/NMG PIs with VA Appointments

Dr. ___________ has an appointment with Northwestern University (NU), with the affiliated Northwestern Medical Group clinical practice plan (NMG), and with the Veterans Administration (VA). This arrangement is defined in a formal NU-VA Joint Appointment Memorandum of Understanding. The institutional base salary used in this application represents the combined salary from both NU and NMG, which is paid by NU under a common paymaster system; it does not include salary from the VA appointment. The number of person months in this application represents NU effort on the proposed project in relation to professional effort for the dual NU and NMG appointments.