Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Helpful Gatekeepers: Positive Management of the Limited Submission Process

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Helpful Gatekeepers: Positive Management of the Limited Submission Process

Article excerpt


Limited submission grant programs force a sensitive gatekeeper role squarely on research administration. By limiting the number of proposals that an institution may submit in response to a program announcement, sponsors (both governmental and private) are, in effect, pushing down to the universities the initial triage of competitive vs. non-competitive grant proposals, thus reducing their own workloads to a considerable degree. At the other end, research administrators can view this role either as an onerous but necessary task, or they can seize opportunities for constructive communications, proposal improvements, and faculty development. This paper describes a process at Virginia Tech that aims at the latter approach, using ten rules for managing limited submission programs.


With sponsor budgets flattening as universities ramp up their research agendas, intensified competition has become the norm. In 2003 NSF underwent a near budget freeze, while the number of proposals increased 14 per cent, thus lowering their average success rate from 25 to 20 percent in one year (NSF 2004). Similarly, universities are witnessing an increasing number of limited submission grant programs with more internal candidates competing for each opportunity. In January of 2005, for example, the research office at Virginia Tech posted twelve programs on its limited submission calendar for the month, one of which had eleven research teams vying for a single slot! In this environment, research administration is under heightened pressure to manage limited submissions in a manner that is perceived as fair by all constituencies. The following are ten rules for implementing a positive management philosophy in this sensitive arena.

Ten rules for positive management

As a grounding principle, the entire limited submission process should mirror, as closely as possible, the best qualities of the peer review system now in place with most major sponsors, a system that continues to get high marks from most researchers (NIH 2001).

Rule 1: Cast a broad net

Limited submissions have always presented management challenges, the first being the difficulty in flagging them accurately and in a timely fashion. Recurring programs such as NSF's Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) or American Honda's Grants in Scientific Education present few difficulties. But, like wayward meteorites, new limited submissions can swoop into view with precious little warning. Online database services such as Community of Science and InfoED can be programmed to issue alerts, but their performance with new programs can be spotty. Likewise, researchers who become aware of a new limited submission may or may not choose bring it to the attention of the research office until they're ready to deliver the final proposal. (Why invite competition?) To cast as broad a net as possible, grants specialists and all pre-award staff should report any new program to a single coordinator who is responsible for immediate communications to researchers.

Rule 2: Communicate in multiple channels

Researchers who belatedly find themselves excluded from the limited submission process often complain they weren't aware of it. To fight this, recall an old rule of organizational communications: Send important information through at least three channels. For limited submissions, the big three are: a) web site calendars with internal deadlines going forward several months, b) individual e-mail alerts to researchers, department heads and deans; and 3) periodic postings in printed newsletters.

Rule 3: Set workable deadlines

Maintaining workable deadlines while trying to balance the conflicting needs of researchers, sponsors, the university and the research office can often seem like mission impossible. Stay focused on the primary goal: To assure the selected investigator(s) has sufficient time to prepare a high quality proposal, a task that requires at least five weeks after a project has been selected for submission. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.