Project Budgets and RA Salaries

Preparing a grant budget

The SFU Office of Research Services (ORS) provides comprehensive information on their website about how to develop a research budget with relevant tools, resources and guidelines pertaining to budget development, the differences between direct costs and indirect costs of research and a list of FAQs about overhead.

In addition, the following information applies to rates of pay and benefits for research personnel at the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology (FCAT). 

Rates of pay and benefits for research personnel

Research Assistants

FCAT recommends the following student rates based on comparative amounts recommended by other faculties within the University. These amounts are indicative and also take into account competitive rates with NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR annual scholarships, competitive rates with other Canadian post-secondary institutions and the cost of living in British Columbia.

Recommended FCAT Stipend Amounts:

  • Masters students: $18,000 - $26,000/year
  • Doctoral students: $20,000 - $28,000/year

Recommended FCAT hourly rates (as of June, 2023):

Research Assistants    

Minimum Hourly    

Benefits @ 14%    

Minimum Total    

Maximum Hourly    

Benefits @ 14%    

Maximum Total    






















Note: “Benefits” includes statutory welfare benefits of 10% of salary and statutory holiday pay of 4%. Either percentage may be increased by law, or may vary by individual. For budgeting purposes, the 14% figure should be used.

Postdoctoral Fellows

A "Postdoctoral Fellow" or "PDF" is defined by SFU Research Policy R 50.03, section 4.1 as "a person who has completed a doctoral degree and who has been appointed by the University for a limited period of time to undertake advanced research and further professional development in association with one or more of the University’s faculty members". 

Since the latest revisions to Policy R 50.30 June 27, 2019, most grant-funded PDFs have become employees of the University and thus qualify for benefits as described on the Human Resources PDF website of the Research Personnel Initiative.

FCAT recommends the following PDF fellowship amounts based on comparative amounts recommended by other faculties within the University. These amounts are indicative and also take into account competitive rates with NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR annual scholarships, competitive rates with other Canadian post-secondary institutions and the cost of living in British Columbia:

Suggested Minimum   

Suggested Maximum  




Travel and Accomodation Expenses

Travel expenses included in a research project budget must comply with SFU's Business and Travel Expenses Policy AD 3.02. In particular:

  • Travel and business expenses to be reimbursed "must be consistent with the mission of the University" (Policy AD 3.02, art. 3.1) and
  • Travel must be the most direct and economic option, with due consideration to effective use of the traveler's time. Luxury modes of travel, such as first class airfare or luxury model car rentals, are not reimbursable expenses (Policy AD 3.02, art. 3.10).

The following recommended tips and guidelines usually apply to most Tri-Council granting agencies and other funders, however, these may vary according to specific agency or funder requirements.

Transportation Costs:

  • Economy airfare, supported by name of travel organization or onlines search fares (airline, bus, train)
  • Mileage: According to funder's guidelines or SFU Policy AD 3.02, art. 3.11 (does not exceed the amount eligible under the Income Tax Act for tax-free reimbursement - see Allowable allowance rates)

Hotel or Other Accomodations:

  • Hotels (average prices of 3-4 start hotels are generally acceptable) or other arrangements (e.g., university residence rates, hosted at a resident's home, etc.) for a reasonable and justified duration that is essential to complete the proposed research activity.
Per Diem:
Item             Canada          International            
Breakfast      $20 $25
Lunch $20 $25
Dinner $35 $45
Total/day $75 $95
Note: SFU Policy AD 3.02, art. 3.9 - "Meals during travel are reimbursable for the reasonable actual costs of food and non-alcoholic beverages, or for per diem amounts. If meals are otherwise provided (e.g., as a part of a conference registration fee) this expense is not eligible.

Software, Hardware, Supplies

Many applicants would like to include costs such as supplies or services (e.g., photocopies, phone calls, dissemination materials), a laptop for field research or specialized computers/printers or other hardware for specific research tasks or software that supports research. 

In such cases, it is strongly advised to limit expenses to those that are justifiable as necessary and essential to the research in the proposed research project (e.g., usually only 1 laptop for field research is advised), with quotes and details for specialized hardware (e.g., brand, model, price, taxes). 

Most granting organizations will also want to know if items are already provided by your host institution. It is important to note, in this respect, that SFU provides its researchers with Microsoft Office and various Research or other Software.  Please consult the list of SFU Software Downloads and Licenses before including it as a cost item in your budget: 


As indicated on the Office of Research Services webpage on "Direct Costs", "Equipment refers to apparatus used primarily for research within the proposed project. Based on SFU Policy A 30.08, equipment purchased from external funds or with University funds (including internal research funds) belongs to SFU".

For large costs related to equipment, lab and facilities, researchers may wish to consider applying to a Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Grant.  More information is available on the Institutional Strategic Awards wepage on CFI.


As indicated on the Office of Research Services webpage on "Direct Costs", Services "includes laboratory analysis services, marketing and printing services, consultant services, publication and communication services, etc. Quotes or statements of work are usually required to justify services. Please note services over $50,000CAD require competitive bidding and at least three quotes."

Investigator Fees    

As indicated on the Office of Research Services webpage on "Direct Costs", "In some cases, the funding sponsor allows payment to investigators in recognition of their time, efforts and expertise. The amount of such a payment, often referred to as an investigator fee, will be established at the proposal stage and must be indicated on the SFU Funding Application Signature Sheet and have the approval of the Chair and Dean.

In particular, Investigator Fees must comply with the provisions of Section 3.0 Payment to Employees in SFU Independent Contractor Policy AD 3.11. In order to initiate payment following project completion, the investigator should submit a completed Additional Pay Authorization Form (See "Payroll", then choose the form that corresponds with the individual's union or position at SFU.) to Research Accounting, signed by the Dean and Chair (or Associate Dean where there is no Chair or if the investigator is the Chair). The one-time payment or bi-weekly payment should be adjusted to account for approximately additional 8% statutory costs such as CPP and EI. 

Please see the Office of Research Services brief, “What to I need to know about investigator fees?,” for further information.

Teaching Buy-Out

Teaching buy-out or the "minimum costs of one regular course" that would provide researchers more time to conduct their proposed research project must be approved by the Department Chair/School or Program Director and Faculty Dean prior to their inclusion in a research project budget. The cost of a teaching buy-out is established by your unit. Buy-outs often entail challenges for faculties to seek a qualified replacement and several formal hiring procedures. They are therefore approved only exceptionally and should not be considered as automatic even when an external grant to pay the cost of the buy-out is approved.  According to SFU Policy A 30.03 on "Tenure Track Faculty Worload Policy":

"Under certain circumstances, faculty members may 'buy out' teaching responsibilities when the source of funds is an external research grant or contract, and where the benefits of the buy-out to the faculty member’s research program outweigh the effects on the unit’s teaching program and its students. A faculty member normally may not buy out more than one course in any academic year. Other limitations may apply (see Study Leave policy). The Dean and the Chair must approve buy-out applications. The minimum cost of one regular course buy-out is 12% of annual salary."

Applicants seeking to obtain approval of a teaching buy-out must also include this information in their SFU Funding Application Signature Sheet.