Budget Development

Please note: this information is intended to provide general advice to faculty applying for research funding. Each funding agency has its own guidelines and requirements.

Introduction

Your budget is a critical part of your research proposal. It is also, at many funding agencies, a component of your application’s score. At SSHRC, for instance, the scoring criteria for the Feasibility section of assessing proposals now includes “appropriateness of the requested budget, and justification of proposed costs.”

You can expect an adjudication committee to judge your budget based not only on its eligibility, but also on how appropriate it is, and how closely it is connected to supporting your project’s overall research goals.

Assembling a budget can be a daunting task.  Here are some tips to help you get started.

Before fixing on a dollar figure, start with the expected duration of your research. Is this a one-year exploratory grant? A five-year single-investigator project? A seven-year large-scale team project?

The amount you request should be realistic – the committee members will know the costs of travel, hardware and other expenses.

  Check eligible expenses on the agency’s website and if you have any questions, consult a grants facilitator.

√  Ensure that your budget is closely tied to your research objectives.

√  Ensure that any unusual expenses are clearly justified.

Getting Started

  • Start with the timeframe needed, and begin by breaking down your budget year by year.
  • Examine your research plan, particularly in terms of travel, hiring RAs, and other major expenses. Your budget will take shape following your overall research goals.
  • Keep your budget in mind throughout your planning, so that it develops organically from your research framework.
  • Be realistic about your anticipated costs, and about your timeframe. A tightly focused project that is well-grounded is much more likely to get funded that one which tries to do too many things at once.
  • Most of your budget will probably go toward hiring students and other RAs, buying equipment, travel for research, and travel for research dissemination.

Personnel Costs

  • If you have co-investigators, you may be able to pay some of their research and travel costs (but not their salaries). The guidelines differ depending on their status and on which type of grant you’re applying for, so check with a grants facilitator if you have questions.
  • Generally speaking, co-investigators are at Canadian institutions and are therefore able to access the project’s research funds. Collaborators do not have to be Canadian, nor in academia, and the grant will cover some of their costs to meet with the research team, but NOT their direct research costs.
  • When hiring students, estimate the hours you need them to work carefully. Research grants are not a catchall for student support; your RAs need to be well-integrated into the project so that their own training and careers will advance as a result.
  • Canadian students are usually preferred to international students, and hiring students is usually preferred to hiring professionals. If your research requires otherwise, it’s not a problem, but be prepared to justify it.
  • Salaries and benefits are set by each institution. You have the option of offering your RAs an hourly salary or a stipend. The Faculty of Education usually pays salaries.

The Faculty of Education Guidelines for Rates of Pay and Benefits for Research Personnel.

Equipment Costs

  • Be realistic about the hardware/technology you need to buy. If you need top-of-the-line equipment, that’s fine, but be prepared to justify it.
  • Check the agency’s list of eligible expenses. Computers, for instance, are usually covered, while phones and other office equipment are usually not, but this is subject to change

Travel Costs

  • Plan your travel expenses realistically. For instance, most of your research travel should take place in the earlier years of the grant, and most of your conference and other dissemination travel in the later years.
  • Per diem rates are set by each institution.
  • Look into renting long-term accommodation rather than expensive hotels, and public transportation or rentals rather than taxis. Committees really will make these suggestions when reviewing your budget.
  • Remember to include a budget for access to archives/facilities where necessary.
  • If you’re planning extended research travel, it may be more cost-effective to plan one long trip rather than several shorter ones.
  • When planning for travel over the next few years, it’s acceptable to build in a slight margin for inflation re: hotels, flights, etc. Estimate as best you can.
  • Taking students along on your trips is often valuable experience for them, but be realistic about how many you can bring, and what they can accomplish.

SFU Guidelines for Travel and Subsistence Costs.

Research Dissemination Costs

  • If you’re asking for money for publication fees, check carefully whether it’s an eligible expense: different agencies have different rules about that.
  • Remember to plan for ongoing expenses after the duration of the grant, like maintaining a project website. The committee will want to know who’s going to assume those costs.

Things to Remember

  • List all contributions (cash and in-kind) from other sources.
  • If you have any unusual expenses, please call a Grants Facilitator. Examples I’ve seen included, but not limited to: livestock rental, art installations, renting a sports car, bribes and other unavoidable “fees” to conduct research in some countries.
  • Double-check any currency conversions! Committees cannot legally award you more than you ask for and there have been cases where researchers have forgotten to convert figures from, say, pounds sterling into Canadian dollars, and ended up with less than the committee wanted to award.
  • Triple-check all totals!

Success Rates

  • Recent agency budget cuts have meant that the success rate at many agencies is declining. At the same time, the costs of research are increasing, and so is the average amount requested per application. If your project is recommended but not funded, it usually means that there simply wasn’t enough money. That being said, committees are told only to recommend projects for funding which are good enough to merit an award. In that position, it is certainly worth re-applying in the next competition.

Other Resources