Whenever a researcher approaches me for help with a grant proposal, my first question is always, “when is the deadline?” In truth, the researcher’s idea of the deadline is very seldom the actual deadline.  For most researchers, the final deadline is 2 minutes prior to the absolute cut-off time issued by the funding agency. For most grant officers, the final deadline is 10 business days prior to the funding agency deadline. The reality is usually somewhere in between the two, but divergent conceptions of deadlines can cause the proposal process to become tension filled for all involved – better to agree up front.

I can almost hear you thinking – “Really? Knowing all of the time constraints researchers face, and the myriad of moving pieces necessary to pull together an application, why is the grants officer asking for the proposal to be completely ready two weeks early?”

When a funder awards a grant to a researcher through their institution, it creates a contract between the institution and the funder. This is one way funders protect themselves, it is usually a lower risk to award to an institution than directly to an individual.  The institution, therefore, needs to have its representative (in this case the grants/sponsored research officer or authorizing official) review the terms laid out in the proposal – both what is being proposed by the researcher in terms of scope of work and timeline and what the funder is potentially agreeing to cover with the budget.  In practical terms, this creates an extra level on scrutiny for any proposal (sometimes several, but we’ll save legal review and other processes for another time).

The grants officer needs time to review the scope of work, timeline, and budget of the proposed research to make sure it is reasonable on all ends, as well as confirm that the proposal is complete and in compliance with the funder’s requirements for submission.  In most cases, this can be done quickly and with time to make any necessary revisions.  It gets tricky when there is a single deadline from multiple funding agencies coupled with multiple competitions and multiple researchers applying to each. January 15th is a good example of this as there are several federal and internal CUNY proposals that traditionally fall due on that day.  This creates a perfect storm of deadlines and competitions which can get challenging if the two grants officers in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs don’t know exactly how many researchers are planning to apply.

Proposal “drop-dead” deadlines for review and submission get scheduled for the two week window prior to agency deadline as researchers let us know their intent to apply.  This ensures that the grants officers know well ahead of the two-week window how many applications are expected and allows them adequate time to do their jobs thoroughly and professionally.  The moral of the story is this: the moment you are even intending to apply for a grant – contact the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and schedule your submission deadline. The further in advance we know of your intention, and the earlier in the proposal development we can get you on our calendars, the more help we can provide in making the submission process as painless as possible.


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