Grant Proposal Preparation FAQs

What is step one in seeking an external grant?

The Office of Sponsored Research (OSR) supports faculty seeking funding for research, scholarship, and creative work through a clear and effective process for all partners (Faculty, Sponsored Research, Department Chairs, the Dean of Faculty, and Business Affairs).  It is important to follow this process so that we can best support you in each step of proposal development, submission, and grant administration.

Most grants, both public and private, are submitted by and awarded to HMC, and some require an institutional nomination.  Thus it is critical that you first notify OSR of any opportunity of interest 8-12 weeks prior to the submission deadline through the Intent to Submit form.  Even if a grant is not submitted by, awarded to, or administered by HMC, it is important to notify OSR about the opportunity so that 1) we can assist you with drafting a strong proposal, and 2) we can ensure there is no conflict with other institutional funding goals and efforts. 

How soon should I send the grant proposal to the Office of Sponsored Research?

Faculty members are encouraged to begin the proposal review process at least 8 weeks prior to the proposal due date. See the grant proposal timeline. This will allow for unanticipated delays with the granting agency, submission process, and individuals who may be out of the office on the day the proposal is due. Final drafts of the proposal must be provided to the Office of Sponsored Research and of the budget to the Business Affairs office at least two weeks prior to the sponsor’s deadline for final internal review and approval by the department chair and Dean of Faculty to ensure successful on-time submission.

Do I need to seek approval before submitting a grant proposal?

Yes.  Most grants, both public and private, are submitted by and awarded to HMC, and some require institutional nomination.  Even if a grant is not submitted by, awarded to, or administered by HMC, it is important to notify OSR about the opportunity so that 1) we can assist you with drafting a strong proposal, and 2) we can ensure there is no conflict with other institutional funding goals and efforts. 

Faculty must also share their proposal and budget with OSR to obtain required Department and Dean approvals for submission to the granting agency.

Who should I consult if I have questions regarding my proposal budget?

Please first refer to Budgeting Information for Research Grant Proposals.

Rodrigo Flores in the business affairs office can assist faculty with proposal budget questions. You may reach Rodrigo at 909.607.0352 or by email at if this is for an NSF grant, you may also refer to the NSF Budget Template.

If I need help writing my proposal, who should I contact?

Faculty write their own proposals, however, there are resources available to assist. Faculty who have previously submitted successful proposals would be a good place to start. Please contact Nicole Wallens in Sponsored Research for suggestions. Additionally, the dean of faculty can suggest faculty members who would be a good resource for advice.

Is Harvey Mudd College eligible for Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) grants through the NSF?

Yes.  Funding research at primarily undergraduate institutions is a priority for NSF and HMC meets NSF’s criteria for being an RUI.  The RUI mechanism requires an RUI Impact Statement from the PI and a certificate of eligibility from the Dean.  OSR can assist you in drafting the Impact Statement and obtaining the certification.

If I am collaborating with another institution, do I need to get approval?

Yes, collaborations are treated in the same manner as a primary proposal submitted by HMC. Please follow the same proposal approval process as you would where HMC is the lead institution.

I am a sub-awardee on a proposal that was submitted by a prime organization to NSF. For current and pending support, should my organization list the total amount requested for our sub-award, or should we list the total award amount for the overall proposal?

NSF uses the information submitted in the current and pending support section to assess the capacity of the individual to carry out the research as proposed as well as to help assess any potential overlap/duplication with the project being proposed. The total award amount requested or received by the sub-awardee organization must be provided.

What is the indirect cost rate (called “Facilities and Administration” by NSF)?

NSF describes indirect costs as those costs which are not readily identifiable with a particular cost objective (e.g., direct organizational activity or project), but nevertheless are necessary for the general operation of an organization. Examples of indirect costs include the salary and related expenses of individuals working in accounting, personnel, purchasing functions, rent, depreciation and utilities. Indirect costs are not normally charged directly to a Federal award, but are allocated equitably to all of the organization’s activities. Indirect costs are generally charged to Federal awards through the development and application of an indirect cost rate (ICR). Please refer to Budgeting Information for Research Grant Proposals for current rates.

What are person-months and how do I calculate them?

What is the definition of “person months”?
The term “person-months” refers to the effort – amount of time – that PI/coPI(s), and other senior personnel will devote to a specific project. The effort is based on the organization’s regular academic year, summer, or calendar year. For example, if the regular schedule is 9 months and 30% effort will be devoted to the project, a total of 3 months should be listed as academic months. See other approaches below.

How do I calculate the person-months per year committed to the project?
Multiply the percentage of your effort associated with the project times the number of months of your appointment (i.e., 25% of a 9 month academic year appointment equals 2.25 person months {9 x 0.25= 2.25}; 10% of a 12 month calendar appointment equals 1.2 person months {12 x 0.10 = 1.2})

OR, if you know the number of hours, days, or weeks to be devoted to the project, person-months can be obtained by calculating the portion.

For example, working 5 days on a project = 1 week/4 total weeks in a month = 0.25 person months. Since a month includes a working day or two more than four weeks, an alternate way to calculate would be 5 days/22 work days in most months = 0.23 person-months. Simply said

  • Using weeks: multiply number of weeks by 0.23 to get person months (3 weeks x 0.23 = 0.69 person months) OR
  • Using days: multiply number of days by 0.05 to get person months (4 days x 0.05 = 0.20 person months)

How do I calculate summer salary on my proposal?

When supplemental summer salary is allowed by the funding agency (e.g., NSF), it should be calculated at a rate of one-ninth of your annual salary per month of summer salary (and prorated for fractions of a month devoted to summer research). NSF sets a maximum of two-ninths of annual salary for summer salary.

Generally speaking, you should project an estimated 4.0% annual increase when calculating summer salary. This is not a commitment on the part of the College to increase salaries at this level, and indeed salary from grants cannot exceed the actual salary level established by the College.

Academic Year Salary: $80,000 / 9 months = $8,888.89 Maximum Monthly Summer Salary
Effort during the summer is 2 months: 2 x $8,888.89 = $17,777.78 Total Summer Salary for year one of the grant
Year two of the grant would include a 4% increase: ($17,777.78 x .04) + $17,777.78 = $18,488.89

I’m looking to hire summer research students to assist with the research. What rate would I use to calculate the expense?

The summer 2022 award for an undergraduate student researcher who completes ten weeks of research is $6,000. In your grant proposal, request $6,000 for each student and budget for an increase in pay of 3.5-4%/year. If you know in advance that a student will work less than 10 weeks, pro-rate the budget request – for example, $3,000 for 5 weeks (@ $600 a week).  NB: in order to pay students by stipend, the PI and the student must both attest that the research is an educational experience.  Otherwise, the student will be paid as an hourly employee with 8% FICA withheld.

In addition to student pay, students may be eligible for housing support through the Summer Student Housing Program (SSHP).  SSHP will provide a limited number of awards of 2,000 USD to students in financial need residing on campus during the summer months who are participating in scholarly activity.

Eligibility Requirements for summer 2022:
To be eligible for an SSHP award, a student must:

-Have applied and qualified for need-based Harvey Mudd College scholarship funds during the 2021-2022 academic year.

-Be a full-time HMC student during the academic year prior to the summer in question.
-Be conducting at least 10 weeks of summer research or scholarship under the advising of an HMC faculty member.

-Not be receiving a summer housing allowance from other sources.

Note that the SSHP has a limited budget, and eligibility does not guarantee a student will receive an award. Students who apply earlier may have a higher likelihood of receiving an award.

How do I calculate student wages, not including summer research student fellows?

All new summer research proposals should include students as fellows under Participant Support (see related FAQ on calculating summer researcher expenses). If additional assistance from an undergraduate student is needed throughout the academic year, you may use this to calculate:
Non-HMC Students: (Hourly rate determined by HR) X (number of hours) X (1.08 fringe)
Enrolled HMC Students: (Hourly rate determined by HR) x (number of hours)
Please note that the fringe rate of 8% covers employer-paid FICA (Social Security and Medicare). These rates have been approved by Human Resources.

Are PIs allowed to provide gift cards as part of their research activities?

The College understands that PIs utilize gift cards as part of their research activities and the College is committed to supporting these activities. PIs can provide gift cards to individuals participating in a research project if the gift card is being provided to incentivize a broad population of students or non-HMC employees and the gift card amounts are minor in amount (e.g. under $25). In these instances, the College does not have a reporting requirement to the IRS if the total amount provided to an individual in a calendar year is less than $600. Therefore, no W-9 is required to be obtained from research participants. It remains the research participant’s responsibility to determine the tax implications based on the facts and circumstances.

Please also coordinate providing adequate security for the research participant gift cards between the purchase and distribution. This should be a locked location with access limited to those responsible for the distribution of the gift cards. We also recommend not keeping additional gift cards on hand by avoiding purchasing more gift cards than are needed for a specific event or timeframe. The College is required to retain supporting documentation for audit review. In addition to the receipt of the purchase of the gift cards, a log should be kept for the distribution of gift cards that indicates the recipient. If confidentiality is required, please let the Business Affairs Office know and we can coordinate an alternative method of documenting the distribution of the gift cards to research participants.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Rodrigo Flores at or Danette Sanchez at