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The following steps highlight the initial stages of the proposal preparation process, from creating the proposal in Cayuse SP to the final sponsor review and decision. It emphasizes the importance of complying with university and sponsor guidelines, seeking internal review and support, and engaging with the Department of Contracts and Grants for comprehensive evaluation and submission of the proposal.

Roles and Responsibilities – Pre-Award

The University of Southern California is committed to helping its faculty secure financial resources in support of their research. Doing this requires a partnership among faculty investigators, schools (and their departments, research centers and institutes), and central administration. The information below describes the roles and responsibilities of each of these groups at the Pre-Award stage. For more information and quick guides, please reference the Roles and Responsibilities section of our website.

Principal Investigators play a pivotal role in USC research projects, overseeing their direction, ensuring adherence to ethical standards, and fostering collaboration among team members. Below is a list of PI pre-award responsibilities.

  • Developing, proofreading, editing, and revising any technical or scholarly narratives.

  • Ensuring the proposal is consistent with Sponsor guidelines and University policy.

  • Identifying subcontractors and collaborators and securing a budget, scope of work and any relevant documents from subcontractors and consultants.

  • Identifying the need for any cost sharing funds.

  • Obtaining all needed regulatory approvals.

  • Ensuring that the proposal record in Cayuse SP is certified and correctly reflects any foreign influences or conflicts of interest.

Departmental Research Administrators assist the PI with the proposal process act as an information resource regarding sponsor guidelines and University policy. Below is a list of departmental research administrator pre-award responsibilities.

  • Review proposals for completeness and accuracy before submission.

  • Complete and route Cayuse SP proposal records for review and approval.

  • Assist with budget development and proposal preparation/revisions.

  • Identify any cost-share needs.

  • Coordinate any space.

  • Prepare and upload just-in-time information. 

  • Monitor any pre-award spending.

  • Secure a budget, scope of work and any other relevant documents from subcontractors and consultants.

Schools are responsible for ensuring that administrative support is provided to investigators for the preparation of proposals.  The School is accountable for the performance of investigators under their supervision and the scientific and financial management of sponsored projects.  Their review and approval of proposals ensure that all extramural research is consistent with USC’s mission and the educational, research and public service objectives of the unit and ensure the appropriate commitment of USC resources (personnel and equipment/facilities). 

Below is a list of school-level pre-award responsibilities.

  • Provide expert guidance on funding opportunities.

  • Identify and delineate acceptable cost-share burden between schools.

  • Approve requests for space.

  • Approve requests for indirect cost waivers or reductions.

  • Guide departments on proposal preparations.

  • Verify that any cost sharing is quantified in the proposal and is reported in Cayuse SP.

  • Review and approve proposed cost sharing for appropriateness.

  • Confirm the eligibility of a PI.

  • Confirm that the scope of work is in keeping with the mission of the school.

  • Confirm that the school has the space and resources to support the proposed work.

  • Confirm that the budget is reasonable and in keeping with University policy.

  • Provide school review and approval of proposals.

The Department of Contracts and Grants (DCG) supports USC’s investigators during the proposal process. DCG does not impose any required deadlines in terms of when a proposal must be received by in order for DCG to submit.  Instead, DCG has a Service Commitment that covers the services provided based upon the number of days in advance of deadline proposals are received.  

Below is a list of common DCG pre-award responsibilities.

  • Provides guidance and training resources to faculty and staff regarding their questions on proposal preparation.

  • Responsible for reviewing all proposals to extramural sponsors and confirming the proposal is in compliance with University and sponsor policy.

  • Acts as the liaison between the University and sponsors.

  • Coordinates sponsor requests for additional information.

  • Serves as the office of record for all proposals.

  • Endorse and submit proposals on behalf of USC.

Find a Funding Opportunity

Finding funding opportunities is a fundamental step for researchers seeking financial support for their projects. Locating opportunities involves a proactive approach of utilizing diverse search platforms, networking, institutional resources, and staying informed through various channels. The links below provide various opportunities available.

Review the Funding Opportunity

Upon locating a funding opportunity, you will want to review the opportunity carefully for the below information so that you can determine if you are eligible and are able to proceed with the proposal.

It is important to determine if the work proposed is research, a clinical trial, training, fellowship or Research Services. This, in turn, determines the appropriate F&A rate to apply and the central office who will be the authorized signatory.

Here is a list of Definitions of common Activity Types to assist with the designation:

Clinical Trial:

The controlled, clinical testing of investigational and/or approved drugs, devices, treatments or diagnostics in human subjects where such testing is performed under a sponsor or investigator-developed protocol covered by an IND or IDE from the FDA. Note: If you select the Activity Type “Clinical Trial”, an entire new “Clinical Trials” section will appear on the proposal form in Cayuse SP and need to be completed.


The acquisition of equipment, including grants of equipment or full or partial funding to enable the purchase of equipment and where the title to such equipment vests with USC.


Training or subsistence during training to either graduate students or post-doctoral candidates training in research techniques.


The development or enhancement of a curriculum.


Serves as the catchall for activities not reflected in the rest of the list.

Research (Applied):

The systematic use and practical application of findings/theories in studies involving useful products, where such studies are designed to test and/or evaluate practical application of proposed solutions.

Research (Basic):

Directed toward research that increases knowledge of the subject being studied. This includes activities that seek to increase the understanding of fundamental phenomena.

Research (Clinical):

Research in which people, or data or samples of tissue from people, are studied to understand health and disease.

Research (Development):

Normally follows basic research and attempts to expand the potentialities of new discoveries.


Consulting or other services, including public services, research services , business services, testing (recharge centers); Interpersonal agreements (IPA);  work-for-hire; training to non-USC students at outside facilities; independent contractor agreements. For additional information, please see our research services page.

Note: Cayuse is only required for Services type agreements which include government funding (city, county, state, federal).


Scholarly, professional, or occupational instruction primarily for graduate students or University employees (including post docs). This includes training awards made to USC that provide for selection of student recipients by academic units.

Determine if the deadline allows time to complete the proposal and secure necessary information and approvals. Check to determine if the proposal might require or request a Letter of Intent, White Paper, or Pre-Proposal.

Does the solicitation require that USC agree to terms and conditions at proposal stage?  If so, please loop in your DCG Officer so that they can review terms and advise on next steps. If the terms include publication restrictions or restrictions on foreign national participation, additional approvals might be required prior to submission consistent with the University Policy on International Collaborations and Export Control.

Grant proposals may entail various eligibility requirements, such as organizational eligibility, which stipulates that only certain types of institutions, like non-profits or academic institutions, are eligible to apply. Another type is project-specific eligibility, which outlines criteria such as geographic location or target population for the proposed project. Additionally, there may be eligibility based on the applicant’s track record, such as previous experience in the field or a demonstrated capacity to carry out the proposed work.

Institution Eligibility:
USC is a private institution of higher education located in the state of California in the United States of America and is registered as a 501( C )3 under IRS tax code. Please review the solicitation carefully to ensure that USC is eligible to apply prior to proceeding with your proposal.

PI Eligibility:
The sponsor may have limitations on who can serve at the Principal Investigator on a proposal. Please carefully review the solicitation section that determines “Eligibility” to ensure that the party identified as the PI meets sponsor requirements. USC also has guidance on who can serve as a Principal Investigator on USC sponsored research awards.

The USC Guide to Research provides the following guidance:

  • All tenured, tenure track, and Research, Teaching, Practice, and Clinical (RTPC) faculty (with the exception of lecturers, adjunct, and part-time faculty) may serve as Principal Investigators on Sponsored Research Projects at USC. Retired faculty may be called back and asked to serve as Principal Investigators as described in Chapter 10 of the Faculty Handbook. Please note that, Voluntary faculty may not serve as Principal Investigators.

The following employee types may serve as Principal Investigators if a waiver is granted upon recommendation by the appropriate department chair(s), appropriate dean(s), and the VP of Research:

  • Part-Time Faculty.

  • Certain staff positions (including Research Scientists, Senior Research Associates, and Research Associates).

  • Postdoctoral Research Associates and Postdoctoral Teaching Associates

Postdoctoral Research Associates and Postdoctoral Teaching Associates (as defined by USC’s Postdoctoral Scholars Policy) can also serve as Co-Principal Investigators on sponsored projects without a waiver. 

  • Other specific employee types may serve as a Principal Investigator if a waiver is granted.

How Can I Request a Waiver?

Please complete the information requested on the appropriate PI Exception Request and Approval Form below, attach the required additional documents (e.g. CV, solicitation), secure the approval of the Dean or Dean Designee and Department Chair and direct the completed waiver form to Katie Rountree ( in the Department of Contracts and Grants to secure approval of the Vice President of Research and Innovation or designee:


PI Eligibility Exception Request and Approval Forms:

Are there Sponsor Restrictions on Who Can Serve as a PI?

The sponsor may also have limitations on who can serve as the Principal Investigator on a proposal. Please carefully review the solicitation section that determines “Eligibility” to ensure that the party identified as the PI meets sponsor requirements.

Limited Submissions are competitions for awards by outside agencies for which USC can nominate a limited number of candidates. Applications for any of the awards listed here must go through an internal review process and receive approval from the USC administration prior to submission to the sponsoring agency. In order to secure approval please work with the Office of Research Initiatives and Infrastructure and follow their approval process for securing approval for Institutionally Limited Submissions.

Sometimes a sponsor might request a white paper, pre-proposal, or a letter of intent prior to accepting a proposal submission.  These are normally a short description of the proposed project. Usually, the purpose is to inform and interest the potential sponsor in the project, resulting in a request for a more detailed formal proposal.

When these “pre-proposals” do not require the certification/sign-off of an authorized representative in the Department of Contracts and Grants and/or do not include an Institutional Commitment (e.g. agreement to terms, commitment to a detailed budget, cost share commitment), no Cayuse SP record is required and the PI can submit directly to the sponsor. Or, if the DCG Officer is needed to submit, the PI can work with their DCG Officer to ensure successful submission prior to the deadline.

If the “pre-proposal” does require the sign-off of an Authorized Representative and includes an Institutional Commitment (e.g. agreement to terms, commitment to a detailed budget, cost share commitment) then please process the approvals through the Cayuse SP system prior to the deadline.  Upon receipt of the approved Cayuse SP record, your DCG Officer will sign off and submit the pre-proposal.

Determine the system through which the proposal needs to be submitted and work with your DCG Officer to ensure that you have all necessary registrations in order to be compliant with the submission system.


In some cases, the PI might have to submit directly and/or have to be registered in the system in order to complete the proposal. It is important to identify this early so that DCG can ensure that all registrations are in place.

Determine if the solicitation requires that there be a cost share commitment. Cost Sharing commitments require the approval of the School and so it is important to work with the school in advance to secure this approval.

For more information on cost sharing, please visit our Cost Sharing webpage.

In order to be compliant with FCOI regulations, all named investigators on proposals where there is PHS funding (e.g. NIH, HRSA, SAMSHA) must have the following in place prior to proposal submission:

Under FCOI regulation, “Investigator” means the Project Director or Principal Investigator and any other person, regardless of title or position, who is responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of research funded by the PHS (e.g., NIH), or proposed for such funding, which may include, for example, collaborators or consultants.

Complete the Proposal

The best resource for determining how to complete a proposal is the solicitation. Carefully review the solicitation and comply with the requirements set forth therein. Many foundations and corporate sponsors do not provide detailed guidelines with respect to proposal preparation. In these cases, the below webpages should be reviewed as a guide to the basic organization and elements of a proposal and budget.

Transfer Proposals for New USC Faculty

When a faculty member joins, USC, the university may need to engage in a process by which research awards are transferred between institutions, following the stipulations of the research sponsor. Prior to extending an offer to a new investigator, the school should first assess the potential and challenges for transfer. After job acceptance, the school should then carefully execute a coordinated set of steps to execute any transfer. Below are tools to help ensure the successful onboarding of new faculty’s research portfolio.

Create and Route a Proposal Record in Cayuse SP

Researcher Administrators and/or Principal Investigators will use Cayuse SP, the University’s proposal routing and approval system to route the proposal to all appropriate parties for approval and submission. The system will require the input of all the necessary information, including project details, budget, timelines, and required documents.

To assist in this endeavor, the Department of Contracts and Grants has a created a library of Cayuse SP training materials aimed at faculty and staff, including:

Routing the Proposal Record for Review:

Once the proposal is complete, it undergoes a review process in Cayuse SP to ensure its quality, compliance, and alignment with the university’s guidelines.

The proposal is first routed to the Principal Investigator/Co-Principal Investigator(s) for certification, then to the appropriate school for review and approval, and then lastly to the Department of Contracts and Grants for final review, approval and to ensure submission to the sponsor.

A brief video guide on proposal routing in Cayuse SP can be found here.

DCG Reviews the Proposal and Sends to Sponsor

DCG reviews the proposal consistent with the DCG Service Commitment. If the proposal meets all requirements, DCG then approves and ensures submission to the sponsor on behalf of USC. DCG may also provide feedback or request revisions if necessary.

Sponsor Review

The sponsor/funding agency will at this point receive the proposal for evaluation. The sponsor will review the proposal, considering factors such as the project’s alignment with their funding priorities, feasibility, and budget.

Based on their assessment, the sponsor either approves the proposal, indicating their willingness to provide funding, or disapproves it, stating the reasons for rejection.

Post Submission Revisions/Requests

After submitting a grant proposal, researchers often encounter various post-submission requests tailored to different funding agencies’ requirements. These post-submission requests aim to ensure that the proposal meets the agency’s standards and facilitates a thorough review process. In the event such a request becomes necessary, please coordinate with your DCG Officer to ensure timely submission to the sponsor.

Here are some common post pre-award proposal actions you might encounter:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) commonly asks for “Just In Time” (JIT) information, which typically includes administrative details such as certifications, human subjects’ approvals, and other necessary documents to complete the application package. These documents should be uploaded by the Dept/PI and then reviewed and submitted by DCG. 

The National Science Foundation (NSF) may request updates on preliminary data, additional references, or clarifications on certain aspects of the proposal to ensure alignment with their program goals and evaluation criteria. In the event any changes to the proposal are needed, they are done via the “Update” function in Research.Gov. The Department and PI should upload any revised documents as requested by the sponsor and then notify DCG to review and submit the revisions.  

Please feel free to review the NSF PAPPG guidance.

In the event the PI/School becomes aware that an award should be made shortly or has received an award that is under negotiation and needs to begin work on the agreement prior to the award being fully executed, they can work with their school to request a Pre-Award Authorization. This will allow the award to be set up at the risk of the school so that work can commence.

  • Period of Time – Please provide the start date and end date for this request. Usually this ranges from 1 – 3 months. Please note that there is some risk involved as we have not executed the agreement and the sponsor may revise the start date or not allow pre-award expenditure. Please consider the risk when selecting the time frame as the start date might change.

  • How Much Funding – Please provide the amount of funding you will need advanced for this project. Provide a budget for how you intend to expend these funds. Please note in the event the agreement is not executed the Department/School will need to absorb any costs.

  • Confirmation that the Sponsor Intends to Fund – Please provide the award, e-mail, letter, etc. from the sponsor confirming the intent to fund.  If none, please let your DCG Officer know and they will reach out to the sponsor to secure confirmation.

  • Approval of the School – Please ensure you have school approval and that the approval includes language that states that the school understands the associated risk with authorizing funds prior to having an executed agreement and is willing to absorb costs in the event an agreement is not executed.