FAQ About PI Eligibility

Postdoctoral Fellows and the Office of Sponsored Projects: What’s the Connection?

What is the Office of Sponsored Projects (OSP)?

The Office of Sponsored Projects (OSP) serves as the coordinating office for externally funded research projects submitted by The University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin). Only those authorized to serve as Principal Investigators (PI) may submit proposals.

OSP reviews proposals for compliance with sponsor guidelines and applicable federal/state/university regulations. OSP then submits proposals to sponsors on behalf of PIs. If the proposal is selected for funding, OSP negotiates and accepts awards on behalf of UT-Austin.

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Do postdoctoral fellows generally have to deal with OSP?

When a Postdoctoral Fellow wants to serve as a PI and wishes to seek external funding in support of a research project that requires the utilization of university facilities and administrative services, the Fellow must route the research proposal through OSP.

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What is a Principal Investigator (PI)?

A principal investigator (PI) is the lead scientist for a particular well-defined science or other academic project who takes direct responsibility for completion of a funded project, directing the research and reporting directly to the sponsor.

When the University accepts a grant or contract from an external sponsor, the University assumes responsibility for the proper performance of the stated project, for the fiscal management of the funds received, and for accountability to the sponsor. Since the institutional responsibility for meeting these obligations is vested in the PI, only individuals in the categories shown below are deemed qualified and are authorized to be PIs or Co-PIs for sponsored projects. In rare instances others may be authorized as PIs or Co-PIs, and then only with the prior written approval of the Associate Vice President for Research and Director of the Office of Sponsored Projects (AVP/OSP).

  • Tenure or Tenure-track faculty (Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor, Instructor, Research Professor, Research Associate Professor, Research Assistant Professor);
  • Directors; Chairs
    NOTE: Associate Directors are not automatically approved.
  • Research Scientists/Engineering Scientists and Senior Research Scientists/Engineering Scientists.
  • Postdoctoral Fellows are eligible for Co-PI status only

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Can a postdoctoral fellow serve as a PI?

The University of Texas at Austin does not allow students or Postdoctoral Fellows to be classified as principal investigators of record in its internal systems. However, when required by the sponsor and per program guidelines, (i.e., NIH, HRSA, etc.) a student will be recognized as a Principal Investigator in the sponsor’s proprietary system, like NIH Commons.

To route proposals through internal systems and obtain required internal approvals, students and Postdoctoral Fellows must seek a sponsoring PI, who will assume budgetary and reporting responsibilities at the university level.

SPECIAL NOTE: Even though a student’s or postdoctoral fellow’s faculty mentor/sponsor is listed as the PI of record in internal university systems, the research must be conducted by the student or postdoctoral fellow as proposed to the sponsor and as required by program guidelines.

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How do I know if I must route my proposal through OSP?

Proposals to external funding sources for sponsored projects must be submitted through OSP and awards received must be processed by OSP when one or more of the following criteria are met:

  • A specific program of work or research is proposed to or required by the sponsor;
  • University of Texas at Austin facilities are needed to conduct the work;
  • The sponsor requires an authorized institutional signature;
  • The sponsor requires or expects one or more progress reports, a final report, financial reports and/or a formal accounting of how the funds were expended; or
  • There are intellectual property, confidentiality and/or publication conditions associated with the receipt of funds.

These proposals mostly involve research projects but any program requesting support by an external sponsor that satisfies these criteria shall be submitted through OSP.

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How do I route a proposal to OSP?

For internal tracking purposes, Postdoctoral Fellows are not listed as Principal Investigators in OSP’s Research Management System (RMS), the workflow management system used by The University of Texas at Austin. You must consult with your faculty mentor who can be listed as a Principal Investigator in RMS and who can route the proposal to OSP on your behalf.

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When do I need to contact OSP?

Your mentor should submit your proposal and supporting materials to OSP via RMS no later than four business days prior to your deadline. Ideally, you should contact OSP as soon as you decide to seek external funding.

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Does OSP write or edit my proposal for me?

No, OSP does not write or edit your proposal. OSP’s staff is responsible for ensuring that a proposal meets a sponsor’s technical and administrative specifications and complies with university/federal/state regulations. You are responsible for ensuring that the work you are proposing is your own and that you are proposing work that is aligned with the intended sponsor’s interests.

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Does OSP review the substantive content of my proposal?

No. OSP does not read your proposal; OSP does not provide technical writing assistance or editorial assistance. A mentor or other colleagues may read and provide comments. In addition, you may hire a professional editor at your own expense.

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Does OSP prepare my application for me?

No. OSP does not prepare your grant application. Sponsors, via their grant applications, ask very specific questions regarding you, your study, your budget, etc. OSP cannot answer those types of questions.

OSP can provide institutional information for your application (i.e., the university’s DUNS number, EIN number, etc.). You can visit OSP’s website and obtain that type of information. If you need help interpreting the guidelines, you may call OSP for some guidance.

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Once my project is funded, does that end my association with OSP?

If you determine that your project should be channeled through OSP, then your project’s relationship with OSP will be from the beginning (submission) to the end of your project (close-out report). The association will be a long one, as the life cycle of a grant can be long: OSP reviews your application; provides necessary institutional signatures; submits the proposal to the sponsor; accepts the award; negotiates the terms; OSP’s Sponsored Projects Awards Administration (SPAA) division will establish an account and accept funds and will review and approve expenditures; finally, SPAA will submit the final financial report required by your sponsor.

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I am planning a project that involves human / animal subjects / recombinant DNA / infectious agents / toxins / biosafety hazards but will not be externally funded. Do I still have to go through OSP?

No. You do not have to contact OSP for an institutional signature. However, you MUST contact the Office of Research Support and Compliance (ORS) PRIOR to the start of your study if it involves human/animal subjects/recombinant DNA/infectious agents/toxins/biosafety hazards. ORS is responsible for reviewing and approving a study’s protocol to ensure that the study is conducted in the most ethically responsible and the safest manner possible. An individual who attempts to circumvent the approval process may face consequences at the institutional level. And, depending upon the severity of the violation, other penalties may apply. So, if there is any question in your mind about the need to obtain approval for your study, make a phone call. ORS staff members are ready to answer your questions and to shepherd you through the process should it be necessary to obtain approval.

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I am a subject participating in a research study; does this mean I need to contact OSP?

No, OSP does not require study participants to contact OSP.

If you have questions regarding a research study in which you are participating, contact the Principal Investigator of that study. Or, you may also contact the office that oversees human subjects research studies at UT-Austin: Office of Research Support and Compliance (ORS).

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