Navigating the PARS process

Preparing a Grant Proposal and Navigating the Proposal Approval Routing System (PARS)

John Jemison, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Applying for grants and contracts is an important component of our jobs. We increasingly need outside funds to support our applied research and education programs. There is a logical and necessary progression that we must follow in order to apply for grants. I hope this step-by-step process will help you prepare a grant for submission.

Step One: Carefully Read the Entire Grant Funding Guidelines

The first step is to find a funding source to support your idea for a research or education project. Depending on the source of funds, you may or may not have specific guidelines to follow. Occasionally industry will provide CE staff with funding to support a general program, but these types of funds are increasingly difficult to find. Foundations are often good sources of funding. They will often have general guidelines around submission of projects. There may be a specific web site with these guidelines spelled out. Finally, larger funding sources like the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Northeast Integrated Pest Management (NEIPM), or the National Research Initiative (NRI) will have a website with specific grant instructions. Reading and completely understanding these guidelines is critical to your success. With the increased competition for grants and contracts, you can’t forget to do even one part of these specific steps. By studying the guidelines, you will know exactly what is required of you, submission deadlines, format, and what the funding agency hopes to accomplish with the funds. If your project doesn’t completely fit the proposal guidelines, you may waste valuable time. After completely reading the guidelines, if you think your project will meet the specific goals of the agency and you can meet the deadlines, then by all means, you should proceed.

Step Two: Make Initial Contacts

The first step that one should take after finding an agency or foundation that may have funds to support your project or your research idea is to contact your supervisor and the UMaine Extension budget officer and tell them the following things: 1) who is the funding agency; 2) what is the deadline for grant submission; and 3) how the project will help you meet goals in your plan of work. The sooner you get this information to your supervisor and start this process the better. With many people submitting grants, you can imagine that the system can get backed up. A month lead time in starting this process would be ideal. The next thing to do is to contact the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP). Kathy Carson has been the grant contact that we have worked the most with in recent years. You should tell her the grant deadline date, and send her the website link so that she can read study the grant requirements. Ask her to send you the ORSP excel spreadsheet with the appropriate cost-share, benefits rates, and related information based on the proposal guidelines.

Step Three: Draft the Proposal

The length of time required to draft a proposal will be determined by what the funding agency wants. Almost all major proposals will require a problem description, goals and objectives, project description, timeline, budget, and budget narrative as a minimum. Project proposals that require many steps take a lot of time, and the more focused time you can find to do this work, the better. The more proposals you write, the easier this should become. You may be able to use formats you have created from previous proposals which can help speed the process. Try to block off several hours at a time with no interruptions in order to make real progress on your proposal.

Step Four: Proposal Resting Period

If you can, give yourself a period of at least two or three days after you have drafted the proposal to let it rest. Then, go back and very carefully re-read the proposal guidelines and your proposal. You will find something you didn’t see before – I almost guarantee it. For extremely important or high value proposals, you might consider hiring someone to proof read and ensure the guidelines are met. Then, make the final corrections. At this time, you are ready to submit the proposal through the system.

Step Five: The Proposal Approval Routing System (PARS)

To get a grant proposal funded, it must be approved by the Office of Research Administration (ORA). The way you submit the proposal is through the PARS process. Go to the campus website.

Once there, you will be required to log into PARS. You will need a login and password. If you have not done this previously, you can contact your PA for the login and password. If you have done this and you can’t remember it, there is an option on the website for it to be sent to you. Once logged in, you will be taken to the Users Activities Menu page. From this page, you can choose an activity from the User Activities Menu: These are the options available to you:

Continue to Prepare a Proposal: View, edit, route, check status, or submit proposals to ORA that you are working on.

Create a New Proposal: start a new blank proposal.

Change password or update User Profile: change your password, update contact information, add a surrogate user’s email address.

View previously submitted proposals: choose from a list of proposals that you have submitted or approved to get a printed copy of the proposal information.

The following are the steps for PARS:

  • Clicking the Create a New Proposal option, you will go to the Create Proposal page.
  • Enter the proposal title, your role (pi or co-pi), and your responsibility in the project.
  • Next, identify the PI, then click the Create Proposal button.
  • You will be taken to the Investigator Certification page. You must state that you have no financial interest in the project that is being submitted.
  • After this, you will be taken to the proposal information page. There will be ten individual steps that you will go through to upload the information required by ORA.
  • Click on the Proposal Detail and Cover button. Put in the required information. In putting in the dates, use numbers only in the order of month, day, year (5/1/2009) or the system will not accept your information. Our projects generally do not go through a Center – skip this.
  • Continue to fill the information boxes: Personnel, Animals, etc. If you have not appropriately filled in the important information, it will not allow you to move forward. For example, if you put in the proposal date information incorrectly, it will either give you a “the page cannot be displayed” error message or it simply send you back to the same page until you have filled everything in. Once everything is in, you will get an “ok” box to click that indicates that everything you have put into the system is accurate.

Under the primary nature of the proposal, most of what we do is applied research, education/training, or demonstration. The cost sharing button is the next decision. If there is cost sharing required with the proposal, this will be where that information is uploaded. This information will be spelled out in the proposal guidelines, and your PA will help you determine how this will be met. Indirect cost rates will also be spelled out in the proposal guidelines. Continue through the boxes. Put in the sponsor information. Then put in the location.

Next step is to upload your budget, budget narrative and abstract. Once this is done, it will ask you to upload the approval list. You will want to put in the financial officer as the first person who will approve the budget and budget narrative. Then your program administrator will need to sign off, and then finally add the Extension director’s name as the final approver.

There is a Check Proposal box. Press that to make sure everything done to date is correct. If there are things remaining to be done, then these will be listed there. When everything is correct, click submit to ORSP. This starts the process rolling. When an approver approves his/her step in the process, you will get an email saying so. If someone has an issue with what has been presented, they will contact you.

At this point, you should be able to submit the proposal through ORA. The next steps will be determined by the funding agency. Some require that you go through, and that process will be explained in another document. Other agencies require a specific number of paper copies be submitted. The ORA staff will often do this for you if given enough time. These are the key steps you will need to consider to get a grant proposal submitted into PARS for approval by University of Maine Cooperative Extension and ORA.