New Frontiers in Research Fund – Exploration

December 2018 Inaugural Competition

Note: This competition is now closed.

Notice of intent to apply deadline January 11, 2019, by 8 p.m. (eastern)
Application deadline February 14, 2019, by 8 p.m. (eastern)
Value Up to $125,000 per year (including indirect costs)
Duration Up to 2 years
Number of grants A minimum of 75
Results announced End of March 2019
Grant start date March 29, 2019
How to apply View instructions on how to create or access a notice of intent to apply (NOI) or an application in the Convergence Portal.
For more information Consult the frequently asked questions or contact us

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Program Updates

Updates to the program as of January 23, 2019:


The New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) will invest $275 million over the next five years, and $65 million ongoing, to support international, interdisciplinary, fast-breaking and high-risk research. It is comprised of three streams to support groundbreaking research: 

  • Exploration will generate opportunities for Canada to build strength in high-risk, high-reward and interdisciplinary research;
  • Transformation will provide large-scale support for Canada to build strength and leadership in interdisciplinary and transformative research; and 
  • International will enhance opportunities for Canadian researchers to participate in research with international partners.

The Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) designed the fund following a comprehensive national consultation, which involved Canadian researchers, research administrators, stakeholders and the public. The fund is administered by the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat (TIPS), which is housed within the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), on behalf of Canada’s three research granting agencies:  the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and SSHRC.    


The objective of this inaugural competition is to generate opportunities for early career researchers (ECRs) to conduct high-risk, high-reward and interdisciplinary research not available through funding opportunities currently offered by the three agencies. It seeks to inspire highly innovative projects that defy current research paradigms, propose a unique scientific direction, bring disciplines together beyond the traditional disciplinary approaches, and/or use different perspectives to solve existing problems. 


For this competition, early career researchers are defined as individuals who have five years or less experience since their first academic appointment as of the January 1, 2019, with the exception of career interruptions (e.g., maternity or parental leave, extended sick leave, clinical training, and family care) that occurred after their appointment. Part-time positions are also taken into consideration. For maternity or parental leave, the five-year window is extended by an amount equal to twice the time interruption taken. In the case of a first academic appointment having been a part-time appointment/position, TIPS will count the years of experience following it at 50% until the time of an appointment to a full-time academic position. Additional details are available in the frequently asked questions.

Applications may be submitted by an individual researcher (the nominated principal investigator) or a team of researchers. In addition to the nominated principal investigator, a team may include one co-principal investigator, and any number of co-applicants, and/or collaborators.

Individuals can participate in only one application as a nominated principal investigator, co-principal investigator, or co-applicant in this competition. Furthermore, for future Exploration competitions, individuals cannot participate as a nominated principal investigator, co-principal investigator or co-applicant on a proposal if they are already a grantee or co-grantee of an Exploration award. This restriction does not apply to collaborators.

Nominated principal investigator

The nominated principal investigator must be an ECR and must be considered an independent researcher at their primary affiliation.

An independent researcher is an individual who:

  • engages in research-related activities that are not under the direction of another individual; and
  • has an academic or research appointment that:
    • commences by the effective date of funding;
    • allows the individual to pursue the proposed research project, to engage in independent research activities for the entire duration of the funding, to supervise trainees (if applicable, as per his or her institution’s policy), and to publish the research results; and
    • obliges the individual to comply with institutional policies concerning the conduct of research, the supervision of trainees (if applicable) and the employment conditions of staff paid with tri-agency funding.

Students, postdoctoral fellows, research associates, etc. are not eligible to apply.

The nominated principal investigator’s primary affiliation must be with a Canadian institution holding full institutional eligibility with one of the agencies (see CIHR’s list, NSERC’s list or SSHRC’s list of eligible institutions) as of the NOI deadline. The nominated principal investigator will:

  • be responsible for the direction of the proposed activities, with the co-principal investigator (if applicable);
  • assume the administrative and financial responsibility for the grant; and
  • receive all related correspondence from the agencies.

Co-principal investigator

The co-principal investigator must be considered an independent researcher. If their affiliation is with an academic institution, they must also qualify as an ECR. They must not be affiliated with a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal government department or a for-profit organization. The co-principal investigator shares responsibility for the direction of the proposed activities.


Co-applicants contribute to the proposed activities and do not need to be ECRs.  For the inaugural competition, co-applicants cannot be affiliated with a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal government department, or a for-profit organization. Co-applicants can be independent researchers or can be, but are not limited to, practitioners, policy-makers, educators, decision-makers, health-care administrators, Indigenous elders, Indigenous knowledge keepers, community leaders, or individuals working for a charity.


Collaborators do not need to be affiliated with an eligible institution. Any individual who will contribute to the project is eligible to be a collaborator. Collaborators do not have access to grant funds and are expected to bring their own resources. Collaborators do not include individuals whose activities on the project will be supervised by the nominated principal investigator, co-principal investigator or co-applicants.

Subject matter

Projects must be high-risk and high-reward and may involve any disciplines, thematic areas, approaches or subject areas eligible for funding across the tri-agencies.

Projects must be interdisciplinary. The nominated principal investigator and team members (if applicable) can be from any discipline, but the proposed research project must include elements from at least two different disciplines (as defined by a group-level classification based on the Canadian Research and Development Classification).

Projects may range in value and duration, up to $250,000 over two years ($125,000 per year) and can be at any point in the research and development spectrum. Eligible projects include those with specific short- to medium-term objectives, as well as discrete phases in a program of longer-range research.

Projects are not eligible if they include any of the following: a focus on the application of existing technology; provide routine analyses; collect data without interpreting underlying mechanisms; provide professional practice or consulting services (contract research); involve the set-up and operational management of an institute, a formal or informal group of researchers (network); and/or are principally associated with the acquisition and maintenance of scientific equipment, curriculum development, organization of a conference or workshop, digitization of a collection, or creation of a database.

Exploration grant projects must be innovative in nature and use unconventional approaches or ideas to achieve high-risk and high-reward interdisciplinary research. Therefore, projects are also not eligible if they: focus solely on research within a single discipline; propose research that is the obvious next step; would likely be funded through another program offered at one of the three agencies; have not taken into consideration sex- and gender-based analysis (if applicable); or do not support equity, diversity and inclusion in their team and training environment.


Grant holders will be expected to report on the use of grant funds, on funded activities undertaken during the grant period, and on outcomes. Successful nominated principal investigators will be informed of reporting requirements upon receiving a Notice of Award.

Application Process

To apply for an Exploration grant, nominated principal investigators must first submit a notice of intent to apply (NOI) by the deadline date. The NOI is a mandatory step in the application process. Nominated principal investigators, along with the co-principal investigator and co-applicants (if applicable), must then complete and submit the Application by the deadline date.

Applicants must complete both the NOI and application using the Convergence Portal, following the accompanying instructions.

NOIs and applications received after the deadlines or that are incomplete will be withdrawn from the competition. No extensions to the deadlines will be provided. Please note that all applications (but not NOIs) will first go to the Research Grants Office (RGO), or equivalent, of the nominated principal investigator’s institution, which must submit it to TIPS through the online portal prior to the deadline date. RGOs are free to set their own internal deadlines.

Review Process

Applications will be adjudicated through a competitive process. To better promote groundbreaking, disruptive, and interdisciplinary research, the agencies will explore innovative merit review processes as they launch successive competitions, and processes may differ from one round to the next. The inaugural Exploration competition will involve five selection criteria and three stages of review.

Indigenous research

SSHRC’s Guidelines for the Merit Review of Indigenous Research should be used as reference for researchers preparing applications related to Indigenous research. TIPS provides these guidelines to merit reviewers to help build understanding of Indigenous research and research-related activities, and to assist committee members in interpreting the specific evaluation criteria in the context of Indigenous research. TIPS relies on a community of merit reviewers with experience and expertise in Indigenous research to judge the extent to which the guidelines may be applied to a particular research proposal. The guidelines may also be of use to external assessors, postsecondary institutions and partner organizations that support Indigenous research.

Sex-and gender-based analysis

TIPS expects that research applicants will integrate sex and gender into their research designs, when appropriate. Sex- and gender-based analysis (SGBA) is an approach that systematically examines sex-based (biological) and gender-based (socio-cultural) differences between men, women, boys, girls and gender-diverse people. The purpose of SGBA is to promote rigorous science that is sensitive to sex and gender. Applicants and reviewers should refer to the SGBA section of the CIHR website for definitions for sex, gender and SGBA, as well as information on applying SGBA to the development and assessment of research proposals.

Selection criteria

The following criteria will be used to evaluate applications:


The NFRF is intended to support meritorious projects that are not currently funded or could not easily be funded through existing agency-specific programs. Therefore, applications will need to clearly demonstrate that they are combining disciplines.

Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI)

The research project must meaningfully engage members of underrepresented groups within the research team through the engagement of students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty and partners. Underrepresented groups include, but are not limited to, the four designated groups (women, Indigenous peoples, members of visible minorities, and persons with disabilities).


Applications must demonstrate to which degree they are high risk. High risk is defined by elements such as:

  • defying current research paradigms;
  • proposing unique scientific directions; and/or
  • bringing new disciplines together with different perspectives to use novel approaches for solving existing problems.


Applications must justify why the project should be considered high reward. High reward is defined by elements such as:

  • the degree of impact and the size of the community affected;
  • significantly advancing current knowledge, methods and/or technologies;
  • resolving a longstanding scientific issue; and
  • transforming and/or disrupting conventional thinking.


The application must address elements such as:

  • the capacity of the investigators;
  • the proposed approach, including sex- and gender-based approaches (where appropriate);
  • engagement and reciprocity with First nations, Inuit and Metis (for Indigenous research) (where appropriate); and
  • the suitability of the research environment.

Internal review

All applications will initially be reviewed internally to ensure that they meet the program’s eligibility requirements and application guidelines. Internal experts will determine whether applications meet the Interdisciplinarity and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion criteria necessary to proceed to the next stage of the competition. Those that do not meet the eligibility requirements or the selection criteria will be withdrawn and the applicants informed.

Multidisciplinary review panel

A multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral review panel composed of national and international members with broad expertise will convene to evaluate the applications according to the selection criteria. To uphold the program’s commitment to non-discrimination and equity, and to ensure the highest quality of review, members of the panel will be diverse, taking into consideration the following:

  • area of expertise;
  • ability to review applications in either official language;
  • inclusion in the four designated groups (women, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities, and persons with disabilities);
  • representation of all regions across Canada;
  • institution size; and
  • career stage.

In addition to being asked to validate the interdisciplinarity and EDI criteria, the panel will evaluate applications according to the remaining selection criteria, which will be weighted as follows:

The panel will make recommendations to the Steering Committee on which applications should receive funding and at what level.

Steering Committee

The Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) will be the Steering Committee for all competitions under the NFRF. The committee ensures that the evaluation process is rigorous, objective, and transparent, in keeping with the standards of excellence expected by the agencies and consistent with the program’s objectives. The committee also makes decisions regarding which applications to fund and at what level based on the review panel’s recommendations.

Communication of results

Applicants will be informed of competition results via the Convergence Portal. All applicants will be provided, in addition to the notice of decision, a summary of the review panel’s evaluation of their application, where applicable. Additional details about the review process are available in the Reviewer Manual, which will be available prior to the NOI deadline.

Regulations, Policies and Related Information

TIPS reserves the right to determine the eligibility of applications, based on the information therein. TIPS also reserves the right to interpret the regulations and policies governing its funding opportunities.

All applicants and grant holders must comply with the Regulations Governing Grant Applications and with the regulations set out in the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide.

Grant holders must also comply with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications (See Open Access overview for more information.) TIPS encourages researchers to manage, in accordance with both community standards and best practices, data arising from their research (see also the tri-agency policies and guidelines on Research Data Management).

Use of grant funds

The information provided below explains to grant holders and research administrators the regulations governing the use of NFRF grant funds. They supersede all previous statements by TIPS on grant regulations.

General financial regulations for NFRF grants are in the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide. In cases where there is conflicting information for each agency, grant holders may choose to follow whichever agency policy is most advantageous to them.

Nominated principal investigators, co-principal investigators or co-applicants affiliated with an eligible Canadian college may use NFRF grant funds for the eligible compensation-related expenses described in the financial administration guide for the College and Community Innovation Program.

Indirect costs

The maximum budget for the direct costs of the research project is $100,000 per year for up to two years. Applicants may also add up to 25% of the value of the direct costs of research to cover indirect costs, and include this in the total funding request. This portion of the award must only be used to pay for eligible expenses as outlined on the Research Support Fund website. The indirect costs component of each award is included within the award value; it is not in addition to it.

Terms and conditions

TIPS reserves the right to interpret these regulations and any conditions applied to individual grants. TIPS program officers can answer specific questions about grant administration.

TIPS may find it necessary to alter, without advance notice, the terms and conditions of grant awards. Any and all major changes in regulations will be announced promptly.

Contact Information

For more information, contact:

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