Frequently Asked Questions: 2019 Exploration

Refer to the funding opportunity description for information on the objectives, eligibility requirements, the review process, as well as a definition of early career researchers, independent researcher and other terms.

Funding opportunity

What changes have been made from the inaugural competition?

The most notable changes are:

  • The competition is open to established researchers. A portion of funds will be dedicated to ECR-led proposals, in proportion to the portion of ECR-led applications.
  • There must be a minimum of two team members on each application (e.g., a nominated principal investigator, and a co-principal investigator or a co-applicant).
  • There are three stages in the competition: notice of intent to apply (NOI), letter of intent to apply (LOI) and application. Each of these must be forwarded to the research administrator at the nominated principal investigator’s institution, who then submits it to the agencies before the deadlines.
  • The NOI is not adjudicated. The LOI will be adjudicated by the NFRF multidisciplinary review panel. Applications are by invitation only, based on results of the LOI stage. Applications will first be assessed by external reviewers with subject matter expertise. Their evaluations will be taken into account by the NFRF multidisciplinary review panel during their review.
  • For the research proposal, a maximum of 5 Canadian Research and Development Classification (CRDC) codes at the field level can be selected and must be identified as primary or secondary fields of research.
  • A New Frontiers in Research Fund—Exploration Grants Guide has been created to clarify eligible and ineligible budget expenses. Co-applicants and patients are eligible to receive compensation in certain cases.

Subject eligibility

Can I apply for an Exploration grant to expand on a research project or activities supported by another grant?

The objective of Exploration grants is to fund high risk, high reward, interdisciplinary research. If you have an idea that fits this description that builds on research already supported by another grant, then you may apply for funding through this opportunity to support it. If the idea is the logical next step of the research you are doing, it is not likely a fit to this program.

If an application submitted to another funding opportunity was assessed as “fundable if funds available” or as unsuccessful due to lack of detail or clarity (as noted in feedback received), can I submit it?

Exploration grants are intended to fund projects that are not easily funded through existing agency programs. Applications for the same or similar projects that have been unsuccessful in other agency programs may be submitted to NFRF in cases where the reason for the lack of success is due only to the high risk and/or interdisciplinary nature of the project, rather than limited funds in a competitive pool or other reasons.

With regards to considering the “fit to program” of a proposed project, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) doesn’t have a program to fund projects or teams, but the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) do. Does that mean more projects in the natural sciences and engineering than projects in the social sciences, humanities or health will be considered eligible because such projects can’t easily be funded through NSERC?

An NSERC Discovery Grant allows the grantee to pursue any research project in collaboration with any partner, anywhere, over the 5 years it is held. Therefore, a researcher holding a Discovery Grant, wanting to pursue any project as part of their program of research, has support to do so. As such, researchers cannot use the lack of a specific research project-funding program at NSERC as justification for fit to program.

To meet the minimum requirement to be considered interdisciplinary, the proposed research project must include elements from at least two different disciplines that do not traditionally collaborate together or they must be combined in a novel way. Can you please explain?

One of the objectives of NFRF is to increase collaboration among disciplines that do not traditionally conduct research together in the hope of achieving new breakthroughs. The group-level CRDC codes are used to confirm that the proposed research meets a minimum threshold for interdisciplinarity; however, that does not mean that it meets the program’s objectives.

To meet the program’s objectives, the proposed research must also:

  • incorporate 2 disciplines that do not traditionally collaborate together; or
  • if it does incorporate 2 disciplines with a long and established tradition of working together (e.g., biology and chemistry, or psychology and education), it must clearly demonstrate the novelty of the interdisciplinary approach.

The multidisciplinary review panel members will ultimately assess the interdisciplinarity and determine whether the proposed research meets the program’s objectives.

One of the criteria is High Reward. What if it's not possible to predict the outcomes of this project?

Although it's impossible to predict all the outcomes of research in a certain area, you should be able to outline some of the basic results that should occur if you attain your objectives.

Applicant eligibility

Can I apply if I am on leave?

Yes, as long as you still fit within the eligibility criteria and the institution supports your application and submits it to the agency.

If a researcher’s salary is paid from a Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) grant, can they apply for a NFRF grant and still hold the CFREF salary support?

A researcher who is a nominated principal investigator, co-principal investigator or co-applicant on an NFRF grant cannot be paid from CFREF grant funds. If a CFREF-funded researcher becomes a grantee or co-grantee of an NFRF grant, they must be paid from another source as of the start date of the NFRF grant. It is not possible to defer the start date of the NFRF grant to maintain CFREF salary support (or for any other reason).

Is an individual who is indirectly employed by a federal, provincial or municipal government (e.g., an employee in police services, education, or health care) eligible to be a co-applicant?

Individuals who are indirectly employed by a federal, provincial or municipal government (e.g., employees in police services, education, or health care) are eligible to be co-applicants, with their eligible expenses being limited to those that are related to the execution of the project and are not within the mandate of the individual’s organization of employment.

Early career researchers

How will you verify the status of the early career researchers? Will we be expected to provide proof?

The Research Administrator or Research Grants Office (RGO) of the nominated principal investigator's primary affiliation will confirm the ECR status of the nominated principal investigator (if applicable) and of the co-principal investigator (if applicable). At any point in time, staff may request additional information to verify an applicant's ECR status.

How will my past period of leave (parental, medical, etc.) affect my eligibility as an early career researcher for this funding opportunity?

All justified leaves (including parental, medical, extended sick leave, clinical training and family care) that occurred after your first academic appointment will be considered, as long as they have adhered to the requirements of your institution. In most cases, the time that was spent on leave will be deducted from your career duration. In the case of parental or maternity leave, the amount of time deducted will be doubled to prolong your eligibility period as an ECR.

As an example, if the date used for calculating ECR eligibility is January 1, 2019 (please consult the funding opportunity description for the actual ECR eligibility date for your competition), your first academic appointment was on September 1, 2012, and in 2014 you went on maternity leave for a period of 1 year, the calculation for ECR eligibility would be:

Time between September 1, 2012, and January 1, 2019 (date used for calculating ECR eligibility in this example)—equal to 6 years and 4 months (76 months)


12 months of maternity leave, multiplied by 2 (parental and maternity leaves are calculated as twice as long as its duration) (24 months)

for a total of 52 months, which is 4 years and 4 months.

The maximum allowable duration to have ECR status since your first academic appointment is 5 years (or 60 months); therefore, you are eligible to apply to this funding opportunity as an ECR.

Note that administrative leaves are not counted as justified leaves.

What is considered a part-time appointment?

The agencies defer to institutional policy on what is considered a part-time appointment. Please contact the institution where the appointment is or was held to confirm whether it was part time or full time.

What is considered an academic appointment?

An academic appointment is one in which an individual holds a position at a postsecondary institution (either in Canada or internationally) that allows them to be an independent researcher. It does not include positions where the individual is under the supervision of another person. This definition includes part-time positions, contract positions, adjuncts and sessional instructors.

While it may be the policy of certain institutions to consider postdoctoral fellowships an academic appointment, for the purpose of this funding opportunity, it is not considered to be one.


I am the nominated principal investigator, and I want to submit my notice of intent to apply, but one of my co-applicants has not accepted their invitation and another is showing that their eligibility is still pending. Can I still submit?

You must have at least one other participant (co-principal investigator or co-applicant) whose status is eligible for you to be able to submit your NOI. You may add a co-principal investigator and/or co-applicant(s) during the LOI stage. If they do not accept their invitation and/or complete their registration properly before the LOI submission deadline, they will not be part of your project.

I am the nominated principal investigator, and I have just been informed that one of my co-applicants is on another NOI. What do I do?

The co-applicant will need to decide which project they want to be involved with. Should you need to remove a co-applicant, go to the Participants section of your application and click on the Remove link beside their name. Please note that you must have at least one other eligible participant (co-principal investigator or co-applicant) to be able to submit.

Notice of intent to apply

As a nominated principal investigator, my affiliation will change between now and March 31, 2020 (the start date of the grant). How do I manage my affiliations in the Convergence Portal?

In the Convergence Portal, you must add all of your current affiliations and identify your primary affiliation. You must also include the affiliation associated with your NOI, even if you have not yet started the appointment. Therefore, you should enter both your current and upcoming affiliations. You should indicate your current affiliation as your primary one; however, in the eligibility profile, you should select your upcoming affiliation when asked to choose the one associated with your application.

Letter of intent to apply

How will the LOI results be communicated to applicants?

LOI decisions will be communicated to applicants by October 31, 2019, through the Convergence Portal.

What is the expected number of LOIs to be invited to submit a full application?

We anticipate no more than 1,000 applications will be accepted in the application stage.

Will successful LOIs be granted funds to help the team prepare an application?

No, funds are not allocated to successful LOIs. Proposals will receive funds only if successful at the application stage.


How will the competition results be communicated to applicants?

Funding decisions will be communicated to applicants by March 31, 2020, through Notifications of Decision accessible through the Convergence Portal.

My institution is providing financial and in-kind support for this project. How do I attach a letter to demonstrate their commitment to my project?

There is no mechanism to include a letter of support in the application. A description of the support can be included in the Budget Justification section.

Review process

What parts of the application fall under the Feasibility criterion?

The assessment of the Feasibility criterion primarily considers the following sections of an application:

  • Description of the proposed research project attachment (from the LOI stage);
  • Gender-Based Analysis Plus or Sex- and Gender-Based Analysis section;
  • Biographical Information about the Research Team (attachment);
  • Research Proposal (attachment);
  • Budget Justification (attachment); and
  • Literature References (attachment).

Research Grants Offices process

Is there a limit on how many applications can come from one institution?

No, there are no quotas or limits to the number of applications from one institution, but research administrators are expected to only submit applications that comply with eligibility requirements and fit the program (i.e., are high risk, high reward and interdisciplinary)

Why can’t I find an NOI from a nominated principal investigator from my institution?

The list of NOIs that a research administrator can view is based on the affiliation that nominated principal investigators have selected in their eligibility profile. Before contacting the Helpdesk, please confirm with the nominated principal investigator that your institution is selected as their primary affiliation in their eligibility profile.

How do I return an application to the nominated principal investigator?

If the status of the application is:

  • in progress, there is no need to return it as the nominated principal investigator has not yet submitted it;
  • received by administrator, RGO can return the application by clicking on the “Return to applicant” link; or
  • received by agency, it can no longer be returned as the RGO has already forwarded it to the agencies.
How do I confirm that a co-principal investigator from a different institution is an early career researcher (ECR)?

There is no prescribed method for doing so; however, options include:

  • contacting the co-principal investigator to obtain the necessary information from them; or
  • contacting the co-principal investigator’s RGO to request their confirmation of the individual’s ECR status.
In the Convergence Portal, the Terms and Conditions for Research Administrators states that, “prior to submission of the application, the institution has obtained written approval from any other institutions involved in the application process.” What do we need to do?

The same terms and conditions are used in the Research Portal. There is no formal mechanism for notifying institutions if any of their employees are co-principal investigators or co-applicants in an application. A nominated principal investigator’s research grants office is responsible for informing the institutions. Each institution can develop their own processes to address this clause. No copies of the written approval will be requested from the agencies for submission.


What expenses are eligible under NFRF? Are co-applicants eligible to receive compensation?

A New Frontiers in Research Fund—Exploration Grants Guide has been created to clarify eligible and ineligible budget expenses. Co-applicants are eligible to receive compensation in certain cases.

Do you allow patients to be paid?

Yes, NFRF follows CIHR’s Considerations when paying patient partners in research.

How are indirect costs calculated?

Indirect costs can equal up to 25% of the direct costs of the proposed research. For more information, please refer to the indirect costs section of the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide and the Research Support Fund’s list of eligible and ineligible expenditures.

A breakdown of the indirect costs is not required, but they must be included as an amount in the budget table. The nominated principal investigator’s RGO will need to confirm that the indirect costs are appropriate when it forwards the application.

The amount being claimed is allocated to the nominated principal investigator’s primary affiliation (the administering organization) to offset the indirect costs of proposed research. It is not possible to increase the amount of direct costs being requested by reducing the amount of indirect costs.

To which institution should the indirect costs go?

Indirect costs are incurred where the research is done. Accordingly, indirect costs are expected to be shared among applicants in the same proportion that the direct costs would be shared (if applicable). The administering organization (i.e., the nominated principal investigator’s primary affiliation) will administer the process.

Does the nominated principal investigator also have access to the funds to support the indirect costs of research?

The nominated principal investigator, the co-principal investigator and co-applicants only have authority to expend the funds supporting the direct costs of research. The host institution has authority to expend the funds for the indirect costs. It is expected that the host institution may distribute a portion of these costs to the institutions of the co-principal investigator and/or co-applicants.

What is required in terms of annual financial reports?

The Statement of Account Form (Form 300) is to be used to report the annual financial expenditures for NFRF grants. Two accounts must be created at the host institution for each grant: one account to track expenditures related to the direct costs of research and another to track expenditures related to the indirect costs of research. The indirect funds received for a NFRF grant must not be transferred to the Research Support Fund account at the institution.

How will expenditures for indirect funds be reported? What level of detail is required?

Only one Statement of Account Form (Form 300) per grant is required to report expenditures. The expenditures of indirect funds, therefore, must be included. This is to be captured on line item 11 (Other Expenditures) as a single value. A breakdown of expenditures is not required for indirect costs. It is expected that the expenditure of indirect funds will be proportional to the expenditure of direct research funds, as reflected in the application.

For example, if a nominated principal investigator was awarded $100,000 for direct costs and $25,000 for indirect costs in Year 1 and he or she had only spent $50,000 for direct costs, the amount charged for indirect costs would be: ($25,000 ÷ $100,000) × $50,000 = $12,500.

How do I add co-applicants?

Send program staff an email, copying the individuals you wish to add and providing an explanation for their inclusion in the project. The potential co-applicants will also need to complete an eligibility profile (which staff will send to them) and complete a user profile in the Convergence Portal. The request will be reviewed and a decision made regarding the inclusion of additional participants.

How do I add collaborators?

Send program staff an email, copying the individuals you wish to add and providing an explanation for their inclusion in the project, along with the following information: first name, family name, position or role, department (optional), organization and country of the organization. The request will be reviewed and a decision made regarding the inclusion of additional participants.

What happens if the nominated principal investigator’s (NPI’s) primary affiliation changes?

In cases where the NPI’s new primary affiliation is with a Canadian institution currently holding full institutional eligibility with one of the agencies (see CIHR’s, NSERC’s or SSHRC’s list of eligible institutions), the NPI would retain their grant and it would follow them to the new institution.

In cases where the NPI’s new primary affiliation is not with a Canadian institution currently holding full institutional eligibility with one of the agencies (see CIHR’s, NSERC’s or SSHRC’s list of eligible institutions), it is expected that the NPI will continue to be involved in the project as a co-principal investigator or co-applicant, insofar as this is possible, to continue to provide the expertise needed to complete the project (note that international co-applicants are eligible to access and use grant funds). Further:

  • if there is a co-principal investigator who meets the eligibility requirements to be the NPI, the grant can be transferred to the co-principal investigator (i.e., the co-principal investigator becomes the NPI, and the original NPI becomes a co-principal investigator or co-applicant, if eligible);
  • if there is no co-principal investigator and there is a co-applicant who meets the eligibility requirements to be the NPI, the grant can be transferred to the co-applicant (i.e., the co-applicant becomes the NPI, and the original NPI becomes a co-principal investigator or co-applicant, if eligible);
  • if there are no eligible co-principal investigators or co-applicants on the application, the grant cannot be transferred and will be terminated.

In all cases, the co-principal investigator and/or co-applicant must have been named as such in the original application; they cannot have been added after the grant was awarded. The team must also demonstrate that the required expertise is still available, address the question of project leadership, and explain how the planned work will be completed.


How can I provide feedback about this funding opportunity?

We value our community’s feedback as it will help us shape future competitions. You may direct your feedback to program staff.

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