2020 Exploration: Frequently Asked Questions

See the competition overview for information on the Exploration objectives, eligibility requirements and review process, and for definitions of early career researcher, independent researcher and other terms.

What changes have been made from the 2019 competition?

The most notable changes are:

  • There are two stages in the competition: Notice of Intent to Apply (NOI) and full application. There is no letter of intent to apply stage for the 2020 competition.
  • The Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration is used as the general guidelines for eligibility of expenses and use of funds related to the direct costs of research. Exceptions to those policies for Exploration grants are noted in the competition overview.
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 and builds on research already supported by another grant, 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 here?

The goal of the Exploration stream is to inspire high-risk, high-reward and interdisciplinary research. Applications for the same or similar projects that have been unsuccessful in other agency programs may be submitted to NFRF in cases where the lack of success is due only to the high-risk and/or interdisciplinary nature of the project, rather than to limited funds in a competitive pool or other reasons.

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 must combine them in a novel way. Can you please explain?

One of the objectives of the New Frontiers in Research Fund (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 at least two disciplines that do not traditionally collaborate together; or
  • if it does incorporate two 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 evaluation 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.

Can an individual apply for funding through both the Transformation and Exploration streams for the same proposed project?

An individual may apply to NFRF competitions in different streams concurrently (e.g., Exploration and Transformation), if the objectives of the proposed projects are independent. For example, an application to the Exploration stream should not propose a project that is included in an application to the Transformation stream. The objectives of the program’s three streams differ, and it is highly unlikely that a proposal would be appropriate for more than one stream.

Can an individual apply for funding for a project that has already received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council or the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council?

If the proposed project’s objectives are different than the previously funded project’s and it fits the objectives of the NFRF competition, it could be eligible for submission to one of NFRF’s funding opportunities. Please contact NFRF to further discuss details specific to your proposed project.

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 an NFRF grant and still hold the CFREF salary support?

A researcher who is a nominated principal investigator (NPI), co-principal investigator (co-PI) or co-applicant on an NFRF grant cannot be paid from both CFREF and NFRF grant funds. If a CFREF-funded researcher becomes a grant holder or co-grant holder 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., in police services, education, health care) eligible to be a co-applicant?

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

I am a participant (NPI, co-PI or co-applicant) on an active Exploration grant project. Am I eligible to apply to this competition?

To be eligible to apply, Exploration grant recipients must have submitted their final report for their previous Exploration grant-funded project before the current competition’s full application deadline. For a grant to officially be considered “ended,” the NFRF program must have approved the final report.

For example, 2018 Exploration grant recipients cannot apply to the 2020 Exploration competition, as they are within the grant’s last year of funding and have not yet submitted their final report. However, they may apply to the 2021 Exploration competition if their 2018 Exploration final report has been submitted and approved by the NFRF program before the full application deadline.

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

The research administrator of the NPI’s primary affiliation institution will confirm the ECR status of the NPI (if applicable) and co-PI (if applicable). At any point in time, NFRF 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 ECR for this competition?

All eligible leaves (including parental, medical, bereavement, and family care) that occurred after your first academic appointment will be considered, as long as they adhered to the requirements of your institution. The amount of time deducted for eligible leaves will be doubled, prolonging the period for which you remain eligible as an ECR.

For example, if the date used for calculating ECR eligibility is January 1, 2019 (please consult the competition overview for the actual ECR eligibility date for your competition), your first academic appointment was on September 1, 2012, and in 2014 you began a  parental leave for a period of one year, your calculation for ECR eligibility would be as follows:

Time from September 1, 2012, and January 1, 2019 (date for calculating ECR eligibility in this example):

equals six years and four months (76 months)


12 months of parental leave multiplied by two (equals 24 months)

equals a total of 52 months, or four years and four months.

Since the maximum allowable duration to have ECR status since your first academic appointment is five years (or 60 months), you would, in the above example, be eligible to apply to this funding opportunity as an ECR.

Note that professional leaves (administrative, training and sabbatical) are not credited.

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- 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 a postdoctoral fellowship an academic appointment, for the purpose of the Exploration competition, it is not considered to be one.

I am the NPI and I want to submit my NOI, but one of my co-applicants has not accepted their invitation and the eligibility of another is shown as still pending. Can I still submit?

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

I am the NPI, 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 Remove beside their name. You must have at least one other eligible participant (co-PI or co-applicant) to be able to submit an NOI.

Should international participants (co-PIs, co-applicants) who identify as Indigenous in their respective countries self-identify as Indigenous on the Convergence Portal?

If the participant is from North America, they may self-identify as Indigenous (e.g., First Nations, Métis, Inuit or North American Indian). If the participant is from outside North America (e.g., New Zealand), they may self-identify as a member of a visible minority in the Canadian context. While we acknowledge Indigenous Peoples outside of North America, data collected through the Convergence Portal helps in evaluating participation among Indigenous Peoples within the Canadian context.

I am an NPI, and my affiliation will change between now and March 31, 2021 (the start date of the grant). How do I manage my affiliations in the Convergence Portal?

In the Convergence Portal, include all of your current affiliations and identify your primary affiliation. Include the affiliation associated with your NOI, even if you have not yet started the appointment. Enter both your current and upcoming affiliations, indicating your current affiliation as your primary one. In the eligibility profile, when asked to choose the affiliation associated with your application, select your upcoming one.

What is meant by “the summary must not contain any identifying information about the team members”?

Any information that might identify any member of the team should not be included in the summary. This includes any reference to previous work, research groups, departments, institutions or organizations. When referring to prior research, use non-identifying statements (e.g., “article was published,” “research was conducted on,” etc.).

How will the competition results be communicated to applicants?

Funding decisions will be communicated to applicants by March 31, 2021, 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. You can include a description of the support in the budget justification section.

If I am unsuccessful in this competition, can I apply to the next one?

Yes. If you are still eligible under the funding stream to which you want to apply, you can apply to the next competition with either a revised or new application. You cannot resubmit the same application.

What is a double-blind external review process, and how does it impact my application?

External reviewers with relevant subject matter expertise evaluate the application without being provided information identifying the research team, and the applicant is not provided information identifying the external reviewers. The external reviewers’ feedback is provided, along with the full application, to the multidisciplinary review panel, contributing to their evaluation of the application.

Which sections of my application do the external reviewers see?

The external reviewers will be provided with the following sections of the application:

  • summary (from the NOI)
  • gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) section
  • research proposal
  • budget justification
  • literature references

They will evaluate the application according to the high risk, high reward, interdisciplinarity and feasibility selection criteria. The NPI must ensure these sections do not contain any identifying information about any member of the team.

Where can I provide information about my team if part of the review process is double-blind?

You can include information about you, your lab group and institution, and the team members and their lab groups and institutions, in the biographical information section. If a team member’s self-identification (gender, Indigenous identity, disability, or racial background) is relevant to the research project, the relevant self-identitfication information may be included in the biographical section, but only with the team member’s consent. Otherwise, self-identification information about any team member should not appear anywhere in the application.

In a double-blind review process, how and where do I reference my previous work?

You may include your own articles in the literature references attachment. In the research proposal, when referring to prior research, use non-identifying statements (e.g., “article was published,” “research was conducted on”). Do not provide links to personal sites (e.g., websites, blogs, Facebook pages, LinkedIn accounts).

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 (are high risk, high reward and interdisciplinary).

Why can’t I find an NOI from an NPI from my institution?

The list of NOIs that a research administrator can view is based on the affiliation the NPI selected in their eligibility profile. Before contacting the Helpdesk, please confirm with the NPI that they selected your institution as their primary affiliation in the Participant Eligibility section.

How do I return an application to the NPI?

If the status of the application is:

  • in progress, there is no need to return it, as the NPI has not yet submitted it to the research administrator;
  • received by administrator, you can return the application by clicking Return to applicant;
  • received by agency, it can no longer be returned to the applicant, as it has already been forwarded it to the agencies.
How do I confirm that a co-PI from a different institution is an ECR?

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

  • contacting the co-PI for the necessary information; or
  • asking the co-PI’s research administrator to confirm the individual’s ECR status.
In the Convergence Portal, the Terms and Conditions for Research Administrators state 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-PIs or co-applicants in an application. An NPI’s research administrator 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?

The NFRF program uses the Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration as its general guidelines for eligibility of expenses and use of funds related to the direct costs of research. Exceptions to these for Exploration grants are noted in the competition overview. 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 Guide on Financial Administration, and the Research Support Fund’s list of eligible and ineligible expenditures.

A breakdown of the indirect costs is not required, but these costs must be included as an amount in the budget table. The NPI’s research administrator will need to confirm that the indirect costs are appropriate before they forward the application.

The indirect costs amount claimed is allocated to the NPI’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 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 (the NPI’s primary affiliation) will administer the process.

Does the NPI also have access to the funds to support the indirect costs of research?

The NPI, the co-PI 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-PIs 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 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 an NPI was awarded $100,000 for direct costs and $25,000 for indirect costs in Year 1 and they 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 a co-PI or co-applicants after the grant has been awarded?

Email NFRF-FNFR@chairs-chaires.gc.ca, copying the individuals you wish to add and providing an explanation for their inclusion in the project, and their affiliation status. Potential applicants will also need to complete an eligibility profile (which staff will send to them), and a user profile in the Convergence Portal. The request will be reviewed and a decision be made regarding the inclusion of additional participants.

How do I add collaborators?

Email NFRF-FNFR@chairs-chaires.gc.ca, copying the individuals you wish to add and providing an explanation for their inclusion in the project, along with the following information: their first name, family name, position or role, department (optional), organization and country of organization. The request will be reviewed and a decision be made regarding the inclusion of additional participants.

What happens if the 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 the list of eligible institutions for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council or Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council), 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, it is expected that the NPI will continue to be involved in the project as a co-PI or co-applicant, insofar as this is possible, to continue to provide the expertise needed to complete the project (note international co-applicants are eligible to access and use grant funds).

If there is:

  • a co-PI who meets the eligibility requirements to be the NPI, the grant can be transferred to the co-PI (the co-PI becomes the NPI, and the original NPI becomes a co-PI or co-applicant, if eligible);
  • no co-PI, but a co-applicant meets the eligibility requirements to be the NPI, the grant can be transferred to the co-applicant (the co-applicant becomes the NPI, and the original NPI becomes a co-PIor co-applicant, if eligible);
  • no eligible co-PI or co-applicant on the application, the grant cannot be transferred and will be terminated.

In all cases, the co-PI and/or co-applicant must have been named 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, and it helps us shape future competitions. Direct your feedback to NFRF-FNFR@chairs-chaires.gc.ca.

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