MIT does not treat its proposals to sponsors as confidential information. Most proposals do not teach MIT’s knowledge or technology in sufficient detail to enable a sponsor (who presumably has decided to sponsor research at MIT because its scientists don’t have access to MIT’s expertise and facilities) to appropriate MIT’s proposal and conduct the research itself.
Reviewing the usual contents of an MIT proposal’s Statement of Work (SoW):
- the overview of the science underlying proposed work is information that has already been published in most cases (and is sometimes supported by a bibliography in some proposals)
- the work plan, while of varying degree of detail, usually doesn’t teach how to do the planned research, but only outlines the plan, expected milestones and deliverables.
- the budget is MIT-specific—the sponsor won’t be employing students, using MIT facilities, or paying MIT rates and overhead.
It's unlikely that a sponsor would spend time and effort to cultivate a relationship with MIT’s research team—especially the PI—and then try to implement MIT's proposal on its own without MIT’s collaboration. Such behavior could damage the willingness of other MIT researchers to collaborate with that sponsor, once the word of such behavior spread around MIT.
Furthermore, simply marking information as “MIT Confidential” does not mean that MIT’s sponsors are obligated to protect it. The sponsor and MIT first have to execute a non-disclosure agreement if MIT wants to protect MIT information as confidential. Then, as soon as MIT discloses the same or very similar information to another outside organization without a confidentiality agreement (whether a sponsor or not), that information would no longer be confidential as we had disclosed it without an obligation of confidentiality. MIT prefers not to expend contracting effort to protect MIT proposals with confidentiality agreements when we may propose something similar to other sponsors if the first sponsor declines the proposal, and when much of the proposal’s technical background may have been previously published.
Last, MIT research is fundamental academic research under US export regulations, such that the results generated by MIT qualify as “public domain” under ITAR Parts 120.10(a)(5) and 120.11 or “publicly available under EAR Parts 734.3(b)(3) and 734.8(a, b). To be considered fundamental academic research, results must be published within a reasonably short period of time (typically 1-3 months after submitting a paper), except for patent filings, which must be kept confidential until they are published by the US Patent and Trademark Office. Keeping MIT research plans and results confidential could violate the fundamental research exclusion, rendering some MIT research subject to export license requirements and forcing MIT to exclude some foreign students and researchers from participating in the research, in contradiction of MIT Policy.
For the same reasons, we will not allow our sponsors to mark MIT’s proposals as “confidential.” First, MIT prepares the proposals, so they are OUR information, not the sponsor’s. As noted above, MIT asserts our proposals are not confidential information. Furthermore, each proposal’s statement of work and some of its budget information become an integral part of the award contract. MIT cannot treat award contracts as confidential information because:
- proposals and award contracts are stored in open files and online databases at MIT that are accessed by many MIT employees.
- they need to be reviewed and implemented by many MIT employees who might be unaware of a confidentiality agreement that might govern one particular proposal
- PIs need to be able to disclose the names of award projects and their sponsors (and sometimes the award funding), in federal and foundation grant applications and sometimes in proposals to other sponsors.
Last, while occasional for-profit sponsors may ask MIT to keep the research we’re doing under their sponsorship confidential, we explain to them that this is not possible in a tax-exempt university that is obligated to publish its research to serve the public good.
Unfiled MIT inventions shouldn’t be disclosed in proposals
The only MIT confidential information-- that PIs should avoid putting into proposals—is information teaching novel inventions that have not yet been (a) disclosed to TLO and (b) the subject of a filed US patent application. Disclosing an unfiled invention to a third parties without a confidentiality agreement risks destroying the patentability of the invention. TLO provides guidance on how to disclose and protect inventions.
The Budget Section: Budget & Budget Justification
The budget is a line item (tabular) representation of the expenses associated with the proposal project. The Budget Justification contains more in depth detail of the costs behind the line items, and sometimes explains the use of the funds where not evident. Examples include the need for consultants, or the unavailability within the University of an item of equipment proposed for purchase. Foreign travel should be specifically detailed and justified, and not combined with domestic travel. The need to travel to professional meetings should be tied to the proposed project, if possible. Refer to sample budget.
Cost estimates need to be as accurate as possible to cover the expenses proposed in the project. Reviewers will note both over- and under-estimations.
The budget should be developed with your departmental research administrator, in consultation with the appropriate ORSP project representative as needed. Sponsors customarily specify how budgets should be presented and what costs are allowable. The overview given here is for preliminary guidance only.
Typical divisions of the line item (tabular) budget are personnel, equipment, supplies, services, travel, and indirect costs (IDC). Other categories can be added as needed. The budget should make clear how the totals for each category of expenses are reached. Salary information, for example, often needs to be specified in detail: principal investigator (.5 FTE for 3 months at $80,000 [9-month appointment]) = $13,333. Make clear if salary totals involve two different rates (e.g., because of an anticipated increase in salary during the budget period).
The category of Personnel includes not only the base salary or wage for each person on the project, but also (listed separately) the percentage added for staff benefits. The current figure used for approximately the average cost of staff benefits is 30% of the total salaries and wages. Project representatives should be consulted on the calculation of staff benefits, because the rate may vary significantly depending on the kinds of personnel involved and the selected benefit option. A table is available from ORSP.
Graduate Student Research Assistants, who are to be employed on research projects for more than 1/2 time, may have part of their tuition costs covered by their unit. The remaining tuition costs must be included as a line item in the budget to the sponsor.
Indirect costs (IDC) are shown as a separate category, usually as the last item before the grand total. Indirect costs are figured as a fixed percentage of the total direct costs (modified by various exceptions). For federally funded grants, some items are excluded from IDC, e.g., equipment (over $5,000), graduate research assistant tuition, and the balance of subcontracts over $25,000.
Because indirect cost percentages change after periodic negotiations with the federal government, PIs should consult their departmental research administrator or an ORSP project representative before calculating this part of their budget. Refer here for the current indirect cost (IDC) rates.
If cost sharing is required (mandated) by the sponsor, please check with your departmental research administrator for how to show that in the budget. This must be approved by your Chair or Dean.
To call attention to the variety of expenses that might arise in the conduct of a research project, a checklist* of possible budget items is included here. This checklist suggests many of the expenses that might be appropriate to your budget, but consultation with the ORSP project representative is important. S/he can help ensure (1) that the budget has not omitted appropriate elements of cost, such as service charges for the use of certain University facilities (for example, surveys conducted by the Institute for Social Research); (2) that any estimates for construction, alterations, or equipment installation have been properly obtained and recorded; (3) that costs are not duplicated between the direct and indirect cost categories; (4) that the budget complies with any cost-sharing requirements of the sponsor; (5) that provisions are made for the escalation of costs as may be appropriate; and (6) that costs in all categories are realistically estimated.
For additional help and samples, see Budget Planning & Preparation
Checklist for Proposal Budget Items Directly Tied to the Project:
A. Salaries and Wages
1. Academic personnel
2. Research assistants
3. Stipends (training grants only)
6. Computer programmer
7. Data managers or analysts
10. Editorial assistants
12. Study/clinical coordinators
13. Hourly personnel
14. Staff benefits
15. Salary increases in proposals that extend into a new year, e.g., Cost of Living increases
16. Vacation accrual and/or use
1. Fixed equipment
2. Movable equipment
3. Office equipment
4. Equipment installation
C. Materials and Supplies
1. Office supplies specifically for project
3. Test materials or samples
4. Questionnaire forms
5. Data access
7. Animal care
8. Laboratory supplies
11. Electronic supplies
12. Report materials and supplies
1. Professional conferences
2. Field work
3. Sponsor meetings
4. Travel for consultation
5. Consultants' travel
6. Mileage for research participants
8. Automobile rental
9. Aircraft rental
10. Ship rental
1. Computer use/data storage
2. Duplication services (reports, etc.)
3. Publication costs
4. Photographic/graphic services
5. Service contracts
6. ISR services (e.g., surveys)
7. Data analysis
1. Space rental
2. Alterations and renovations
3. Purchase of data, periodicals, books
4. Subjects/Research participants
5. Patient reimbursement
6. Tuition and fees