How To

Budget Salaries for My Research Project


Salaries make up the largest category of direct costs on a sponsored project. When preparing a budget, start by making a list of all Stanford personnel who will support the proposed statement of work. If a person will be hired once the award is funded, simply estimate their salary and percentage of effort and list them as TBD (to be determined).

Project personnel salaries budgeted as direct costs

Stanford employees: the PI, co-PIs, co-investigators, ASR (Academic Staff Researchers), technical support staff, graduate students, research assistants, and administrative support staff (working directly on a major project), Stanford employees acting as collaborators.

Project Personnel salaries NOT budgeted as direct costs

Stanford Hospital and VA employees are not budgeted in the personnel budget category. Stanford Hospital employees are budgeted in “Patient Care.” Check with your  RPM (Research Process Manager) in the School of Medicine or OSR for advice regarding VA employees. Other non-Stanford employees may be proposed as consultants or as the personnel in a subaward.

Salary information to include in the budget:

1. The person's role on the project (not job title) and the person's name 

Example: Rafael Nadal, Lead Protein Synthesizer not Rafael Nadal, Professional Tennis Player

2. The percentage of effort or person months devoted to the project

This includes all responsibilities (including teaching and research) together and may not exceed 100% FTE. The portion of salary charged to the project is based on the percentage of FTE committed to the project. Remember that any percentage of effort committed in a proposal and subsequently devoted, must be accounted for later as project expenditure (either a direct project charge or cost sharing).

Nominal contributions of effort “as needed” may be included and NOT quantified. In this case, where no % FTE is specified, no cost sharing is committed. A “part-time” commitment, on the other hand, implies a specified % FTE, and that amount should be quantified. If awarded, “part-time” effort must be either directly charged or cost shared.

View how to convert percent effort to person months.  

3.  The appointment type (academic, summer or calendar) 

Nine Month Appointment and Summer Effort A faculty member on a nine-month appointment can only be paid from sponsored projects up to 90% during any of the summer months. Salary charged to sponsored projects during the summer months must be consistent with effort expended during the same period.

Limits on Salary Amounts (Salary Caps)


NSF limits salary compensation for senior project personnel to no more than two months of their regular salary in any one year from all NSF-funded grants. This effort must be documented in accordance with the applicable cost principles.

If anticipated, any compensation for such personnel in excess of two months must be disclosed in the proposal budget, justified in the budget justification, and must be specifically approved by NSF in the award.


NIH will not pay requested salary above the annual salary cap. If salary is requested above the salary cap, NIH will reduce that line item to the salary cap, resulting in a reduced total award amount.  When preparing a detailed budget, you must base your request on actual institutional base salaries (not the cap) so that NIH staff has the most current information in hand at the time of award and can apply the appropriate salary cap at that time.

The DHHS (department of Health and Human Service) salary cap limits the amount which can be charged to a DHHS project (or related cost sharing account) by limiting the maximum annual salary rate for a 100%, 12-month FTE. The rate is set annually and applies to all awards made that year.

DHHS establishes the funding limitation for salaries at the time that a competitive award is made. However, if subsequent (non-competing) funding is awarded during a year with a higher salary cap, NIH will allow existing funds to be re-budgeted to that level. Typically, no new funds will be awarded for this purpose. 

  • DHHS salary cap may change annually
  • DHHS funds salary up to the level of the cap in effect on the award date
  • Use a special expenditure type to capture difference between actual pay & what can be charged to a DHHS award

View Salary Cap details

Other sponsors

Other sponsors such as Juvenile Diabetes Association may have salary caps. Read  the program announcement carefully to determine if a sponsor has a salary cap.

Proposal Preparation Costs

Proposal preparation costs (typically comprised of salary for the PI and/or others) may not be charged to sponsored projects unless the proposal is being prepared for submission to a current sponsor for a non-competing extension or continuation of its currently awarded project. In those circumstances, it is appropriate to charge those proposal preparation costs directly to current projects. Costs for development of proposals for submission to other sponsors, or for work that does not relate to ongoing projects, is not allocable to current projects and may not be charged to those projects.

Guidance for Budgeting Faculty Effort

Effort should be committed as anticipated by the program scope and reflected in the proposal as a percent of effort or in person months.

The equation for calculating man months is  % effort x months (academic year, calendar year or summer). 50% of a calendar year appointment is calculated as 50 x 12 = 6 mm

View more information on how to convert percent effort to person months.

Stanford requires a commitment of effort on the part of the PI during the period in which the work is being performed. This effort may be expended during the academic year, summer quarter only, or both. Committed effort shall be direct charged or cost shared.

The requirement of PI effort does NOT extend to:

  • Equipment grants
  • Seed grants for students/postdocs where the faculty mentor is named as PI, dissertation support, training grants or other awards intended as student augmentation
  • limited-purpose awards characterized by Stanford as Other Sponsored Activities, including travel grants, conference support, etc. View definition and examples of Categories of Sponsored Projects

In preparing proposals, PIs must not over commit themselves or others. Distribution of effort must take into account the time required for teaching and campus citizenship.

Individual schools may have their own thresholds for how much FTE faculty members must reserve for non-research activities. Research-only faculty on 12-month appointments may typically charge up to 95% to sponsored projects year round. See below for requirements for summer salary.

PIs may submit proposals on the assumption that not all will be awarded, but, at the time of award, a reasonable representation of time to be devoted to the project, whether that effort will be paid for by the sponsor or by Stanford, is necessary. Subsequent changes in levels of effort may also require advance notification to and approval by sponsors.

View RPH Special Requirements Related to Sponsor Notifications and Prior Approvals

A faculty member who is on a nine-month appointment may be paid from federal and/or non-federal sponsored projects for no more than 90% during any of the summer months. Salary charged to sponsored projects during the summer months must be consistent with effort expended during the same period.

View Frequently Asked Questions on Faculty Effort for more information

Stanford requires individuals new to the position of Principal Investigator (PI) to understand the regulatory environment in which sponsored research is conducted. Stanford requires each of its PIs to complete a brief course: PI Training: Stewardship and Compliance for Principal Investigators. This course outlines the regulatory environment for sponsored research. It is comprised of two modules: 1) Research and Scholarship and 2) Financial Management.

Guidance for Budgeting Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Scholar

Graduate Student Assistantship

This is a form of student employment in which the student earns a compensation package that includes both salary and TAL (tuition allowance) for the performance of research or teaching as part of the student’s academic and professional training and development.

Stanford establishes Minimum Salary Rates for RA/TA AppointmentsDepartments may establish their own guidelines as long as funding rates meet or exceed those established by Stanford.

View graduate students salary and tuition allowance here

(select Salary and TAL Tables on the top navigation of the page)

Note:  TA salary is not an appropriate charge on a research grant.  Also, stipends, tuition and health insurance are not appropriate charges on research grants other than federal training grants or federal fellowships.

NIH Special Requirements

NRSA Requirements (Graduate Student  & Pre and Post Doc Compensation) NIH Stipend Levels for 2020

Stanford clarification: The Graduate Student Compensation Limit for Fiscal Year 2017 NRSA (National Research Service Award) awards research grants is tied to the "0" level of experience stipend level for postdocs. Therefore, the limit is $48,432 (salary plus benefits and tuition) when budgeting graduate students on research grants. 

Postdoctoral Scholars

The Stanford provost establishes minimum funding levels based on the years of cumulative research experience a Postdoctoral Scholar has accumulated when appointed. Departments may establish their own guidelines as long as funding rates meet or exceed those established by Stanford. If you have questions about funding rates or guidelines, please contact the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

Staff Salaries by Project Role

You can list other personnel by project role. If multiple people share the same role such as “lab technician”, indicate the number of personnel to the left of the role description, add their person months/percent of effort together, and add their requested salaries together.

The salaries of secretarial/clerical staff should normally be treated as F&A costs. Direct charging of these costs may be appropriate where integral to the statement of work and individuals involved can be specifically identified with the project or activity. Be specific in your budget justifications when you describe the roles and responsibilities of other personnel.

Administrative Salaries as Direct Costs

While administrative salaries and expenses are normally charged through the F&A (Facilities & Administrative) cost rate, federal regulations describe when administrative and clerical salaries can be charged directly to federally sponsored projects.

You can propose charging administrative and clerical salaries to a federally sponsored project if ALL of the following conditions are met:

  1. Administrative or clerical services are integral to a project or activity. The requirement that the cost is “integral” means the services are essential, vital, or fundamental to the project or activity
  2. Individuals involved can be specifically identified with the project or activity
  3. Such costs are explicitly included in the budget or have the prior written approval of the federal awarding agency
    • A budget justification must be included in the proposal
  4. The cost are not also recovered as F&A costs

NIH modular grants or similar grant instruments do not require line-item budgets. (Note: Rebudgeting authority may be used to charge administrative expenses not included in the approved budget if specific rebudgeting authority for clerical and administrative expenses is allowed by award and sponsor rebudgeting guidelines. See, for example, NIH administrative requirements.)

All deans' office administrative activities must be consistently treated as F&A costs. Therefore, no deans' office administrative expenses shall be charged directly to sponsored awards . Deans' sponsored project activities are subject to RPH 15.4.3

Any other administrative costs that are required to perform the technical scope of work may be directly charged as long they provide technical benefit to the sponsored project.

Non-federally Sponsored Projects

Direct charging of administrative or clerical salaries to a non-federally sponsored project is appropriate if the services benefit the sponsored project. Some non-federal sponsors may have specific requirements for direct charging of administrative costs. Such requirements need to be addressed in proposals.

Read  RPH 15.4: Charging for Administrative and Technical Expenses

Budget Fringe Benefits

Fringe benefits are directly related to salary charges and require separate line items in the budget (apart from salary). There are four separate rates for the following employment statuses.

  • Benefits-eligible faculty and staff
  • Postdocs
  • Casual/temporary employees
  • Graduate students Research Assistants /Teaching Assistants

The fringe benefit rate is applied to salaries to cover ancillary expenses such as retirement benefits, health and dental insurance, life and disability insurance, contributions to social security and retirement plans. 

The federal government reviews and negotiates the fringe benefit rate with Stanford. Use the most current rates by viewing the rate chart on the web. See fringe benefit rate here. An additional rate is added to the benefits rate for faculty and staff on non-governmental awards.

Applying TGP (Tuition Grant Program) Fringe Benefit Rate

The TGP (Tuition Grant Program) Fringe Rate is assessed on regular benefits eligible salaries charged to all NON-government funded PTAs including sponsored projects, operating budgets, and auxiliary PTAs.

Regular benefits-eligible salaries charged to government-funded PTAs, academic service centers and sponsored project cost sharing PTAs are exempt from the TGP charge.

The TGP charge is subject to facilities and administrative costs (F&A) and infrastructure charges. The TGP fringe benefit rates can be found on the Rates page of this site. The TGP charge appears in expenditure type 51770 Fringe Benefits TGP.

If you have any questions or need more information about the application of the TGP Rate, please contact the University Budget Office or, Research Administration Policy and Compliance, at extension 3-9102.

View the TGP Rate

Handling Vacation & Disability Sick Leave Accrual

Stanford's agreement with the Office of Naval Research provides for xx% vacation accrual/disability sick leave (DSL) for exempt and non-exempt employees. The vacation accrual/DSL rates will be charged at the time of the salary expenditure. No salary will be charged to the award when the employee is on vacation.

Include in the budget justification:

"Stanford's agreement with the Office of Naval Research provides for xx% vacation accrual/disability sick leave (DSL) for exempt employees and non-exempt employees.  The vacation accrual/DSL rates will be charged at the time of the salary expenditure.  No salary will be charged to the award when the employee is on vacation."