Roles and Responsibilities

Parties involved in the administration of research funds

The principal investigator (PI) has primary responsibility for the administration of their research funds. The University is responsible for providing the PI with sufficient support to achieve this. Many units across campus are involved in providing this support to PIs, namely:

  • Faculty and school/department/research centres/research institutes (i.e. academic/research unit)
  • Office of Research - Research Finance
  • Office of Research - Pre-Awards
  • Finance
  • Other support services

Key responsibilities of each party

Principal investigator

The PI has overall responsibility for the management of their research funds. The PI must operate in compliance with the relevant sponsor guidelines and requirements as well as all applicable University policies. Primary responsibilities include:

  1. Effective financial management and conduct of the research in accordance with sponsor guidelines, institutional policies, and ethical and legal standards, including:
    1. Ensuring all expenditures comply with the terms and conditions of the grant program/contract, are necessary for the research endeavor being undertaken, and are in accordance with:
      • the purpose of the program or contract.
      • the approved budget, if applicable
    2. Acquiring prior authorization from the research sponsor for any significant deviations from the original objective and/or original budget, if required/applicable.
    3. Ensuring that, if required, appropriate delegation of signing authority is set up for each research work order in accordance with University guidelines for signing authority on research work orders, and that all expenditures are authorized either by the PI or an appropriate delegate.
    4. Regular review and reconciliation of online financial statements for research work orders to ensure that all transactions posted are accurate and are charged to the correct research work order.
    5. Regular monitoring of research work order balances and end dates to avoid overspending on work orders or refunding research funds to sponsors. 
    6. Assist Research Finance during internal or external audits of research work orders.
    7. Working with the relevant faculty/academic/research unit to ensure retention in the unit of appropriate research-related source documents (e.g. purchase card statements and receipts, internal charge statements) in accordance with University guidelines.
  2. Managing and supervising research personnel.
    1. In sponsored or contract research activities, ownership of IP rights may be determined in whole or in part by the regulations of the sponsor or the terms of the contract. Participants in these research activities must be made aware of any such stipulations of the contract by the Principal Investigator and have acknowledged and consented via a Research Personnel and Student Agreement (RPSA). Lack of documentation potentially puts Waterloo, the PI and research personnel at risk of being involved in a legal dispute. See Policy 73 – Intellectual Property Rights for further details. The document will be provided either as part of the main agreement or as a standalone document that will reference the main agreement. The Pre-Awards manager of your contract can assist with this important requirement.
  3. Informing relevant sponsor agencies and the Office of Research of changes in either eligibility status or the nature of the research being undertaken. This type of change may impact certification or approvals for research involving humans, animals, biohazards, and environmental assessments.
  4. Meeting financial and non-financial reporting requirements specific to the research sponsor or grant program.
  5. Funding deficits in research work orders from alternate eligible research or operating funds.

Faculty and academic/research unit

The PI’s faculty and academic/research unit are responsible for providing assistance with the day-to-day administration of research funds. Key responsibilities include:

  1. Provision of necessary resources required to conduct research (e.g., space).
  2. Authorization and monitoring of interim research accounts (IRAs) in accordance with IRA guidelines.
  3. Pre-review of research transactions for eligibility and compliance with sponsor and University guidelines
  4. Ensuring that faculty and/or academic/research unit staff involved in these review processes attend regular training sessions. 
  5. Authorization of current-year adjustments on research work orders by the faculty finance officer (FFO) or executive officer.
  6. Working with PIs to ensure retention in the faculty/academic/research unit of appropriate research-related source documents (e.g. purchase card statements and receipts, internal charge statements) in accordance with University guidelines.
  7. Providing assistance to Research Finance during internal or external audits on research work orders.
  8. Providing appropriate administrative support to researchers to ensure that they can effectively manage their research portfolios.
  9. In consultation with Research Finance, requesting suspension of further expenditures on research work orders if necessary.
  10. Resolving deficits or bad debts on research work orders if these cannot be resolved with alternate funds held by the PI.

Office of Research - Research Finance

The primary role of Research Finance is financial administration of research funds and the provision of support and advice to PIs to enable them to manage their funds effectively and efficiently. There are two teams within Research Finance:

Reporting team key responsibilities:

  1. Work with Pre-Awards to create templates that contain all the necessary information in the notification of work orders. This includes the key terms and conditions of the work order and the work order number.
  2. Setting up the budget and invoicing for the work order
  3. Setting up overhead commitments and booking all relevant overhead for the work order.
  4. External financial reporting on the work order in accordance with the terms and conditions of the agreement or sponsor guidelines. This may include review of work order activity to ensure that:
    • Work order is within budget
    • Work order spending adheres to sponsor guidelines
    • Work order spending is on track with the overall timetable
    • In-kind contributions are monitored and reported
  5. In conjunction with Finance (Accounts Receivable), monitoring and management of potential bad debts on research work orders.
  6. Co-ordination and preparation of deficit and surplus resolutions and closing work orders when all activity is complete.
  7. Serving as the key point of contact for PIs for research financial reporting queries.
  8. Liaising with research sponsors regarding financial reporting queries.
  9. Provision of training and support to PIs and their administrators regarding financial management of research funds.
  10. Management of the process of external research audits.
  11. Preparation and distribution of annual indirect cost reports to senior management, Finance, faculties, and departments.

Training & compliance team key responsibilities:

  1. In conjunction with faculties and/or academic/research units, pre-reviewing research transactions for eligibility and compliance with sponsor and University guidelines.
  2. Undertaking monthly post-transaction reviews of reimbursements, expenses, and salary charges for compliance and eligibility with sponsor and University guidelines.
  3. In conjunction with Finance conducting quarterly internal reviews of a sample of research-related transactions for compliance and eligibility with sponsor and University guidelines.
  4. Providing formal and informal training, advice, and support to researchers and research administrators on compliance and eligibility issues.
  5. Delivering regular mandatory training to faculty and academic/research unit administrators involved in compliance and eligibility reviews.
  6. Maintaining the signing authority for research work orders in the financial system.

Office of Research - Pre-awards

There are three sections within Pre-Awards: contracts research and industrial grants, institutional programs, and grants and government research contracts. Pre-Awards provides several services in support of the management of research work orders including:

  1. Requesting the work order number for each research work order and releasing it to the PI(s) with a notification of the work order.
  2. Submitting to sponsor agencies/sponsors requests for amendments to terms or conditions of agreements including budget amendments or extensions.
  3. Ensuring that any changes in eligibility or status of PI’s are communicated to sponsors and any required actions are taken.
  4. Reviewing and approving requests for IRAs in accordance with IRA guidelines.
  5. Management of internal and external sub-grants and related transfer of funds.
  6. In conjunction with the PI and the PI's academic/research unit, monitoring and/or reporting on the non–financial deliverables associated with research work orders.


The key responsibilities of Finance are:

  1. Establishing university accounting standards and procedures
  2. Creating and maintaining financial policies in collaboration with the university community
  3. Providing expertise on accounting and tax issues
  4. Processing payments and transactions through the financial system (including the HST recovery) within established timelines
  5. Working with departments to resolve exceptions or disputes in order to maintain the University’s reputation (e.g., disputes with suppliers, outstanding advances)
  6. Processing budget and journal entries based on published guidelines
  7. Management of the accounts receivable system including invoice generation, receipting, adjustments, and debt collection.
  8. Managing the University's financial systems and implementing and monitoring the related internal controls
  9. Providing training to Faculty Financial Officers, Executive Officers and designated administrators in academic support units on financial matters (train-the-trainer approach)
  10. In conjunction with Research Finance performing post audits of financial transactions on research work orders to ensure compliance
  11. Recording and reporting on capital assets
  12. Management of audit resources for research audits involving the University’s external auditors.

Other support services

  • Procurement and contract services: tendering, contracts, purchasing goods and services, purchase card, and customs clearance.
  • Payroll: processing of all salary transactions including adjustments on salary accounts.
  • Graduate Studies Office: graduate student scholarships and graduate research studentships, management of the Quest reporting system.
  • Plant Operations: development of floor plans, provision of building and renovation cost estimates for new construction or renovation of existing space.