Tri-Agency New Frontiers in Research Funds - Exploration Grant 2020

Updated Information

New information in the followoing sections:

  • October 13, 2020 Full Application internal deadline:
  • How to apply:


Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat (TIPS),on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).  


New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) – Explorations Grants 2020

For More Information

Notice of Intent to Apply

Full Application Guide

Best Practices in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Research

Evaluation of Matrices

Frequently Asked Questions or email


The objective of the Exploration stream is to support high risk, high reward and interdisciplinary research. It seeks to inspire projects that bring disciplines together beyond traditional disciplinary or common interdisciplinary approaches by research teams with the capacity to explore something new that might fail, but has the potential for significant impact.

The goal of the Exploration stream is to inspire high-risk, high-reward and interdisciplinary research.

Exploration grants support research that pushes boundaries into exciting new areas. Researchers are encouraged to think “outside of the box,” undertake research that would defy current paradigms, and bring disciplines together in unexpected ways and form bold, innovative perspectives. With the Exploration stream, there is recognition that innovation often carries risk; proposals for high-risk research projects that have the potential to deliver game-changing impacts are strongly encouraged.

Exploration stream grants support projects that:

  • bring disciplines together beyond traditional disciplinary or common interdisciplinary approaches;
  • propose to explore something new, which might fail; and
  • have the potential for significant impact.

Exploration grants support research with a range of impacts, some of which might be social, cultural, economic, health-related or technological. This list is not exhaustive; other types of impacts are also recognized. Diversity of perspectives is important, and the fund encourages research proposals led from any discipline, from those in the social sciences and humanities, to health, the natural sciences and engineering.

To better promote ground-breaking and interdisciplinary research, the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) has a mandate to explore innovative merit review processes, and the flexibility for competition parameters and processes to evolve from one competition to the next. The 2020 Exploration competition merit review processes differ from those of previous Exploration competitions, and include elements distinct from those used in flagship tri-agency programs.

Subject matter (fit to program)

Exploration grants support projects that are high risk, high reward and interdisciplinary. They may involve disciplines, thematic areas, approaches or subject areas eligible for funding across the three agencies. Eligible projects include those with specific short-to-medium-term objectives, as well as discrete phases in longer-range research programs.

To meet the minimum requirement to be considered interdisciplinary, a proposed research project must include elements from at least two different disciplines (as defined by a group-level classification based on the Canadian Research and Development Classification). Projects that incorporate two disciplines with a long and established tradition of working together (e.g., biology and chemistry or psychology and education) may satisfy the above requirement but not meet the expectations of the program. The onus is on the applicant to explain the novelty of the interdisciplinary approach to justify the fit to program.

The following elements are indicative of projects that do not meet program expectations for high risk, and are considered ineligible: research that is the obvious next step; data collection without interpretation of underlying mechanisms or patterns; professional practice or consulting services (contract research); set-up and operational management of an institute or a formal or informal group of researchers (network); curriculum development; organization of a conference or workshop; digitization of a collection or creation of a database; application of existing technology or commercialization of a product/process; routine analyses; and/or acquisition and maintenance of research equipment.

Applications for projects that are the same or similar, in whole or in part, to ones that have been funded by other federal research granting agency programs should not be submitted to the NFRF program. Applications for projects the same as or similar to projects that have been unsuccessful in receiving funding from other agency programs may be submitted to the NFRF program in cases where the lack of success is due to the high-risk and/or interdisciplinary nature of the project, rather than limited funds in a highly competitive pool.

Applications not meeting any of the requirements outlined above may be withdrawn at any point in the competition, or have their NFRF grant terminated (with the NPI’s primary affiliation being responsible for reimbursing the total amount of the grant).


To encourage projects that push the boundaries in terms of interdisciplinarity, proposals must be submitted by research teams composed of at least two individuals. In addition to a nominated principal investigator (NPI), the team must include either a co-principal investigator (co-PI) or a co-applicant. Teams may include up to one co-PI and any number of co-applicants and/or collaborators. The NPI and team members can be from any discipline.

To ensure that Exploration grants support high-risk, high-reward projects across the broadest spectrum of disciplines, individuals can participate in only one Exploration stream application or grant at one time. 

These restrictions do not apply to collaborators. These restrictions also do not apply to the NFRF Transformation and International streams. An individual may simultaneously apply as or be an award holder as an NPI, co-PI or co-applicant for grants under separate streams (Exploration, Transformation and International).

For a proposal to be considered led by early career researchers (ECRs), both the NPI and co-PI (if applicable) must be ECRs. An ECR is a researcher within five years from the start date of their first research-related appointment, minus the length of any eligible delays in research (e.g., illness, maternity, parental), as of the first of the month in which the competition is launched (June 1, 2020, for this Exploration competition), where:

  • “research-related appointments” are defined as those where an individual has the autonomy to conduct research independently;
  • all eligible leaves (e.g., maternity, parental, medical, bereavement) are credited at twice the amount of time taken; and
  • professional leaves (e.g., training, sabbatical, administrative) are not credited.

If a first academic appointment was a part-time appointment/position, years of experience are counted at 50%, until the researcher’s appointment to a full-time academic position.

Funding Availability

A minimum of $25 million over two years.  A minimum of 100 will be awarded.  A proportion of awards equal to the proportion of applications received from early career researchers will be reserved for them.

Maximum Project Value

Up to $125,000 per year (including indirect costs).  Maximum direct costs per year is $100,000 (with an additional $25,000 indirect costs).

Indirect Costs


Project Duration

Up to two years.

Special Notes

Please refer to the Office of Research COVID-19 web-page for directives related to research at the University of Guelph.

Research Team

Nominated principal investigator

The NPI:

  • is responsible for the direction of the project and the coordination of proposed research activities, in conjunction with the co-PI (if applicable);
  • completes and submits the NOI and full application, through the research administrator at their institution;
  • assumes administrative and financial responsibility for the grant; and
  • receives all related correspondence from the agencies.

The NPI must be considered an independent researcher at their primary affiliation. A primary affiliation is defined as the primary organization at which an individual is employed, appointed or conducts research.

An independent researcher is an individual who:

  • engages in research-related activities that are not under the direction of another individual; and
  • has an academic or research appointment that:
    • commences by the full application deadline;
    • allows the individual to pursue the proposed research project, engage in independent research activities for the entire duration of the funding, supervise trainees (if applicable, as per the institution’s policy), and publish the research results; and
    • obliges the individual to comply with institutional policies on the conduct of research, supervision of trainees (if applicable), and employment conditions of staff paid using tri-agency funding.

Part-time students, postdoctoral fellows or research associates are not eligible to apply as NPIs.


Co-applicants share responsibility with the NPI for the direction of the proposed activities, and may access grant funds.

Co-applicants must be independent researchers.

They may be affiliated with a Canadian or international organization, but must not be affiliated with a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal government department or a for-profit organization. Students, postdoctoral fellows, research associates, etc. are not eligible to participate as a co-PI.


Collaborators contribute to the execution of research activities, but do not have access to grant funds.

Collaborators do not need to be affiliated with an eligible institution. Any individual who will contribute to the project is eligible to be a collaborator.

Collaborators may include individuals affiliated with a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal government department or a for-profit organization. They may also be affiliated with a Canadian or international organization.

Any individual whose contributions to the project will be supervised by the NPI, co-PI, co-applicant and/or another collaborator cannot be considered a collaborator.


If College-level review is required, your College will communicate its earlier internal deadlines.

Internal Deadline

Notification of Intent to Apply (NOI)
The Nominated Principal Investigator must submit their NOI through the Convergence Portal by 9:00am on August 11, 2020. The NOI is mandatory to progress to the next stage.  A complete, signed OR-5 form is required at this stage since there is no Letter of Intent stage this round.

External Deadline

The Office of Research Services will submit the completed NOI directly through the Convergence Portal on behalf of the research team. 

Please Note: Once an NOI has been submitted by ORS, the NPI, co-principal investigator and/or co-applicants may not remove themselves from the project to join a different project within the Exploration stream.

Internal Deadline

Full Application

NOIs are not adjudicated, so all teams can proceed with Full Application. The Nominated Principal Investigator must submit their completed Full Application in the Convergence Portal, and notify

External Deadline

Full Application
The Office of Research Services will submit the completed Full Application directly through the Convergence Portal on behalf of the research team. 

How to Apply

Please see the Submission Guidelines for submitting an NOI, LOI, and Full Application, linked in the ‘For More Information” section.

The PowerPoint slides that were presented during the webinars for applicants on the Notice of Intent (NOI) and Full Application stages for the 2020 Exploration competition are posted under the Attachments section.

For more information, please contact:

Please join the Office of Research Services for an Information Session.

Information For Co-applicants

If you are a formal Co-Principal Investigator or Co-Applicant on an NFRF Exploration Grant 2019 proposal led by a Nominated Principal Investigator at another institution, you are required to submit a copy of the Letter of Intent to Apply (LOI) and a signed OR-5 form to at the LOI Internal Deadline, 


For Questions, please contact

If you have questions:

Office of Research

Carolyn Osborn, Director, Grants & Contracts
Research Services Office
519-824-4120 x52935

Alert Classifications
Funding Opportunities and Sponsor News

Health and Life Sciences
Information and Communications Technology
Physical Sciences and Engineering
Social Sciences