Step 3: Estimating Staff Time

A key resource in the delivery of any research project, alongside dedicated research staff, is the time of the Principal and Co-Investigators, i.e. the 'core' academic staff who probably also spend time working on other research projects as well as having other duties, including teaching and administration.

Academic staff are required to estimate how much time they think they will need to spend on a particular project. Below is a suggested approach as to how this could be done.

The outcome of the exercise is to produce an estimate of the average number of hours per week over the life of the project that will be spent on the project in question. Academic staff will generally not have to keep detailed records to verify this, but staff will have to be able to justify this as a reasonable estimate of the effort required to deliver a particular project. Some funders (such as the EU) require more detailed documentation to justify the amount of time spent on a project. You should consult your Accounting Team if in any doubt.

Time Available to do new Research

Firstly, it is worth considering the amount of time already committed to Teaching activities, consultancy work, management/administrative duties and other research projects.

Most Academic staff involved in teaching and research activities (except those fully funded from research grants) are now required to complete the TRAC Time allocation exercise. If you have been asked to do this and have not already done so, you can do this by going to the Transparency Review website as this exercise will help you estimate time on research projects.

We have also produced a template that can be used to establish the hours you have available to undertake new research projects (Estimating Staff Time Template)

Project Tasks

It is also worth considering the factors that are likely to affect how much time a particular project may require. This is because research projects differ in terms of scale and complexity and as a consequence have varying requirements for the amount of academic time needed.

The following factors might be worth considering, but you should note that this will inevitably not represent an exhaustive list as each project will differ:



 Research Project Tasks

Factors Likely to Affect This 

 Establish Methodology, Approach, Technique

What is PI’s experience?
How well understood is the area?

Assemble Project Team/Plan/Co-ordination of Team Meetings

How many PI/COI?
How many collaborating partners?
Frequency of meetings 

Recruitment/Supervision of Staff

Number of RA/RF/Technicians

Purchasing/Maintaining Equipment

How specialist is the equipment?

Fieldwork, Laboratory, Studio

What is PI’s experience?

How well understood is the area?

How accessible is the location?

Recruitment of sample/research subjects

Report Writing (Initial, Progress, Final)

 How demanding is funder?

Conference Attendance/  Dissemination Activities 

 How large scale is the planned activity?

What time to include/exclude

You should note that certain activities can be included whilst others can't.


  • Write up time for reports and dissemination activities (including those after the end date)
  • Direct time required to manage the project, undertake the work and supervise the project staff


  • Bid preparation time
  • PGR supervision
  • General research administration duties not directly related to the project
Confirmation of time

The PI should be in a position to confirm, that, broadly, the amount of time estimated at the start of the project is likely to have been spent, and will be spent, by the staff on the project. Broadly in this context means cumulative over the project so far, with reasonable assumptions as to the future work on the project, plus or minus 20%. Formal records are not necessary for this - but the PI should be in a position to produce some evidence of time spent e.g. paper-based diary entries, records of meetings, laboratory notes, volume/quality of outputs and so on.

What next? Go to Step 4. Directly Allocated Costs

See a full Example of a Typical Costing


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