Selecting the Appropriate Federal Granting Agency


The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) support and promote high-quality research in a wide variety of disciplines and areas.

The granting agencies were created by Acts of Parliament, which define their individual mandates. In turn, these mandates define the areas of research funded by each agency. The agencies have each developed their own general guidelines for the eligibility of subject matter, described below.

The agencies recognize, however, that some areas of research will overlap two or more granting agencies. Therefore, individual agency mandates have been interpreted in order to ensure that areas of research that cross agency boundaries are eligible for support. This means that in some areas of research there is overlap between agency mandates, and some applications could be eligible for support by more than one federal granting agency. Therefore, more detailed guidelines have been developed for researchers working in health and psychology. Other areas of overlap include geography, business, management studies, physical education, optometry, etc.

Some research also requires an interdisciplinary approach. The agencies wish to encourage the Canadian research community to advance and lead interdisciplinary research that is cross-cutting and addresses important social, economic and health issues that matter to Canadians. This includes research that bridges more than one discipline or that requires the skills of several disciplines. The agencies support this type of research through a number of joint and co-operative programs (see “Research Funding Collaboration” for a complete listing) and have in place a number of mechanisms to ensure that interdisciplinary research is accommodated within their individual programs.


General Guidelines for Submitting and Accepting Applications

  • For any given submission, applicants should apply to the agency that is responsible for the dominant research discipline or area as defined by the agencies’ General Guidelines for the Eligibility of Subject Matter
  • A researcher or research team may not submit identical applications to more than one of the three federal granting agencies at the same time, or submit to an agency an application already funded by one of the other agencies. With the exception of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships Program and the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships Program, scholarships and fellowships applicants may only apply to one granting agency per academic year.
  • An agency may not recommend an application for funding if it would be more appropriately reviewed by another of the agencies. In such cases, the applicant may be required to prepare a new application to the appropriate agency.
  • An application that is eligible for support by more than one agency will continue in the peer review process of the agency to which it was originally submitted.

Note: Some tri-agency programs are managed by one agency on behalf of the others. Applicants should consult the relevant application instructions and apply to the agency responsible for managing the program.


General Guidelines for the Eligibility of Subject Matter at SSHRC

Applications to SSHRC as the primary source of research or research training support must meet the following criteria:

  1. The program of research must be primarily in the social sciences and humanities (i.e., aligned with the SSHRC legislated mandate) and;
  2. The intended outcome of the research must primarily be to add to our understanding and knowledge of individuals, groups, and societies - what we think, how we live and how we interact with each other and the world around us.

General Guidelines for the Eligibility of Subject Matter at NSERC

Applications to NSERC as the primary source of research or research training support must meet the following criteria:

  1. The program of research must be primarily in the natural sciences and engineering, other than the health sciences (i.e., aligned with NSERC’s function legislated in the NSERC Act); and
  2. The intended objective(s) of the research must primarily be to advance knowledge in one or more of the natural science or engineering disciplines.


General Guidelines for Eligibility of Subject Matter at CIHR

Applications to CIHR as the primary source of research or research training support must meet the following criterion:

  1. The intended outcomes of the research must, as stated in CIHR’s mandate, primarily improve or have an impact on health and/or produce more effective health services and products and/or strengthen the Canadian health care system.



Guidelines for the Eligibility of Applications Related to Health

The following guidelines should be considered in the decision to apply to a federal granting agency if the proposed research is in the field of health.


  • Research that is primarily intended to improve health, produce more effective health services and products and/or strengthen the health care system in Canada or internationally (e.g., research concerning the treatment, prevention or diagnosis of a condition, the evaluation of the effectiveness of health programs, the development of health management systems, etc.) is not eligible for consideration at SSHRC.
  • Research involving clinical trials, with a health research orientation, is not eligible for SSHRC support.
  • Research that is eligible under the mandate of CIHR will not be considered by SSHRC.

Investigators whose proposed research is health related should consult CIHR’s mandate first to explore eligibility. CIHR has policies and procedures in place to adjudicate the full range of social science and humanities research proposals related to health research. The use of social science or humanities theories, methodologies and hypotheses is, in and of itself, not sufficient to make the proposal eligible at SSHRC. For more detailed information about SSHRC’s guidelines for the eligibility of applications related to health, see Subject Matter Eligibility on SSHRC’s website.


NSERC supports research whose major challenges lie in the natural sciences and engineering (NSE), other than the health sciences. Research primarily in the NSE that advances NSE knowledge is eligible for NSERC support, even if it may have potential future applications in human health--such as diagnosis or treatment. Proposals that include the use of methodologies, tools, techniques and knowledge from the NSE are not automatically considered eligible. Additionally, research involving clinical trials or research related to human health or nutrition that focuses on collecting data to support regulatory requirements or marketing needs is not eligible.

Research in animal health and veterinary medicine is eligible. The following guidelines apply to the eligibility of research in human health. The research areas that follow are not mutually exclusive; therefore, the definitions are intended as guides.

Fundamental Processes in Humans (for all research disciplines):

Research seeking to further our understanding of fundamental processes in humans is eligible for NSERC support. Research with disease-related goals--including work on the etiology, diagnosis, treatment or prevention of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or dysfunction in humans--is normally not eligible. Research within a state of disease or dysfunction may be eligible when the primary objective is to understand the functioning of the healthy state.

While the development of animal models of human disease or dysfunction is not eligible for support, the use of such animal models may be eligible when the primary objective is to understand the functioning of the healthy state.

The use of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) to investigate fundamental mechanisms is eligible.

Human performance research in the healthy state--including physiology, kinesiology, biochemistry, psychology, etc.--is normally eligible. Human performance research within a state of disease, injury or dysfunction--such as recovery, therapy or rehabilitation--is not normally eligible.

Pharmaceuticals, Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods:

NSERC does not support research whose main focus is screening for substances--such as nutrients, nutraceuticals or potential active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs)--or determining or validating the bioactivity, clinical effects, pharmacokinetics, toxicity, safety, adverse events, or efficacy of those substances.

Research related to developing novel ways of synthetizing APIs and analogs, scaling up production of new APIs, and research including bio-assays conducted strictly for the purpose of validating the development strategies, may be supported. 

Research related to food components, nutraceuticals, or functional foods is eligible if it aims to elucidate the mechanism of action of a dietary component purported to affect a specific structure or physiological function. Also eligible is research focusing on novel ways of obtaining or producing an ingredient known for its health benefits, the role of a nutrient in a product matrix, or the manufacturing process of a new product that contains such an ingredient.

Medical Devices and Technologies:

Natural sciences and engineering research whose primary purpose is the development of medical devices--including monitoring and diagnostic technologies (e.g., health IT, in vitro diagnostics, diagnostic imaging, patient monitoring, endoscopic devices)--and devices for treating a disease or physical condition (e.g., orthosis/prosthesis, in vitro reagent) is eligible, unless it is at the validation stage (i.e., pre-clinical in vivo testing, reliability testing, comparison studies and clinical trials).

For more detailed information about NSERC’s guidelines for the eligibility of applications related to health, see Addendum to the Guidelines for the Eligibility of Applications Related to Health on NSERC’s website.


CIHR considers applications across the full spectrum of health research. CIHR categorizes health research in four broad themes: bio-medical research; clinical research; research respecting health systems and services; and research into the health of populations, societal and cultural dimensions of health, and environmental influences on health. Four broad definitions of the CIHR themes are included below for reference purposes. These areas of research are not mutually exclusive; therefore the definitions are intended as guides and not as descriptions of eligible areas of research.

  • Bio-medical Research
    Research with the goal of understanding normal and abnormal human functioning, at the molecular, cellular, organ system and whole body levels, including development of tools and techniques to be applied for this purpose; developing new therapies or devices that improve health or the quality of life of individuals, up to the point where they are tested on human subjects; studies on human subjects that do not have a diagnostic or therapeutic orientation.
  • Clinical Research
    Research with the goal of improving the diagnosis and treatment (including rehabilitation and palliation) of disease and injury; improving the health and quality of life of individuals as they pass through normal life stages; research on, or for the treatment of, patients.
  • Health Services Research
    Research with the goal of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of health professionals and the health care system, through changes to practice and policy. Health services research is a multidisciplinary field of scientific investigation that studies how social factors, financing systems, organizational structures and processes, health technologies, and personal behaviours affect access to health care, the quality and cost of health care, and, ultimately, Canadians' health and well-being.
  • Social, Cultural, Environmental and Population Health
    Research with the goal of improving the health of the Canadian population, or of defined sub-populations, through a better understanding of the ways in which social, cultural, environmental, occupational and economic factors determine health status.


Guidelines for the Eligibility of Applications in Psychology

In addition to the above mentioned guidelines for research related to health, applicants should consider the following guidelines in their decision to apply to a federal granting agency if their research is in the field of psychology:

  • SSHRC considers eligible applications within the broad areas of social, industrial, developmental, personality and educational psychology. SSHRC also considers eligible proposals related to theory and methods in these areas. SSHRC does not support clinically-oriented research, with a health intent or research involving clinical trials. 
  • NSERC considers eligible applications that relate to fundamental psychological processes, their underlying neural mechanisms, their development within individuals, and their evolutionary and ecological context. Fundamental processes are understood to include:
    • Sensation and perception;
    • Sensorimotor integration;
    • Motivation, emotion and reward;
    • Learning and memory;
    • Cognition and language;
    • Sleep, arousal and the chronobiological modulation of behaviour; and,
    • Statistical methods for analysis of psychological data.

NSERC does not support clinically-oriented research.

  • CIHR supports all research in psychology that has direct relevance to or ultimate impact on human health.