Driving vital research forward with fewer roadblocks

The University of California Humanities Research Institute was looking to upgrade an outdated grants process for academic applicants and reviewers—Submittable was the right fit.

Founded in 1987, the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI) supports innovation and leadership in experimental, interdisciplinary humanities scholarship across 10 UC campuses. Before Submittable, UCHRI was using an in-house system that had grown difficult to manage and was especially challenging for potential grantees. Submittable’s simple interface streamlined multiple application processes for UCHRI, saving everyone time and enhancing efficiency. 

I really appreciate the responsiveness and agility of the Submittable team, and by extension, the platform itself. Everyone is quick and helpful and I feel like the company really listens and responds to the needs of its customers.

Shana Melnysyn

Research Grants Manager, University of California Humanities Research Institute

Supporting innovators with greater simplicity

UCHRI is dedicated to bolstering innovation, leadership, and collaboration in the field of humanities research. The Institute is one of 26 University of California programs currently using Submittable at seven campuses. From 2013 to 2020, the UCHRI awarded roughly $6.6 million in grants, scholarships, and fellowships across the UC system. 

Spanning disciplines, UCHRI awards support digital, public, and medical humanities research, as well as research collaborations, conferences, seminars, professional development, and working groups. Recently supported projects range from a faculty fellowship on US imperialism in the 60s and 70s to a residential research group on artificial humanity and a graduate student dissertation on South Korean film.

Applications for funding came through UCHRI’s own proprietary software until 2019. According to Research Grants Manager Shana Melnysyn, the system tended to be clunky and buggy—it also didn’t adapt well to the Institute’s needs. Perhaps the biggest impetus behind UCHRI’s move to Submittable was the burden their in-house system placed on prospective grantees. 

According to Melnysyn, “We always had issues with applicants, who would run into trouble at the last minute, right at the deadline. And I would get a lot of panicked inquiries whenever a grant deadline approached.” 

Melnysyn was tasked with doing research on different grants management software and choosing one for UCHRI to use. She ultimately chose Submittable, in part because of how approachable it was. 

“I liked the simplicity of the interface,” Melnysyn says. The “bells and whistles” some other services promised didn’t feel right for UCHRI. “I found Submittable easier to use and I appreciated that.”   

Sharing benefits

Soon after adopting the software, Melnysyn was able to demonstrate to her colleagues the value of this decision. 

“I did some presentations,” she says, “showing people what the interface looks like, why it saves time for me, and why it streamlines things for reviewers and applicants. After we went through a few rounds of applications, I could also convey that I no longer got 50 emails on the day before a deadline because applicants were able to navigate the process with Submittable.” 

Ease of use for applicants was a huge benefit for UCHRI. Submittable’s centralized platform also made it easier for UCHRI to launch application forms, communicate internally and externally, and search for important information. 

“Because I manage grants on a daily basis,” Melnysyn says, “I like having easy access to all of the application materials and the ability to manipulate the filters so I can view different lists of applications, based on my needs at any given moment.”

A UCHRI grant is helping prepare 15 humanities PhD students from five SoCal campuses for publicly-engaged careers in science museums, national and state park services, and preservation efforts.

A UCHRI grant is helping prepare 15 humanities PhD students from five SoCal campuses for publicly-engaged careers in science museums, national and state park services, and preservation efforts.

Focused review and enhanced collaboration

Because of the platform’s flexibility, UCHRI was able to move their traditional review process over to Submittable unaltered. According to Melnysyn, the review committee at UCHRI has appreciated the change.   

“Submittable is much easier for reviewers to navigate,” she says. “The interface itself has really streamlined things for people versus our old system which required opening links and downloading files—it wasn’t centralized. The fact that you can view all the different documents and all the application fields right there without downloading a PDF or opening it in a separate window is huge. So is the ability to score in the right-hand column while you have all those documents open.” 

Melnysyn estimates that Submittable saves reviewers up to four hours per week, with an average of ten reviewers forming a committee per application process (a potential savings of between 20-40 hours per week). 

Administrators save up to two hours per week setting up application calls, communicating with applicants, answering technical questions, and coordinating with reviewers. Free time affords Melnysyn extra opportunities for relationship-building and collaboration. 

As she says, “Submittable gives me more time for grantees and for my colleagues since we do a lot of collaborative projects and programming at the Institute. The software frees me up from some of that heavily administrative work and gives me time to both engage more with the populations that we serve—primarily faculty and graduate students in the UC system—and also with my team.”

A forward-looking solution

Melnysyn especially likes how Submittable responds to its clients and continues to evolve. 

“If I find something that's not working for me,” she says, “or I have an idea for something that would really be helpful, it tends to be really well received by Submittable. I get super fast responses from everybody and then I can see that there's actual development happening in areas I’ve discussed.” 

It was this sort of agility that led UCHRI to adopt the software in 2019.

“That's why I chose Submittable in the first place,” Melnysyn recalls. “In dealing with sales reps, I got the sense early on that Submittable was growing and that it was improving. Even if it didn't yet have all the same features as Survey Monkey, for example, it was also going to be easier to work with and include the option to add new functionality, which I’ve already seen happening.”

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