How do I calculate the time I should spend on a project?

Updated on 7 July 2023

Academic staff are required to estimate how much time they think they will need to spend on a particular project. This guide gives a suggested approach for how this could be done.

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Under the fEC system, the University can claim reimbursement for the time of institutionally funded Principal (PI) and Co-Investigators (Co-I) allocated to projects. The institution must not under- or over- recover such costs.

Academic staff are required to estimate how much time they think they will need to spend on a particular project. This guide gives a suggested approach for 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 lifetime 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.

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

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.

How to calculate your time

The following rates are typical based on successful grant applications:

  • 4–7 hours for one Post-doctoral Research Assistant (PDRA) or researcher supervised per week
  • 6–10 hours for two PDRAs or other researchers supervised per week
  • 8–12 hours for three PDRAs or other researchers supervised per week. You are advised to consider using rates in this range wherever possible.

For all research projects you must be able to justify your time (PI and Co-I) in the application. Some factors that determine the time required for a research project are as follows:

  • Whether you are acting as the PI or a Co-I
  • The experience of the PDRAs or researchers employed, and training required
  • Previous experience with this type of project, methodology or techniques
  • The number of partners involved in the project
  • The extent of supervision of Post-graduate research students
  • The number of PIs and Co-Is
  • Whether the type of equipment has been used before in similar projects
  • The number of papers that may be written as a result
  • The administrative requirement of the funding body (progress reports, etc.)
  • How the work is planned (e.g. the number of qualitative interviews and who will undertake them).

During the project, the work could develop in a variety of ways, some of which may not have been planned at the outset, meaning the actual time can vary considerably from original estimates.

  • If there is a problem or set-back with the research project, it will require more time than originally estimated
  • Similarly, if the work is proving productive or is close to making a real breakthrough then more time might be required
  • New researchers may take longer to do the work than more experienced staff
  • Other external factors, e.g. clinical academic’s time, if often dependent upon patients being recruited for research work
  • Time after the formal programme of work has finished, while reports are being completed
  • The potential for publication and the number and type of papers etc. produced (and the associated proofreading, edit and review) is generally not known at the start of the project.

What to include/exclude


  • 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. Exclude:
  • Bid preparation time
  • Post-graduate student supervision
  • General research administration duties not directly related to the project