CERES: Agreements Research Community Reference Guide


Introduction to CERES Agreements

Note: Refer to the attachments for the complete CERES Agreements Reference Guide.

CERES is Northwestern University’s (NU) Central Electronic Research System. CERES enables NU researchers and administrators to create, review, submit, and track funding proposals, awards, and agreement negotiations that support their sponsored projects.

CERES streamlines processes so they are more efficient, require less administrative burden, and allow for a smoother handoff between teams. CERES ensures visibility and transparency of information by providing complete information about each item in one place, including its status, contact information, and links to related items. Within CERES, there are modules for Grants and Agreements which are integrated to allow linking of records in each module, making it easy to navigate between related grants and agreement records.

CERES Agreements is a comprehensive, flexible contract management solution that simplifies and streamlines the agreement submission, review, and negotiation process.

CERES Agreements features include:

  • Milestone and deadline tracking with notifications and reminders
  • Automated inbound/outbound email tracking and document versioning
  • Automated routing by agreement type to the appropriate Sponsored Research (SR) staff
  • Customized submission forms by agreement type
  • Ability to link agreements to other related agreements and Grants projects
  • Flexible management of ancillary reviews and approval
  • Template-based creation of standardized agreement documents
  • On-demand turnaround time reports

Easy to Use

CERES is easy to use. After first logging into CERES, the user lands on their dashboard, which lists the items requiring attention and provides a direct link to those items. Funding proposals and agreements can also be created directly from the dashboard. Streamlined data entry forms with built-in error checking ensure data entry is complete and correct with all the information required to start the review process. When items enter review via workflow, CERES automatically routes them to the next person or office for efficient and timely handling. Help is available throughout the system where it is most needed in the form of question-mark bubbles, including page-level and question-level help text, as well as a built-in Help Center in each module with guides and videos providing helpful resources.

Find Status and Key Information Quickly

In CERES, you can find the status of items going through the review and approval process quickly. Each item’s state is clearly visible in multiple places, including on the CERES dashboard. When viewing an item’s detail or working on a submission, the current state is prominently displayed on the top-left of workspace screen along with a graphical representation of where the item is in the overall workflow. From the workspace, you can swiftly identify contacts, reviewers, and all related information for that item in one place.

Manage and Track Work Efficiently

From an item’s workspace, the Research Administrator (RA) can conveniently reassign team members to better balance and manage workloads, as well as add other reviewers to the process, such as compliance reviewers or cost share approvers using the ancillary review feature. Additionally, SR or the RA can create relationships between funding proposals or awards and any agreements associated with them, as well as associate agreements with other agreements, and easily navigate back and forth between them directly from the workspace. The RA can record key information, notes, email correspondence, follow-up tasks, and award deliverables for a complete history of activities performed. The RA, PI, and any reviewers will receive email notifications at key points in the workflow to inform the appropriate person of next steps.

CERES Workflow

The CERES lifecycle of a project consists of several different workflows that occur in parallel to ensure proposals are submitted on time, awards are setup, managed, and tracked efficiently, and agreements are negotiated and executed as quickly as possible. There may be cases where non-funded agreements may need to be submitted independently (i.e., not related to a Grants project). The descriptions below provide an overview of the full workflow across Grants and Agreements.

Funding Proposals

The lifecycle generally starts with an RA creating a funding proposal in CERES Grants, including the budgets and SF424 if applicable. Once the funding proposal is complete, the RA submits the funding proposal into the workflow to begin the Grants review process. The appropriate department approvers review and approve the proposal first, followed by SR. When reviews are completed and the proposal is approved, the proposal is submitted to the sponsor either by the department or by SR.


For proposals involving clinical trials, once the proposal is approved by the department, the RA will create a Clinical Trial Agreement in CERES directly from the related proposal’s workspace and submit it to initiate the agreement workflow. During that workflow, SR will manage the review, negotiation, and signing with the contracting party. Note that agreements do not require PI nor department approval; agreements will route directly to SR after submission. 

The process for creating agreements will differ depending on the agreement type and the status of the related proposal or award, if applicable. If an agreement is not created from the related funding proposal, it may be created from the related award as described in the Awards section below, or alternatively it can be created as a standalone agreement and it can later be linked to the related Grants record if appropriate.


For new awards requiring negotiated contracts before award setup, SR will create and submit an agreement for review, so the terms are in place prior to receiving the award. Note that if a non-funded agreement is needed at any time, RAs can create and submit them as standalone agreements to go through the agreement workflow.

If a proposal is awarded and all terms agreed upon, or the research team requests an advance account, SR will create an award in CERES, and it will go through a setup and data quality review process. If the award includes sub-recipients, SR creates a subaward in the Grants module and an Outgoing Subaward Agreement in the Agreements module for each sub-recipient. SR then sends the Outgoing Subaward Agreement to the RA to complete the agreement details and then submit it into the agreement workflow for SR to manage the review, negotiation, and signing. 

Award Modifications

While an award is active, changes may be required, like budget revisions or personnel changes. RAs will initiate the change request by completing and submitting an award modification request in CERES Grants. The award modification request is reviewed by SR and submitted to the sponsor, if needed. If the award modification request is approved, SR then creates an award modification in the system. Once reviewed and approved, the award is updated with the changes in both CERES and the NU Financials system.

If an approved award includes multiple years, and the sponsor requires a report to issue the next increment of funding, the RA will create a continuation proposal from the initial award. The continuation proposal will go through the same review and approval process as the initial funding proposal. Once the sponsor issues the next increment of funding, SR will create a continuation-type award modification and add the funds the sponsor has released for the next budget period to the award. Note that an award modification request is not needed for setting up noncompeting increments; SR will automatically create the award modification to add the next year of funding in these cases.

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Article ID: 2257
Wed 4/5/23 1:05 PM
Fri 6/16/23 1:51 PM

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CERES is Northwestern University’s Central Electronic Research System. CERES enables NU researchers and administrators to create, review, submit, and track funding proposals, awards, and agreement negotiations that support their sponsored projects.