Biological Sciences FAQs
WHO FUNDS THE RESEARCH COMMITTEE FALL COMPETITION?
The Research Competition is funded by a gift from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). Since its founding in 1925, WARF has served the UW–Madison scientific community by patenting research discoveries at the UW–Madison and licensing such technologies to leading companies in Wisconsin, the U.S., and worldwide. WARF distributes the income from these commercial licenses between the UW–Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, the inventors, and their departments. The Fall Research Committee Competitions is one means by which the OVCRGE distributes the gift to faculty and permanent PI’s on campus.
WHO CAN APPLY
The fall research competition is open to tenured professors and associate professors, tenure-track assistant professors, and permanent PIs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. A current list of academic staff with permanent PI status that are eligible to apply can be found online. SMPH CHS track faculty are not eligible to apply for this competition.
AM I ELIGIBLE TO APPLY IF I HAVE RECRUITMENT OR STARTUP FUNDS?
New faculty come with recruitment packages to help them start their research. The policy of the research committee is that at least 75 percent of the startup package must be spent before funding from a new Fall Research Competition award is activated. If more than 25 percent of the startup package is available at the time of applying, the fall research application must include a specific and realistic plan to spend the startup package before July 1 of the year in which the award would be active. The committee evaluates the realism of the spend-down plan (e.g., has an order been placed for a piece of equipment that will reduce the startup package; has funding been committed to a current graduate research assistant or post-doc) in deciding eligibility. Fall research competition funds can be denied if remaining startup funds exceed 25 percent of the original amount.
HOW ARE PROPOSALS REVIEWED?
After the application deadline, your file will be assigned to a member of the Biological Sciences Research Committee (in many cases they not an expert in your research field), who will contact you or your department administrator to set up an appointment for an interview. At the interview, your assigned reviewer will clarify any questions they have about your proposal and you will have an opportunity to describe and summarize your proposal. The purpose of the interview, however, is not an opportunity for the investigator to correct a hastily written proposal. The committee as a whole (which has representation across the biological sciences) will evaluate your proposal and base their evaluation (for the most part) on the quality of the written proposal.
At a Research Committee meeting, the interviewer presents your proposal and answers questions from other committee members. They will act as your representative and you should be sure that they understand your project as well as possible. They will act as the primary reviewer who will lead a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal. After the discussion, each committee member confidentially scores your proposal, and once all reviews have been completed, funding recommendations are made by the committee as a whole. You will be notified of the competition results via email prior to winter break.
HOW CAN I BEST PRESENT MY PROPOSED WORK IN THE LIMITED SPACE AVAILABLE ON THE APPLICATION?
Use the suggested headings to structure your application (i.e., specific aims, significance, approach, etc.). Be sure to make a case for the importance of your research for your discipline and how the project further advances knowledge in your field. In the Approach section, describe the study design and data analysis procedures. In the budget section, please provide a detailed justification for the budget requested.
Remember that your proposal will be reviewed by scholars in a broad range of biological sciences disciplines. Many may not be familiar with your field, and it is unlikely that anyone on the committee will be an expert in your particular research area. Explain your project with a minimum amount of jargon. In evaluating your proposal, the committee will give the greatest weight to the written application.
CAN I SUBMIT ADDITIONAL SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION BEYOND THE ONE-PAGE FIGURE OR DOCUMENT ALLOWED AS PART OF THE APPLICATION?
Please contact the Biological Sciences Associate Vice Chancellor Cynthia Czajkowski (firstname.lastname@example.org) for approval and to provide you with a link to a Box folder.
WHAT BUDGET ITEMS CAN I REQUEST?
Support may include a graduate student project or research assistant, research associate, student hourly, or funds for data, research-related travel, supplies, or small equipment. See separate question below about PI salary support.
HOW MUCH DETAIL IS NEEDED IN THE BUDGET JUSTIFICATION?
Budgetary decisions are made based on the overall merits of the application as evaluated by the committee and on the strength, clarity and detail of your budget justification. Clearly outline how the budget items and amounts are needed for the research you plan. The interviewer and the committee must be able to understand why you need the resources you request. Partial awards are not uncommon.
WHEN DOES THE FALL RESEARCH COMPETITION PROVIDE SALARY SUPPORT FOR FACULTY?
Faculty with 12 month appointments cannot request salary support. Permanent PIs and faculty with 9 month appointments are eligible for one or two months of summer salary. For example, summer salary support has been awarded if the researcher themselves conduct primary data collection. Awards seldom include both faculty summer salary and a research assistant. The Fall Research Competition cannot be used to buy out teaching a course or supplement a sabbatical.
HOW IS ELIGIBILITY FOR SUMMER SALARY CALCULATED?
Information on determining summer salary eligibility limits can be found here.
WHAT DOES THE POLICY OF PROVIDING SALARY SUPPORT ONLY IF THE PI IS CONDUCTING “FULL-TIME RESEARCH” MEAN?
The policy means that, during a time when you are receiving salary support from the OVCRGE you must be working on research full time rather than combining research efforts with other obligations such as teaching or administration. Thus, if you are awarded a month of summer salary, it is the expectation that you will not be the instructor of record for a course offered during that month.
WHAT TYPES OF TRAVEL CAN I REQUEST?
Travel necessary to accomplish the proposed research can be supported. The PI should make clear the role of travel in completing the project in the budget justification section. Travel to report research findings at meetings or other venues will not be considered. The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE) maintains a separate program to support conference travel; please see the OVCRGE Conference Travel website for further details.
WHAT TYPES OF EQUIPMENT CAN I REQUEST?
You may request funds to purchase small research equipment necessary for the proposed research but that would not be purchased in the normal course of your occupational duties. The Research Committee does not fund standard computer packages, which are the responsibility of the individual’s School or College, or software that is a normal component of one’s office computer.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SEEK A FALL RESEARCH COMPETITION AWARD AS “INSURANCE” FOR ANOTHER GRANT?
Asking for “insurance” commits you to apply for funding from an external sponsor. You can only ask for insurance if you will have a funding decision about the extramural proposal before the fall research competition award would begin, that is, by July 2023. In most cases, this means that your proposal must have been submitted by summer or fall 2022. The application provides a place to enter the dates of the expected submission and decision, and the dates must be provided for the committee to consider your application as “insurance.” The budget of external grant that you are requesting insurance for must be at greater than the monies that you are requesting from the Fall Research Competition. If you do not submit the external proposal, fall research competition funds are not released.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SEEK A FALL RESEARCH COMPETITION AWARD FOR “PILOT STUDIES”?
Tenured professors and associate professors, tenure-track assistant professors, and permanent PIs can apply for seed money for a new research area (“pilot study”) and new research proposal that are being developed. In general, these awards are for tenured faculty that currently have external grant funding and are requesting funds to seed a new research area that will result in additional external grant funding.
HOW DO I KNOW WHETHER HUMAN SUBJECTS APPROVAL IS NEEDED?
You must indicate if your proposed project will require human subjects approval. In most cases the IRB must decide whether a project is exempt; the PI cannot make this decision. Do not assume that existing/secondary or purchased data sets, data from social media, or other sources of data do not require IRB approval. Contact the IRB to get a preliminary assessment before you check this box. If you receive a Fall Research Competition award, activating that award will be contingent on your obtaining any required approvals.
THE APPLICATION ASKS HOW I USED RECENT RESEARCH COMMITTEE AWARDS AND WHAT PRODUCTS RESULTED. WHAT SHOULD I PUT IN THIS SECTION?
The Committee wants to know whether you accomplished the goals for which previous fall competition awards were given and what outcomes have ensued. For each fall competition award that you have received in the past three years, list products and outcomes directly relevant to the award, including conference presentations, papers published, in press, or under review, and any grants that have been awarded or submitted. Provide full citations for published manuscripts and for those in press. You must provide complete information about outcomes and products from previous awards before a new Fall Research Competition award is activated. The Research Committee does not provide multiple years of funding for the same project.
HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR THE INTERVIEW ITSELF?
Before the interview, review the application requirements and be prepared to answer questions posed by the reviewer who interviews you. Remember that your reviewer is unlikely to be an expert in your field. Share any publications or other materials that might help explain your project. If you have submitted a proposal for external funds for which the fall competition proposal is insurance, provide your reviewer with a copy of the specific aims page of that application. Remember that your reviewer’s job is not to serve as your advocate on the committee but to accurately summarize your project for other committee members. Equip your interviewer with the information they will need to present your proposal as clearly as possible.
WHAT ARE THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES RESEARCH COMMITTEE PRIORITIES FOR FALL COMPETITION FUNDING?
The committee considers request for funds to support various research situations, including pilot studies, collaborative projects and funding gaps, and provides various types of support, including funding for personnel (including tuition remission and fringe benefits), supplies, and essential equipment. The Committee often makes “insurance” awards; that is, they fund proposals seeking support for pending applications to outside funding agencies. These “insurance” funds are provided should the “insured” proposal(s) fail to be funded by the outside agency. The funds can then be used to provide some support during the resulting funding gap. Funds awarded to “insure” proposals that receive outside support are returned to the Research Committee for distribution to other campus research priorities. The Committee also funds requests for pilot funding of new research directions in order to enable future applications for extramural support.
A major goal of the Fall Research Competition is to help leverage outside research dollars. Senior faculty and junior faculty more than two years into their probationary period are expected to submit a proposal for external funding. Requesting graduate student support is encouraged. Travel support is provided only in circumstances where the travel is integral to execution of the research.
WHAT CRITERIA ARE USED IN DECIDING WHICH PROPOSALS TO FUND AND FOR HOW MUCH?
The most important criterion is the significance and excellence of the research, including the research questions, rigor of the design/approach, and strength of the data. The committee also considers the appropriateness of the budget, productivity of the investigator, funding level of the investigator, whether the investigator is a probationary faculty member and whether significant recruitment (“start-up”) research funds remain. Additionally, the committee considers whether the proposal is “insurance” for a submitted extramural grant. (see FAQ about “insurance”).
DOES THE COMMITTEE CONSIDER PREVIOUS RESEARCH COMMITTEE FUNDING WHEN MAKING A DECISION ON AN APPLICATION?
The pattern and frequency of Research Committee utilization is one factor considered when reviewing applications to the Fall Competition. The number of applications submitted is not particularly relevant, but the frequency with which Research Committee funds are expended can have an impact on funding decisions. As a general rule, frequent use of Research Committee funds (for example multiple years in succession, three of the past five years etc.) reduces the probability of funding in any given competition. Funds awarded, but not expended (i.e. insurance was not necessary) are not prejudicial.
ARE UNSPENT FUNDS FROM A RETENTION, A VILAS ASSOCIATE, ROMNES OR KELLETT MID-CAREER AWARD, OR NAMED PROFESSORSHIP CONSIDERED WHEN MAKING FUNDING DECISIONS?
Balances in these accounts are considered “non-prejudicial,” and are not considered in deciding eligibility for an award in the Fall Research Competition.
WHAT IS AN AVERAGE AWARD IN THE FALL COMPETITION?
Award amounts vary greatly from approximately $19,000, to $80,000. For the 2020 Competition, the average award was $57,000, which include fringe benefits and tuition remission. Only a few awards were for substantially more than this amount, and awards for less than the requested amount are common. Please request a budget appropriate to the scope of work.
DO I NEED TO BE IN RESIDENCE FOR MY AWARD?
If your research takes you elsewhere, this is fully appropriate. Remember, however, that Research Committee support is an investment in University tenured or tenure-track faculty and Permanent PI development. It is available only for persons who will be UW–Madison staff members in residence on the Madison campus in the semester following that support.