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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Physical Sciences FAQs

PROGRAM INFORMATION: WHO FUNDS THE RESEARCH COMMITTEE FALL RESEARCH 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 in an appropriate manner between the UW–Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, the inventors, and their departments. The Research Committee Competitions are two means by which the OVCRGE distributes the gift to faculty and permanent PI’s on campus.

PROGRAM INFORMATION: WHAT ARE THE PHYSICAL SCIENCES RESEARCH COMMITTEE PRIORITIES FOR FALL COMPETITION FUNDING?

The Committee considers requests for funds to support various research situations, including pilot studies, essential equipment and funding gaps, and provides various types of support, including funding for personnel and research needs. Most commonly, the Committee makes “insurance” awards; that is, they fund proposals seeking support for pending applications to external 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.

Support for a graduate student is encouraged. Travel support is provided only in circumstances where the travel is integral to execution of the research.

The committee will also consider instrumentation and equipment requests with costs less than approximately $50,000.

PROGRAM INFORMATION: WHAT ARE THE AWARD AMOUNTS IN THE FALL COMPETITION?

For the 2019 Competition, the average award was $41,904, which included fringe benefits and tuition remission.  This is roughly the amount needed to support a 12-month Research Assistant.  Only a handful of 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.

PROGRAM INFORMATION/APPLICATION: 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 may only ask for insurance if you will have a funding decision about the extramural proposal in time to expend funds when the Fall Research Competition award would begin, that is, by July 2021. In most cases, this means that your proposal must have been submitted by summer or fall 2020.  The application provides a place to enter the dates of the expected submission and decision, and the dates must be shown for the committee to consider your application as “insurance.”  Note that the number of awards made in the Fall Research Competition assumes that external funding will be received – and FRC funding not activated – for a proportion of insured FRC awards.

REVIEW PROCESS: HOW ARE PROPOSALS REVIEWED?

The application process begins with an online application form, including short abstract, budget, project description, and other information. After the application deadline, your file will be assigned to a member of the Physical Sciences Research Committee (most likely not an expert in your research discipline), who will contact you or your department administrator to set up an appointment to interview you. At the interview, your assigned reviewer will share any questions he/she may have about your proposal so you can provide clarification. The purpose of the interview is not an opportunity for the investigator to fill in for missing information on a hastily or poorly written proposal.  In the case of applicants who are assistant professors, the interviewer will also speak with the applicant’s department chair. The committee as a whole (which has representation from across the physical sciences) will evaluate your proposal and base this evaluation (for the most part) on the quality of the written proposal.

At a meeting of the research committee following the interview, the reviewer will present your proposal and answer questions from other committee members. She or he 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 decisions will be made by the committee as a whole. You will be notified via email prior to winter break with instruction on accessing competition results.

When you submit your proposal, you indicate which divisional committee should review your proposal.  In a few cases, the committee may move your proposal to a different division, if they believe that committee would constitute a more suitable review panel.

APPLICATION: WHAT ARE THE COMPONENTS OF AN APPLICATION?

The application process begins with an online application form, including short abstract, budget, project description, and other information.  This form serves as the primary mechanism for describing your proposed research to the reviewers.

APPLICATION: HOW MUCH DETAIL IS NEEDED IN THE BUDGET JUSTIFICATION?

In making budgetary decisions, the OVCRGE relies on the overall merits of the application as evaluated by the committee as a whole and on the strength, clarity and detail of your budget justification.  Make clear 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.

APPLICATION: 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 awards were given and what outcomes have ensued. 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.

APPLICATION: 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 general, as well as your program of research. 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 physical 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.

Please note that the interview is not meant to correct for a hastily written proposal. The interview is meant only to clarify any questions that the research committee member may have about your written application. In evaluating your proposal, the committee will give the greatest weight to the written application.

APPLICATION: HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR THE INTERVIEW ITSELF?

Before the interview, review the application requirements and be prepared to answer related questions posed by the reviewer who interviews you.  Remember that your reviewer is unlikely to be an expert in your field.  The 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 s/he will need to present your proposal as clearly as possible.

APPLICATION: HOW CAN I SUBMIT ADDITIONAL SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION BEYOND THE ONE-PAGE FIGURE OR DOCUMENT ALLOWED AS PART OF THE APPLICATION?

Please contact the Physical Sciences Interim Associate Vice Chancellor, Amy Wednt, wendt@engr.wisc.edu, for approval and to provide you with a link to a Box folder.

REVIEW PROCESS: 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 typically considered when reviewing individual applications to the Fall Research Competition. The number of applications made 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 reduces the probability of funding in any given competition. Funds awarded, but not expended (i.e. insurance was not necessary) are not prejudicial.

ELIGIBILITY: SHOULD ASSISTANT PROFESSORS APPLY?

The competition is open to faculty of all ranks as well as permanent PIs. Assistant professors are particularly encouraged to apply. However, applications from newly appointed faculty who have OVCRGE start-up funds not already spent or encumbered are typically viewed as being a lower funding priority.  If you are a new faculty member who started after July 1, 2020, please contact Interim Associate Vice Chancellor Amy Wendt,  (wendt@engr.wisc.edu, 608-262-1044) to discuss whether you should apply to this year’s competition.

ELIGIBILITY: 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 that at least 75 percent of the startup package must be spent before funding from a new Fall Research Competition award may be activated.  Thus, if more than 25 percent of the startup package is available, the Fall Research Competition 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?) in deciding eligibility.  At its discretion, the committee may review the status of the startup package before activating an award; Fall Research Competition funds can be denied if remaining startup funds exceed 25 percent of the original amount.

ELIGIBILITY: 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 salary 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.

ELIGIBILITY: CAN I ENTER THE COMPETITION IF I HAVE UNSPENT FUNDS FROM A RETENTION, ROMNES OR KELLETT MID-CAREER AWARD, OR NAMED PROFESSORSHIP?

Balances in these accounts are considered “non-prejudicial,” and are not considered in deciding eligibility for an award in the Fall Research Competition. See the separate FAQ on startup funds for information about how they are considered.

ELIGIBILITY: IF I INTEND TO LEAVE UW-MADISON FOR ANOTHER JOB BEGINNING IN A FALL SEMESTER, CAN I STILL ACCEPT A RESEARCH COMMITTEE SUMMER SALARY AWARD FOR THE PRIOR SUMMER?

No. If you receive funds from the Research Committee, you may activate those funds only if you will be in full-time residence at the UW–Madison the following fall. That means accepting another job beginning in, say, Fall 2021, will inactivate your award for 2021–2022.

REVIEW CRITERIA: WHAT CRITERIA ARE USED IN DECIDING WHICH PROPOSALS TO FUND AND FOR HOW MUCH?

The most important criterion is the excellence, feasibility and potential impact of the proposed research.  The committee also considers the appropriateness of the budget, whether the investigator is a probationary faculty member, and whether recruitment research funds remain unspent.  The committee also considers whether the proposal requests “insurance,” that is, the committee considers whether a request for external funding is being submitted.

REVIEW CRITERIA: I HEARD THAT PREFERENCE IS GIVEN TO JUNIOR FACULTY.  IS IT WORTH MY WHILE TO SUBMIT AN APPLICATION IF I AM ALREADY TENURED?

The Physical Sciences Research Committee does prioritize support for assistant professors working to establish strong research programs.  However, the committee does make a significant number of awards to tenured faculty.  Submission of strong proposal is definitely worth your while.

REVIEW CRITERIA: HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO BE SEEKING EXTERNAL FUNDING FOR THE PROJECT AT THE TIME OF MY APPLICATION?

A major goal of the Fall Research Competition is to help leverage outside research dollars. Most awards in the physical sciences will be “insurance” awards for proposals submitted to external sponsors.  Much less frequently, outright awards will be made, e.g., when a compelling case is made for support of preliminary studies in a new research area, in order to strengthen future external proposals.

BUDGET: WHAT ITEMS MAY 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 equipment.  See separate discussion of PI salary support.

BUDGET: WHAT TYPES OF TRAVEL MAY 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 a legitimate request. 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.

BUDGET: WHAT TYPES OF EQUIPMENT MAY I REQUEST?

You may request funds to purchase 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.

BUDGET: WHAT IF I HAVE PARTIAL FUNDING FOR A GRADUATE STUDENT BUT NEED TUITION?

The Graduate School provides supplements for many fellowships for graduate students. (See also the FAQ about “insurance.”)

SALARY: WHEN DOES THE FALL RESEARCH COMPETITION PROVIDE SALARY SUPPORT FOR FACULTY?

The Fall Research Competition cannot be used to buy out a course or supplement a sabbatical.  The Fall Research Competition rarely provides one or two months of summer salary support for faculty in the physical sciences on 9-month pay cycle.  For example, some summer salary support has been awarded if the researcher must travel in order to themselves conduct primary data collection.  Awards seldom include both summer salary and a research assistant.

Salary supplementation for faculty fellowships is handled outside the Fall Competition.

SALARY: HOW IS ELIGIBILITY FOR SUMMER SALARY CALCULATED?

Information on determining summer salary eligibility limits can be found here on the Research Committee Policies page.

SALARY: 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 VCRGE (i.e., summer or supplementation for a faculty fellowship during an academic term) 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 of the Office of the VCRGE that you will not be the instructor of record for a course offered during that month.