Frequently Asked Questions – Social Studies

If you are applying for an NEH, Guggenheim, or ACLS fellowship, contact Jan Greenberg, interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Social  Studies (2-1044), in advance of the fall competition deadline.

For general questions: Russell Schwalbe at

Computer or web related questions: James Leaver at

Questions specifically on content of application: Jan Greenberg (2-1044)  

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 VCRGE, the inventors, and their departments ( The Research Committee Competitions are two means by which the Office of the VCRGE distributes the gift to faculty and permanent PI’s on campus.

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 Social Studies Research Committee, who will contact you or your department administrator to set up an appointment for an interview.  At the interview, your interviewer will seek more detail about you and your proposal.In the case of junior faculty, the interviewer will also speak with the applicant’s department chair. At a Research Committee meeting, the interviewer presents your proposal and answers questions from other committee members.  S/he will act as your representative rather than as your advocate, and you should be sure that s/he understands your project as well as possible.   Decisions about funding are made by the committee as a whole.  You will be notified via email how to access the online competition results prior to winter break.

Award amounts vary greatly. For the 2013 competition, the average award was $31,417, which included amounts for fringe benefits and tuition remission.

In the social studies, resources may include summer salary, a project assistant, an hourly worker, or funds for research-related travel, supplies, etc.  It is possible to ask for a semester's research leave, if your eligibility allows (see eligibility explanation below).  Note that a semester’s leave is an award substantially above the average, and the committee will need to decide how best to allocate its resources.  Be sure to talk with your interviewer about your budget priorities.

Since WARF explicitly supports the research mission of the university rather than teaching or service missions, the Research Committee must distinguish among these activities as part of its evaluation process. Scholarly work comes in many guises and varies by discipline, so we cannot offer a simple operational definition here. But it is probably fair to say that systematic knowledge generation will trump knowledge synthesis, reproduction, or application. If you have questions about the appropriateness of your project, please contact your Associate Vice Chancellor Jan Greenberg (2-1044).

Textbooks are usually efforts at knowledge synthesis and application, so the Research Committee has typically said no. The legitimacy of translating or editing support requests depends on the linkage of these actions to knowledge generation. For example, seeking funds to support translation of documents important to a PI's analysis may be legitimate, while a request for help to prepare a manuscript for submission to a journal published in another language may not.

Travel in service to accomplishing proposed research is legitimate.  The PI should make clear the role of travel in the project both in the application (for example, in the budget justification section) and in the interview.  Please note that travel to report out research findings at meetings or other venues will not be considered a legitimate request.  The VCRGEl maintains a separate program to support conference travel; please see the VCRGE website for further details.

Equipment necessary for the proposed research and that would not be purchased in the normal course of one’s occupational duties is legitimate.  The Research Committee has typically turned away requests for individual computers, which are considered the responsibility of the individual’s School/College, as well as requests for software that would be regarded as normal components of one’s office computer.  The committee is also reluctant to provide funds to individual PIs that would be used to help pay for departmental memberships in collective efforts such as the Social Science Computing Center.  When considering equipment needs, the PI needs to be sensitive to the typical size of our committee awards and to the possibility that the equipment sought is available elsewhere on campus. 

The Research Committee encourages new research areas.  You must, however, convince the committee that you are qualified to engage the new area in a substantive way. 

Projects are funded at many different stages.  If you are uncertain about the suitability of your project stage, contact  Associate Vice Chancellor Jan Greenberg.  Note that, in general, the Research Committee is reluctant to fund the same project over a series of years.

To a certain degree this depends on the project.  For some work in the social sciences, there are few external sources to which one might apply.  In addition, often work in the most exploratory stage is not eligible for external funding.  That said, a major goal of the Fall Competition is to help “leverage” outside research dollars. Thus, Research Committee members are heartened by an applicant’s efforts to seek external funds, particularly if the applicant proposes to use fall competition funds as insurance for those funds (see the “insurance” question below) or in a way supplemental to external dollars.

Highly ranked applications may secure most to all of the resources they request, while other awardees are more likely to receive a portion of their request. The Research Committee member who will interview you will seek to evaluate the goodness of fit between resources requested and those needed for the proposed project.

Faculty members and permanent PIs on a 9-month pay cycle are eligible for a maximum four months of salary (4.5 months, if taken as a semester rather than summer funding) from the VCRGE every three years.  (If you are on a 12-month appointment, speak with Russell Schwalbe to clarify your eligibility.)  Your eligibility rolls over each year, so you should count your awards over the past two years to calculate your eligibility.  Only salary is considered in eligibility totals.

The policy means that, during a time when you are receiving salary support from the VCRGE (i.e., summer, occasionally during an academic term) you must be working on research full time rather than combining research efforts with other obligations such as teaching.  Thus, if you are awarded a month of summer salary, it is the expectation of the VCRGE that you will not be the instructor of record for a course offered during that month as part of summer sessions.  Similarly, if you ask for salary support to allow you to buy out a course during fall or spring semester for research purposes, the Research Committee will ask you about your plans to relieve yourself of all teaching during that term.

Yes.  However, faculty members with VCRGE Research accounts (especially those established as part of hiring or retention packages) will be expected to justify their fall competition requests in the face of substantial balances in existing accounts.  The Research Committee will treat skeptically Fall Competition requests made by faculty who have substantial balances in existing accounts and do not have concrete plans for spending those balances down within a limited time period. Thus, if you are saving these funds for a clearly specified project that will take place in the near future, state your intentions to your interviewer and explain how your application fits into or differs from that future project. Start-up funds specified for summer salary, in particular, should be expended before requesting new summer salary. 

Your interviewer will have information about your previous Research Committee awards, including Fall Competition, Start-up, Retention, and others.  However, the committee will also want to know about other current sources of funding, including government and private foundation grants and other UW and departmental resources.  Your interviewer will ask about your plans for their use.  The application asks for active, pending, and “to be submitted” awards.  If you are planning to submit an application to a funding source during the upcoming year, you should list this.  If you forgot to include an item in the application, be prepared to let your interviewer know about it during your interview.

The Research Committee recognizes that tenured faculty has important funding needs and does its best to fund continuing, as well as new, faculty.  The committee recognizes that there are few external sources of support in some research areas.  Where applicable, however, proposals to the fall competition from tenured faculty that are submitted as full or partial insurance for an external grant will be seen as more consonant with the goals of the Research Committee than will applications with no insurance element.

The Research Committee is also responsible for the Romnes/Kellett Mid-Career/Named Professorship awards, as well as for Vilas Associate awards.  All of these reward tenured professors for their research activity. 

Let’s say you have applied or will apply for extramural support for the same project for which you seek Research Committee funding.  If there is 100% overlap in support (the extramural funds will cover ALL items articulated in your Research Committee request), then you are seeking Research Committee funds as insurance for your extramural request.  If there is less than 100% overlap (the extramural award will cover some—but not all—of your Research Committee items), then the Research Committee funds are partially insuring your extramural request.

Note that if your extramural funds are awarded, the Research Committee expects you to return the overlap to the VCRGE.  That is, securing your external grant in a full insurance setting means you will receive NO funds from the VCRGE; the partial insurance setting will provide you with the portion of your Research Committee award not covered by the extramural grant. If your extramural efforts are unsuccessful, you must provide formal proof of that to the VCRGE in order to activate your Research Committee award.

No. If you receive summer stipend from the Research Committee you may activate those summer funds only if you will be in residence at the UW-Madison the following fall. That means accepting another job beginning in, say, Fall 2015, will inactivate a summer salary commitment made for summer 2015.

It is very important, and you must indicate if your proposed project will require human subjects approval.  If you receive a Research Committee award, activating that award will be contingent on your obtaining such approval.

The Committee will want to know whether you accomplished the tasks for which previous awards were given and what outcomes have ensued (i.e., publications).

The same advice holds as for all competitions: State up front what you are requesting; make a case for the value of your research in the context of your field; state your qualifications for this particular project; and explain your project with a minimum of jargon.  Remember that your proposal will be judged by scholars in a large range of social science 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.  Note also that the interview is an important part of the application process, and you will have a chance to expand on your written application at that time.

Share any publications or other materials that might help explain your project.  If you have submitted a proposal for external funds for which the Research Committee proposal is full or partial insurance, provide your interviewer with a copy of that application.  And remember that your interviewer’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.

Call Jan Greenberg, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Social Studies (2-1044).

Last updated on 11/09/2014.