Have an Idea? RDI Grants Can Help You Take It Places

Have an Idea? RDI Grants Can Help You Take It Places

By Daniel StolteUniversity Communications
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(Photo by Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)
(Photo by Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)

Many projects in the sciences, the humanities or the arts begin with a promising idea. Yet, in many cases, major funding agencies only consider proposals that already are well on track to success. In this competitive environment, having some initial startup money can mean the difference between a great idea that never sees the light of day, and a great idea that leads to new results, collaborations or innovative products.

To help put such projects on the track to success, the University of Arizona's Office for Research, Discovery & Innovation recently revised its Faculty Seed Grants Program, intended to help faculty members, especially those early in their careers, get that initial push that can lead to larger, externally funded research awards. All FSG awards provide up to $10,000 in funding and were created to provide short-term, one-time support that will "jump-start" worthwhile projects and result in data, or collaborations that can be used in developing proposals for submission to extramural funding agencies or private contributors.

"We are trying to create a one-stop shop for UA faculty looking for seed grant money," says John Mester, associate vice president for research at RDI. "So we host a suite of internal funding mechanisms to jump-start projects and help with developing transdisciplinary research collaborations and proposals for larger awards from foundations, government and industry. We wanted these opportunities to be as inclusive as possible by specifically highlighting international opportunities and those working in the arts and cultural heritage."

The grants are available in three categories: International; Art, Culture and Heritage; and Early Career Innovation. The international track is intended to stimulate international research collaborations or help researchers cover travel expenses to set up such collaborations with international partners that will eventually lead to new external funding, or financially sustainable programming supporting the project.

Similarly, the track reserved to projects in the arts, culture and heritage category is intended to stimulate innovative scholarship in non-STEM disciplines that will lead to new externally funded research activities.

"Designating a track solely for the arts, culture and heritage disciplines signals a renewed investment by RDI in the humanities and its allied fields," says R. Brooks Jeffery, associate vice president for arts, culture and heritage in RDI. "We hope this will stimulate cutting-edge scholarship and build capacity for UA leadership well into the future."

Jacob Bricca, an award-winning film editor, producer and director who holds a post as assistant professor at the UA's School of Theatre, Film and Television, says the seed grant provided the support he needed to get his latest project – a feature documentary exploring immigration issues along the Texas-Mexico border – off the ground.

"The grant was instrumental in us being able to start shooting, as it paid for a specific lens we needed as well as travel funds for my co-cinematographers and co-directors to travel to the area where we have shot off and on for two years," he says.

After the successful jump-start, Bricca and his collaborators were invited to pitch their work at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana. Fork Films, a New York-based production company, is involved, and the project has attracted interest from Wellspring Partners, a philanthropic consulting firm that funds documentaries with social relevancy.

"Our project has a lot of momentum behind it right now," Bricca says, "and we are at the cusp of having the money we need to finish the film."

Seed grants are awarded on a competitive basis. Each proposal is reviewed by UA faculty, and RDI makes a decision based on the reviewers' recommendations.

"The point is to not make this a burdensome process, but to make it as easy as possible for the researchers," says Mester. "All we ask the applicants is to write up a proposal explaining the idea, what the money will be used for, and how the grant would help to secure money in the future."

Because interdisciplinary teams and transdisciplinary collaborative partnerships are in many cases crucial for award-winning, large-scale proposal funding, the UA community is at an advantage over many other comparable research universities because of its highly-collaborative environment, Mester says.

"By the time you go to a funding agency like the National Science Foundation, you can't ask them to help you put together a team," he says. "So our programs put a strong emphasis on providing assistance in that process and to help the applicants find collaborators and interdisciplinary connections. We have a lot of strength at this University in catalyzing those partnerships, and we want to promote working across schools and colleges so that people aren't siloed."

To foster international collaborations, RDI teamed with UA's Office of Global Initiatives to offer large project/multilevel/transdisciplinary grants geared toward international research, designated  as International Research & Academic Program Development Grants.

These grants provide initial internal support to jump-start and quickly grow research collaborations between a UA faculty member and at least one investigator from a different discipline and an international partner institution. They also fund new academic program endeavors involving dual degrees and/or student mobility in collaboration with an international partner institution.

"Internal funding mechanisms were restructured to provide investigators with more opportunities to develop strong international partnerships that will lead to scalable and sustainable research activities," said Randy Burd, associate vice president global research alliances in RDI. "Additionally, a track for international academic and mobility programs will allow for comprehensive program development designed to strengthen research."

To qualify for IRPD funding, teams must submit at least one proposal to an identified private and/or federal funding agency by the end of the internal IRPD funding period (July 1, 2017 - June 30, 2018), or launch one new academic program in collaboration with an international partner. 

The deadline for the current FSG and IRPD funding cycle is 5 p.m. March 22. The early career innovation track is aimed at early-career investigators, and is open to tenure- or continuing status-eligible faculty members, or research scientists within eight years of initial appointment. Postdocs and graduate students are not eligible to apply.

For additional information on grant opportunities and instructions on how to apply, click here.

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