New funding initiative intended to spur big thinking in research

First mentioned Sept. 14 in his installation address, president Steven Leath released this week the details of a funding initiative to support new multidisciplinary research programs that will have a "transformational impact" on the university, the state and the country.

The "pursuit" funds -- dollars that don't support the research itself but rather the preparation of larger-scale research funding proposals -- will be awarded by March to up to three teams. Each team could receive up to $500,000 annually for three years.

"This initiative is intended to create a new culture of interdisciplinary and collaborative research at Iowa State, a culture that encourages 'thinking big,'" Leath said in his installation address.

He said the program will identify research areas that are core to the university and "move them to the next level" to address topics of state and national importance. Successfully competing for large external grants and contracts will help build the university's reputation for innovation, he said.

"I encourage all Iowa State faculty to . . . consider creating teams to take advantage of this new initiative to promote innovation and grow the research enterprise at Iowa State," Leath wrote in a letter to all faculty.

Big effort

The scale of the Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research -- and not only the funding level -- sets it apart from other pursuit funding opportunities at Iowa State. In addition to a core group of five to 10 faculty and staff members from multiple academic units, research teams must include partners or collaborators from universities, industry, national laboratories, foundations and other organizations. Over the three years of the program, teams are expected to submit multiple proposals for external large-scale research grants and secure funding that far exceeds their ISU pursuit support. And the proposed research question itself must be "of a scope and complexity" that it demands broad collaboration and appeals to more than one funding agency.

Leath noted that preparing successful grant proposals at that scale is an especially time-consuming venture. According to his letter, emailed to faculty on Tuesday, appropriate uses of pursuit funding would be:

  • Teaching release during the academic year
  • Hiring consultants to add value to the team
  • Holding workshops to develop and strengthen the connections among ISU and non-ISU partners

Pursuit funds should not be used to pay for:

  • Faculty summer salaries
  • Graduate students
  • Preliminary investigations
  • Research-related supplies and equipment

Proof-of-concept program

The initiative also includes a smaller, proof-of concept program, directed at research areas that are still emerging, more limited in scope or have a higher risk. Pursuit funding grants in the range of $50,000 to $100,000 could be awarded to help such teams also secure collaborative research grants.


Research teams striving for pursuit funding will submit a three-page white paper by Dec. 1. It will include long-term research goals, an outline of research planned and budget, plans for partnership and collaboration with other organizations, and a list of team members and their respective roles. From the white paper submissions, some teams will be invited to prepare full proposals by Feb. 1, 2013. The final awards will be announced by March 1. Leading the review process will be the President's Committee for Institutional Excellence, with assistance from subject experts in industry, higher education and government laboratories.

More information

Two campus forums will be held this fall to provide more information about the initiative and respond to questions from teams interested in submitting white papers. Forum details will be shared soon. Questions also may be directed to Tahira Hira, senior policy adviser to the president, 294-7239.