Presidential Research Initiative FAQ

Why do we need this program?

The Office of the President seeks to proactively invest in faculty-led initiatives that promote a culture of interdisciplinary research, secure new large-scale grants and contracts and build the university's reputation for innovation.

The Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research was created for three primary reasons:

  • To increase the ability of Iowa State's faculty, staff, and students, to benefit Iowa, the nation and the world.
  • To help researchers take on large-scale, multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional issues that would be hard to pursue without assistance.
  • To adapt to changing priorities among federal funding agencies. (Most agencies now expect large proposals to include several disciplines and institutions).

We expect successful proposals to generate new research grants and contracts that far exceed Iowa State's investment in the program.

Don't we already apply for large grants?

Yes, many of our researchers are already going after, and some have won, large grants and contracts. At the same time, we fully understand that development of winning proposals requires significant investments in time and resources.  A desired outcome of this funding would be to dramatically increase the success rate of such efforts.

New: What type of funding is available under these grants?

Two types of funding are available:

  • Pursuit funding: These multidisciplinary, multi-institutional grants will fund projects that, by their nature, tend to be large in both size and scope and require significant input of resources. Up to three teams will be selected for a large-grant award. Each selected team could receive up to $500,000 annually for three years.
  • Proof-of-concept grants: These grants will fund smaller projects that are limited in scope, higher risk, or require proof of concept before investigators can pursue larger funding. One-time, one-year awards will be given to up to three teams. Awards will range from $50,000 to $100,000.

Are you looking only to fund hard-science proposals, and investigators who already have large external grants?

Faculty and staff from every academic college and unit, as well as student researchers, are encouraged to submit proposals to this initiative.

We expect winning proposals will address grand challenges facing society and, as a result, will include researchers from a variety of disciplines that cut across Iowa State's academic colleges and departments.

Must each team include members from other institutions? How many need to be external to Iowa State? Does the balance between internal and external researchers matter in prioritizing applications?

Federal funding agencies are placing a higher priority on multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional proposals. If the initiative's ultimate goal is to foster large-scale winning proposals, researchers need to be able to address the agencies' priorities, which may require both internal and external researchers.

There is no "magic" or "correct" number of disciplines and institutions that should be represented in your proposal. It will be more important to have the appropriate representation of disciplines to address the research problem.

Likewise, partner institutions should be chosen based on their ability to contribute to a successful externally funded proposal.

If our proposal is funded, how many large-scale grants will we be required to submit?

We have intentionally not defined a number for how many proposals should be submitted by a group, to acknowledge that not all proposals are created equally. For example, the submission of two $25 million NSF research centers may be more work than submission of 10 $5 million grants, or vice versa.

The selection committee, in reviewing the white papers, will evaluate the strength and clarity of each proposal's plan to secure significant new extramural funding.

What constitutes "commitments from foundations, business and industry?" Do we need to have these commitments in place at the proposal stage?

There are grants that require a commitment/partnership from business and industry to enhance their ability to develop technology and/or transfer technology to industry.

If there are specific commitments/partnerships that can be identified in the white paper stage, they should be specified.  However, partnerships do not need to be fully finalized and approved at the initial white paper proposal stage.

What are the size of the grants and what's the payment schedule?

Each selected team could receive up to $500,000 annually for three years. Up to three teams could be selected for a large-grant award. It's conceivable that a single successful team could receive up to $1.5 million over the three-year period. However, it's also conceivable that a team could submit a proposal with a three-year annual budget of $250,000 (resulting in an award total of $750,000 over the three-year period).

This approach provides teams with maximum flexibility as they craft their proposals. For example, large teams that require multiple faculty teaching releases and anticipate substantial matching requirements would be able to adjust for such costs. On the other hand, smaller teams anticipating fewer expenses would not have to try to "manufacture" such costs in their budgets. Teams need not request or apply for the full $500,000 per year, and they do not have to request the same amount each year.

Proof-of-concept program: In the proof-of-concept program, up to three teams will be awarded proposals. Each team's one-time, one-year-only award will range from $50,000 to $100,000.

What types of activities can I pay for with a grant?

Pursuit funding is designed to support the preparation of large-scale multi-investigator proposals, and not for conducting the research itself. Funding through the initiative may be used in a variety of ways, including:

  • Academic year teaching releases
  • Hiring of consultants
  • Developing relationships with partner institutions, funding agencies and industry
  • Travel
  • Workshops

What types of activities can I NOT pay for with a grant?

Funding through the initiative may NOT be used for:

  • Summer salary support
  • Salary for P&S, post-doctoral fellows, graduate student stipends or tuition, etc.
  • Research-related equipment, materials and supplies

New: Will proof-of-concept proposals be subject to the same budgetary constraints?

Allowable expenditures and activities are basically the same for both proof-of-concept and pursuit funding proposals with an exception: Research expenditures are valid only for proof-of-concept proposals.

New: Can non-tenure-eligible research faculty (NTER) salaries be covered?

Yes. Like tenure-track faculty, NTER faculty need release time to participate in this type of initiative.

Why can't these funds be used for conducting research?

This funding is intended to allow existing groups to seek major external funding. It is not intended for development of new groups, which would require conducting new research.

New: Is a preliminary or confirmatory research expenditure an allowable expense?

This is not an allowable expense for the large, pursuit funding grants because it's expected that those competing for the grants will be pre-existing groups. However, preliminary or confirmatory research expenses are allowed for the smaller, proof-of-concept grants. There is no preconceived notion about how much of the budget can be used for this purpose, but the expense must be fully justified.

New: Is any kind of administrative support an allowable expense for funded grants?

Administrative support is necessary for teams to function efficiently. However, the activities of administrative personnel should not duplicate those of grant consultants.

Those making final funding decisions will consider how best to meet the need for administrative support. For example, it might be practical and cost-effective to fund one administrative assistant who could meet the needs of all the teams, rather than several part-time appointments.

New: How much should be budgeted for a buyout salary?

You'll need to work with your department or college administration to figure out the buyout amount. Buyouts allow individuals to temporarily reduce teaching loads and devote more time to the research initiative.

New: Is graduate student support covered under these grants?

Graduate student support is not allowed on the large pursuit funding grants, but is an allowable expense on the smaller, proof-of-concept grants.

New: Are summer salaries an allowable expense under these grants?

No, summer salaries aren't an allowable expense. Faculty teaching releases are to be purchased during the academic year.

What needs to go into the white paper? Is the list of investigators part of the three page limit? Can we submit addenda or other supplementary materials?

White papers, due Dec. 1, 2012, are to be limited to three single-sided pages, with one-inch margins on all sides, and typed in 11-point (or greater) Times New Roman font.  Each white paper should include the following:

  • A title page that lists the proposal title and the senior participating investigators, along with their organizational or departmental affiliation
  • Within three pages investigators must articulate:
    • Rationale and vision for the proposed research, describing the scale of your effort, and highlighting its innovative and transformational nature
    • A concise description of the long-term research goals, which highlights the need for an interdisciplinary approach involving multiple investigators and institutions, and the means for achieving success
    • An outline of the planned research
    • Role of individuals in the research project
    • Plans for intellectual exchange with partner researchers and institutions, industry, national laboratories, and other organizations
    • List of funding agencies, companies, and others that will be targeted for external funding proposals

In addition to the three-page proposal there should be:

  • One-page budget
  • One-page budget justification
  • Two-page, NSF-style CVs for each investigator listed on the title page

When is my white paper due?

White papers are due by 5:00 p.m. on Dec. 1, 2012. White papers must be submitted electronically as a single PDF document to Dr. Tahira Hira,

When should I expect to hear back on the status of my white paper proposal?

The President's Committee for Institutional Excellence will lead the selection process. Subject matter experts from academia, industry, and government laboratories also will review proposals and assist in the selection process.

The committee will select a small number of white papers, and invite the authors to submit a full proposal by Jan. 1, 2013. These full proposals will be due Feb. 1, 2013.  Final decisions of the committee will be announced by March 1, 2013.

How will my proposal be reviewed?

The evaluation form that will be used for review of the proposals is available at   Criteria used to select white papers for full proposals include:

  • Research program will lead to major advances, discoveries and technologies
  • Strength and clarity of the plan to secure external funding
  • Presentation of the benefits of a multi-investigator, interdisciplinary and multi-institutional approach
  • Value added to Iowa State University
  • Qualifications, accomplishments and collaborative track record of the team

New: Will both large pursuit funding and proof-of-concept proposals be reviewed using the same criteria?

Yes.  However, the scope of the large pursuit funding proposals must demonstrate an advanced interdisciplinary approach that will lead to major advances, discoveries and technologies.

So does that mean the money is going to the researchers who already have large grants?

The program is open to all faculty and staff from every academic college and unit, as well as student researchers.

Funding will be awarded to Iowa State researchers who clearly demonstrate experience leading or participating in interdisciplinary and multi-institutional research programs. These researchers should be considered a resource for investigators who may not have that level of expertise.

Has Iowa State tried anything like this recently?

The College of Engineering launched a similar program in 2011, in which three projects were funded in the areas of wind energy, high throughput computational biology and a carbon-negative economy.

The Health Research Initiative recently funded 12 proposals in the areas of human, animal and plant health.

New: Where can I find information on large potential federal grants?

A good place to start is the COS Pivot (Community of Science) page, on the Vice President for Research and Economic Development website. COS Pivot is a leading global resource for information critical to scientific research and other projects across all disciplines.

Where do I go with questions regarding the initiative?

Questions on the initiative should be directed to Dr. Tahira Hira at, or 515-294-7239.