Pitt Momentum offers large-scale funding for internal research projects


A new internal research funding mechanism will help give a big boost to projects seeking large-scale funding, Evan Facher, vice chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, told the Senate Research committee on Sept. 27.

Michael HollandPitt Momentum will award a total of $920,000 annually to four different projects — two scaling grants of $400,000 each given out over two years and two teaming grants of $60,000 each. The money will come from the office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research Rob Rutenbar and the Office of the Provost, said Michael Holland, who joined the University last year as its first vice chancellor for Science Policy and Research Strategies. His office will oversee the awards. 

The money for the new awards will not impact any of the other internal awards that have been available in the past, Holland said. Those funds currently total about $1.25 million, with the largest award capping at around $50,000.

A key component of these awards is that the research teams must include primary investigators from three different schools, said Facher, who was giving the report to the committee on behalf of Holland. In practice, that means that a team can have two PIs from different Schools of the Health Sciences, but the third must be from outside the health sciences; or two PIs can be from different departments within the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences and the third from another school.

“If you look at the trend … of the federal funding scene, the research agencies are responding to oversight pressure to make sure that the research that they support has impact,” Holland said. “And one of the things that they are doing is looking to pull together multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary teams to tackle an identifiable problem.

“The agencies want to concentrate resources in that way, as opposed to the more traditional, which would be to support the disciplines very independently and then leave the integration of those various different bits of scientific or technical insight to someone else. The agencies are responding to pressure to do the integration earlier in the process. We want to enable our faculty to respond to those opportunities, and therefore we want them to build these broader, more interdisciplinary teams.”

Facher said the creation of the new awards also was a chance to streamline paperwork for all existing internal awards, such as those from the Central Research Development Fund.

All internal awards will now require four pages of narrative, one page on the budget, one page on personnel, two pages on CVs and a letter of support. Previously, the CRDF awards required 17 pages plus eight pages max on biographical information.

“The goal is to get people to focus on: Why do they want to do this? What’s the potential of it? What’s the strategy for follow-up funding?” Holland said. “Five pages is enough space to make a compelling argument.”

The requests for proposals are now being accepted. The deadline to submit applications is Nov. 25. The first awards will be handed out in January 2020. More information on eligibility, application processes, evaluation criteria, exclusions, and participation requirements is available through the Pitt Research Office of Sponsored Programs.

Information sessions will be held at 3 p.m. Oct. 16 and noon, Oct. 17 in the William Pitt Union, Dining Room B.

The proposals can be in any field and do not necessarily have to be for something with commercialization potential. Once the applications are received, review teams will be formed based on the disciplines being represented.

“We’re trying to make sure that there’s a spectrum of funding available, so that the people who want support for very individual scholarly projects, we want to make sure that funding remains available,” Holland said. “We think that there’s a lot of opportunity to do things in an interdisciplinary setting, so we want to make available funding for that. ...

“And then we want to make sure that faculty are equipped to go after very large-scale things. That’s why we kind of structured things the way that we did. And going after large things takes a lot of preparation. We want to make sure that we make an adequate amount of resources available for the teams of faculty who want to go after really significant awards — hard to do if their only option were the programs that we already have.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 412-648-4294.


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