FAS Research Funding Announcement

March 3, 2016

Dear faculty colleagues, 

Even in these times of financial stress, we must continue to invest in faculty research—a perennial priority of the FAS. Therefore, it brings me great pleasure to announce the launch of two new initiatives in FY17 that expand FAS support of your scholarship. Together these initiatives represent an investment in faculty research of $25 million over the next five years.

Before I turn to the details, I want to take this opportunity to say how deeply grateful I am to the members of Faculty Council and the Dean’s Faculty Resources Committee (DFRC), whose guidance helped identify and shape these programs.  DFRC was particularly instrumental in the development of the principles behind these initiatives.

While the FAS continues to raise new funds to improve and strengthen our shared research resources (e.g., libraries, museum collections, core facilities, and research centers), these two new programs specifically increase the amount of research funding the dean’s office distributes to individual faculty. This increase comes in two pieces: an increase to the small amount of discretionary money the dean distributes to every ladder faculty member each year; and a new competitive grant fund that will provide faculty with timely research support in an increasingly challenging funding environment.

The “Dean’s Distribution”

As you know, my office distributes $1,000 annually to each you, which you can use for pretty much anything associated with our mission (except to pay yourself). For as long as I’ve been here (over two decades), the amount of this distribution has remained unchanged. The time has come to increase the Dean’s Distribution.

Starting in FY17, the Dean’s Distribution will increase to $2,000 annually for those faculty with past sponsored research funding or in departments typically receiving sponsored research. The Distribution will increase to $4,000 annually for the rest of the faculty. Some departments already augment the Dean’s Distribution through department-specific endowments or FAS-provided TAD distributions, and for the faculty in these departments, the distribution will rise, as necessary, to meet the new minimum $2,000 or $4,000 level. No one will receive less than they do today, and those without sources of local support will see a significant increase.

This approach follows the principle proposed by the DFRC that equity doesn’t mean giving everyone the same thing. It directs more discretionary funding towards those with fewer funding opportunities. It is not a perfect system, and recognizing this reality, I have asked that this level of funding and new approach for the Dean’s Distribution be reviewed in ten years to ensure that it continues to evolve as the funding environment for our faculty changes over time.

The Dean’s Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship

In addition to annual distributions from my office, many of our faculty compete successfully for outside gifts or grants (e.g., from the state or federal government, foundations, and corporations) and all of us are fortunate to be at Harvard where there exists a plethora of internal funding sources (e.g., the Provost’s office and numerous University/FAS centers and institutes). I talk in more detail about these in the next section below, but I mention them here because this next new initiative is not meant to replace these internal and external funding sources, but to create a mechanism by which our faculty can apply for a small amount of funding to advance their work while they pursue these internal and external funding opportunities.

In particular, beginning in FY17, I will launch a new competitive grant fund, the Dean’s Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship. Starting with an annual budget of $2.5 million, a small faculty committee will meet once per semester to make awards between $5,000 and $50,000 each. With this budget, the committee could award 100 grants of $25,000 per year.

The committee will look to provide three specific types of funding: 1) bridge funding, which would allow faculty to continue work on very promising research that has not yet won external funding; 2) seed funding, which would encourage our faculty to pursue exciting, original research directions that might not yet be ready to compete in traditional funding programs; and 3) enabling subventions, which would provide small funds in support of an external fellowship or to purchase (or upgrade) critical equipment.

This program will require from the faculty only a bare minimum of paperwork to apply and no reporting during the award period (please see the FAQ for the details).  And there is no cap on the number of applications or how frequently a faculty member may be funded through the program.

While I hope this new fund will encourage you to explore revolutionary new ideas and will lessen the pressures we all face around the increasingly challenging external funding environment, I recognize it isn’t a panacea. For example, this program’s purpose is not to fund major investments in new initiatives across the FAS or together with the University. The deans will continue to work with the faculty to identify such new initiatives and the mechanisms that will fund these big bets on the future.

FAS RAS Funding Resources

A key resource in helping faculty manage the complexities associated with the pursuit of research funds is our staff in FAS Research Administration Services (RAS). These individuals have deep expertise in identifying opportunities for research funding, both within and beyond Harvard, and they maintain a listing of funding sources that you might wish to review. In this listing, you can find information about ongoing FAS research support programs, such as publication funds for both tenured and tenure-track faculty and faculty development funds that enable tenure-track faculty to assemble scholars to provide feedback on their work. Other examples include the Star Family Challenge for Promising Scientific Research in the natural and social sciences, and the Anne and Jim Rothenberg Fund for Humanities Research.​

While the breadth of these internal and external funding sources demonstrates the remarkable funding opportunities available to our faculty, the two new initiatives announced above illustrate the adage that we can always do better. As such, I will soon launch a working group of faculty and staff to review our online listing of funding opportunities and ask that they look with a critical eye at the effectiveness of the user experience. How can we do a better job of connecting our faculty to the funding resources out there that could support their latest scholarship? And for me, how can I understand the faculty use of RAS and this listing to identify disciplinary funding gaps that may present opportunities for me to fundraise for new internal research funding programs?

I hope these significant investments in our faculty’s scholarship buoy your spirits. Each of you – sometimes individually and increasingly collaboratively – is pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge and often simultaneously having an immediate impact in the world. I look forward to seeing what you accomplish with the FAS’s additional investment in you. And as always, thank you for all you do to distinguish Harvard.

Sincerely yours,

Michael D. Smith

For more information, please review the Research Funding FAQ document.