Aerial view of KU's Lawrence campus with the words "Research Rising" superimposed in the upper left corner

Call for White Papers

Through Research Rising, the University of Kansas will achieve national preeminence in several significant subjects of inquiry while building high-profile, interdisciplinary, multi-investigator projects poised to compete for major federal funding opportunities.

Research Rising will launch a series of major new research initiatives aligned with strategic research priorities. The goal is to build high-profile, interdisciplinary, multi-investigator projects that are poised to be competitive for significant federal funding opportunities, and for the University of Kansas to achieve national preeminence in several particularly significant subjects of inquiry.

Research Rising initiatives will allow emerging areas of research at KU to blossom through recruitment of key faculty expertise. Research Rising also will invest in the infrastructure and research support needed for these initiatives. Teams will be selected by a rigorous, peer-reviewed process, drawing on KU faculty and national experts.

Up to four teams will be supported with an investment in each of up to $3 million over five years.



White paper deadline

  • Dec. 7, 2021

Full proposal deadline

  • April 4, 2022

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"The knowledge, ideas, approaches and solutions generated by these teams will benefit people in Kansas and beyond."

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Award criteria + eligibility

  • Proposed research projects should address major questions pertinent to the critical challenges facing humanity, such as those captured in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Proposed research projects must demonstrate a high probability of building a team able to compete successfully for federal research funding — especially for large and complex research awards characterized by the involvement of multiple investigators across several, integrated award components (investigator-led projects, core resources).
    • Examples of such federal grants include NIH P01-, P30-, P50-series award (centers, including COBREs, program projects), and the various types of NSF centers (Engineering Research Centers and Centers for Chemical Innovation, Science and Technology Centers).
    • Multi-institution centers and consortia could also be contemplated, including those that include industry partners, but the goal should be for KU to be the lead institution (or the hub) in such partnerships.
    • Proposal research projects should demonstrate how the concept aligns with anticipated trends in federal research funding, such as:
      • An emphasis on use-inspired research.
      • Partnerships with community organizations, industry, or national labs.
      • Health, environmental, social, national security, and economic issues that are anticipated to be priorities for the federal government over the next decade.
  • Although other highly meritorious proposals will receive full consideration, priority will be given to topics that align with one of the following strategic research areas:

    1. Development Across the Lifespan
      Research in this area will advance educational, social and behavioral approaches that address developmental challenges — allowing individuals to participate more fully in education, the workforce and social environments while aiding their families and caregivers and decreasing economic costs to society. 
    2. Earth, Energy + Environment
      Research in this area will increase understanding of the various dimensions and impacts of climate change on human and natural systems, developing new technologies and mitigation strategies with an ultimate goal of sustaining the life of the planet and its inhabitants.
    3. Human Experience in the Digital Age
      Research in this area will explore what is gained and what is lost in the human experience as we find ourselves inundated with new technologies. Examples include inequities due to lack of rural broadband, opportunities to create engaging online educational experiences, loss of privacy due to facial recognition technologies, misinformation propagated through social media, opportunities to capture the voices of marginalized individuals and groups through digital storytelling, and more.
    4. Molecules + Medicines
      Research in this area will advance the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of human disease through new understanding of disease mechanisms at the cellular and molecular level; sophisticated, personalized diagnostic tests to determine causes and optimal therapy; and new medical interventions and preventative measures using drugs, biologics and devices.
    5. Security + Safety
      Research in this area will develop new approaches to combat emerging threats and vulnerabilities to health, well-being and security for individuals and society posed by technological advances.
  • It is anticipated that one or more successful projects will articulate a plan for collaboration with investigators at the KU Medical Center.
  • Proposed research projects should be interdisciplinary and would be enhanced by leveraging the opportunity to include and build on KU’s excellence in social and behavioral sciences, humanities and arts, in addition to STEM.
  • The long-term impact of the Research Rising investment on KU’s research reputation and capacity should be clear, including how the project will:
    • Enhance KU’s expertise and international profile in the topic area
    • Build the infrastructure and resources that make KU a preeminent destination for faculty, students and postdocs interested in pursuing research with this focus
    • Enhance the intellectual environment for other investigators at KU (beyond those directly involved in the project).
  • KU’s core commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) must be fully represented in the project. Projects may directly address issues of inequity; but regardless of the focus of inquiry, projects must include specific plans to support DEIB.
    • This includes plans related to hiring, training, and ongoing programming to support DEIB.
    • All recruitment efforts associated with the project (e.g., faculty undergraduate researchers, graduate research assistants, research project coordinators, and research project directors) must include specific plans to develop a diverse pool of applicants, including from groups historically underrepresented in the field of inquiry.
  • The project must demonstrate a strong leadership team with a rich history of successful grant management activities, well qualified to lead both the project and proposals for federal funding.

Funding, application + selection details

Research Rising funds may be used to:

  • Offset the cost of base salary for new faculty recruits: Full base salary support for new hires may be requested for years 1-3 of the proposed research project. Base salary support will phase out and transition to the academic unit over years 4 and 5 (1/3 support from the unit in year 4, 2/3 in year 5).
  • Purchase major equipment: Major equipment that is required for the project will enhance KU research infrastructure generally and may be available to investigators outside the research project team.
  • Perform renovations/remodeling: If needed to create specialized facilities needed to support the work.
  • Fund project management/administrative support: As necessary to allow the team to organize, develop proposals and secure external funding.
  • Conduct development and innovation studies: Research projects to collect preliminary data, establish a new line of inquiry, or create a track record of collaboration among team members. Teams should determine if larger projects, smaller pilot projects or a combination of these best fit the desired outcomes of the initiative proposed. Development and innovation study budgets can include postdoc and graduate student support, other personnel, summer salary for faculty, supplies, and travel.
  • Plan or attend workshops/conferences/seminars/webinars: For planning, or to engage with leading figures and the latest ideas in the field.

Projects will be selected for funding in a two-stage process during the 2021-22 academic year.

Phase I: Review of white papers

An internal review committee, comprised of accomplished KU researchers, will conduct peer review of white papers describing the significance, impact, aims, approach, leadership and outcomes of the project. White papers will be limited to five pages, plus essential accompanying information (bibliography, short CV/biosketch for project leaders, budget outline). Based on recommendations from the review committee, the vice chancellor for research will select projects for full proposal submission.

Phase II: Full proposals

Six to eight teams will be selected to submit full proposals that will describe the plans for the project in more depth and propose a detailed budget. At this stage, teams will need to work with academic units and/or research centers to secure commitments for faculty hiring from these units. External and internal peer reviews will be secured for full proposals, and the vice chancellor for research will make recommendations for funding to the provost at the end of the spring semester.

Timeline for submission + review

  • Dec. 7, 2021: Phase I white papers due
  • Jan. 15, 2022: Proposals selected for Phase II competition notified
  • April 4, 2022: Phase II full proposals due
  • May/June 2022: Awardees notified

White paper submissions should consist of the following elements, combined into a single PDF and submitted to by Tuesday, Dec. 7:

  1. Completed cover sheet (.pdf)
  2. Phase I budget template (.pdf)
  3. Narrative description of the proposed Research Rising initiative, answering the following questions and describing how the project aligns with the criteria outlined above (max 5 pages total):

    1. Research Aims, Research Questions, and Rationale:What are the specific aims of the project? What research questions will be addressed? Why are they significant (globally/for our region)?
    2. Potential for Impact: What will be the impact of the initiative (fundamental discoveries, new technologies, improvements in wellness or welfare)?
    3. Research Plan: Methodology, Timelines, Roles, and Responsibilities: How will these aims be accomplished? What approach will be taken?
    4. Priority and Plans for DEIB: How will the project express KU’s values of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging?
    5. Personnel:Who will be the leaders of the project? What experience and expertise do they bring? What new expertise needs to be brought into the project through faculty recruitment?
    6. Resources: Does the project require any major equipment, specialized facilities or other significant resources?
    7. Opportunities and Long-term Impact: How will the initiative create opportunities for external funding, especially large and complex federal awards? What will be the long-term (>10-year) outcome of the project for KU’s research reputation?
  4. References cited
  5. Short CV/biosketch for team leaders (NIH/NSF format or equivalent)

Eligibility + budgeting

Who is eligible for principal investigator (PI) status on a Research Rising proposal?

Full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty on the KU Lawrence or Edwards campuses. Collaborations with the KU Medical Center are encouraged, but KUMC investigators may not be funded with Research Rising awards. The same is true for industry and other external partners; Research Rising is an investment in KU-Lawrence/Edwards and will not fund subcontracts to other institutions.

Is there a minimum number of PIs allowed on Research Rising teams?

In order to be competitive in this interdisciplinary initiative, teams should include multiple PIs.

Will there be any help with budget preparation?

For the white papers, we’re not planning to provide any central help with budget preparation. Investigators should work with folks they usually work with to figure out the cost of faculty lines, GRA positions, etc. When we get to the full proposal stage, we will provide some help with budget preparation for the final proposal so we can make sure that everybody is on the same page about what we’ve committed to when we make funding decisions.

When will funding for selected projects begin?

Funding will open up by the fall semester of 2022. That means faculty searches can commence then. Some of the preliminary groundwork, such as workshops or conferences, can also start while those searches are going on.

Can you comment on large equipment resources or renovations?

Large equipment purchases are certainly something we should consider as part of these. In terms of renovations, these should be specialized renovations to support a particular kind of work that’s not currently possible at KU, not routine lab or office renovations.

Can we apply for support to pay for an instrument service contract that’s necessary to keep the research going?

That’s something we will consider. Investigators should contemplate whether that’s the most compelling use of funds. If a proposal includes a large piece of new equipment, it makes sense to have a service contract on it. But if the funding just extends the contract on an existing instrument, that’s not as compelling.

If we get a large federal grant in the next five years, will the internal funding be revoked?

Absolutely not.

Faculty + other hiring

Is there any preference for faculty hires versus research staff?

One of the goals of Research Rising is to facilitate tenure-track hiring on the Lawrence campus. A mix of tenure-track and research-track hires would be fine, but there needs to be some plan for tenure-track hiring in these research proposals. A goal is to rebuild our tenure-track faculty strength and allow that rebuilding to align with new areas of research strength at KU.

Does the proposal budget need to include startup for faculty hires?

We will be providing additional funds for startup for faculty who are recruited through this program, so budgets do not need to include faculty startup per se. If there are common resources that the whole proposal will be supported by that would also be an asset to faculty recruitment, those kinds of things can go in the proposal budget.

Can you clarify a bit more the expected scope of faculty positions that may be considered. You mentioned startup would be provided for positions, in addition to the $3 million? Also, units have been limited with salary recently due to budget restraints; do we need early commitments from units (schools/college) for these positions?

By the full proposal stage, we will be asking for support letters for units where faculty hires are expected. Research Rising will cover the entire faculty base salary for the first three year, and then step down support in years four and five. By year six, the base support will be entirely the responsibility of the unit. What we hope is that’s enough time for units to factor those faculty lines into their budgets going forward. We understand there are a lot of constraints on unit budgets. We hope to have the support of unit leadership to make this initiative work.

Research topics + priorities

How do the UN Sustainability Goals mentioned in the call for proposals factor into Research Rising?

These are examples of the kind of global challenges that we hope KU investigators will confront. Some of the UN goals are more aligned with KU’s five research strategic areas than others. It’s likely that those might be higher priorities when we make final decisions on this funding.

There are five topics listed in the call for white papers. To what extent are you interested in  supporting ideas that overlap into multiple areas?

We would be open to overlapping ideas. That’s a likely scenario.

Are research teams allowed to submit multiple white papers, such as if we have two good ideas that are in multiple (non-overlapping) areas?

Probably, yes. Investigators should think about whether their effort is best spent doing that or really focusing on one really compelling proposal. Also note that this would involve building multiple teams.

Are projects that have proof of concept developed/in progress better candidates to be supported than a brand new research proposal? Can we apply to use Research Rising to expand and grow a promising project?

In the case of expanding/growing an existing project, it needs to be clear how Research Rising will contribute to really taking that project to the next level. What we don’t want to do is substitute for investigators pursuing external funding opportunities and allow projects to coast along rather than push them in a direction that really enhances the opportunity for more, better funding for those projects.

Can you please discuss what other factors are likely to be considered in evaluating the potential of the idea for moving forward? Clearly connection to federal research opportunities and priorities are important, but what are additional factors that will be considered? For example, will there be an emphasis on the diversity, equity & inclusion aspects of the team?

We expect that DEIB will be considered in putting these proposals together. We may get some proposals that have a specific DEIB focus. Others may not, but we want to understand how DEIB will be prioritized in every proposal. If a proposal is oriented toward biomedical science, how will it consider the inclusion of a broad target community for the impact of that biomedical science? How will the team be put together in a way that ensures that maximum attention is paid to DEIB? That needs to come through in the white papers, and it must absolutely come through in the full proposals.

How much appetite for very high-risk projects is there versus projects that are safer but have a higher probability for major federal funding?

We welcome high-risk proposals with sound rationale for the proposed research.

Can you provide any guidance on the types of disciplines represented in the Research Rising proposal? For example, should a proposal highlight STEM fields?

We’re open to anything where there is significant federal funding. That includes social and behavioral sciences. It gets a little harder in the humanities to think of funding mechanisms that will fund a purely humanities-focused project on the kind of scale of the center or institute type of awards that we’re looking to foster.

You’re right that the humanities can’t command the large grants that others domains of inquiry can. Are you saying that humanists should not apply? That they should team up with others? Or something else entirely?

If investigators can make the case that their proposed project will meet the goal of attracting significant federal funding, they should submit a proposal. There will be proposals where partnering with folks in other disciplines may be a more realistic approach. The honest truth is that Research Rising is not a program that’s been crafted to support all the research at KU. It really is specifically targeted at those areas that have the highest potential for federal funding. Sustaining and growing federal funding is essential for the future of KU research.

Interdisciplinarity + collaboration

Would ongoing interdisciplinary research projects in one of the priority areas be considered with similar interest?

Yes, as long as it’s clear how Research Rising will make a difference. What we’re really looking for is an inflection in the trajectory of research supported by Research Rising. If it’s just a nascent area at KU, we’re looking for something that will build a good foundation. If it’s something that already exists, we’re looking for something that will really take things to the next level. It should be obvious in the proposal how your plan will do that.

If we're engaged in research fields that are less obviously interdisciplinary, is that excluded?

No. The most compelling proposals will be interdisciplinary in nature. Investigators who have not engaged in interdisciplinary work in the past are encouraged to think about where there might be opportunities to partner with other disciplines in ways that may enrich the scholarship in the particular area being addressed. There are no absolutes here. What we’re looking for is great ideas that have significant promise to flourish at KU and that promise to push KU to the forefront of a particular field that has clear implications for the big problems that the world is asking research universities to address.

How important are collaborations and faculty hires outside of the sciences?

Very important. We would like every team to consider how their work could be enhanced by these collaborations. We have many examples at KU of, perhaps, surprising collaborations that have been incredibly successful. As we transition from the white paper phase to the full proposal phase, we will work with proposers to optimize collaborations and consider whether there are opportunities that weren’t considered in the original white paper.

There is a lot of expertise at KU in programs that have potential access to significant amounts of federal funding but which either 1) are not related to the five main topics and are more foundational in nature, or 2) are very well developed within their own disciplines, which are themselves internally quite diverse in their science goals. There is, therefore, a much larger obstacle for these projects to be interdisciplinary in a meaningful way. These white papers will take quite a bit of work, and so it would be good to get an honest appraisal if proposals from programs with the above characteristics will be seriously considered.

If we get a compelling proposal in fundamental physics, for example, that’s going to build something new at KU that has potential for federal funding on the kind of scale that we’re looking for, it will absolutely get serious considerations. The other thing that we will have with these white papers is a set of great ideas that faculty at KU want to pursue, many of which we will want to support in other ways outside of Research Rising. We hope that the time spent on white papers, even ones that won’t advance to the next stage, won’t be wasted. Research Development Director Carol Burdsal and other folks in our office will be looking hard at those proposals and seeing how we can identify funding from internal or external sources.

For research/project collaborations (unpaid from Research Rising), would it be better to collaborate with federal agencies or other universities?

Collaborators could be national labs, other universities, industry. We’re open to teams’ visions for that kind of multi-institutional future for their projects. In terms of thinking about priorities for federal funding, at least in certain disciplines, multi-institutional project that include industry partners or national labs are something that the federal government seems to be interested in promoting.

Research Rising Town Hall

Vice Chancellor for Research Simon Atkinson answered questions about Research Rising during a virtual town hall on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.