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internal competitions -Reply William Campbell 07 May 1998 14:48 EST

Beth, here's where we are re: internal grant competitions--we (University of
Wisconsin-River Falls, a regional comprehensive of 5,000 FTE submitting about
75 external grant proposals per year) have two different competitions which
serve as internal seed grants.

1. Faculty Research grants.  Maximum grant is $1,500, most folks use them in
the summer to support research projects broadly interpreted.  Some folks use
them to gather preliminary data for a grant proposal, but most of these grants
fund faculty as they pursue whatever interests them.  We face the same problem,
however--how do we ensure that scientists, humanists, educators, and
agriculturalists (we have a college of ag here) get an equal shake.

The group which oversees this competition (our Faculty/Academic Staff
Development Board, a faculty/staff committee responsible for a variety of grant
programs) made a conscious decision a couple of years ago to de-Balkanize our
internal grant competitions insofar as we are able.  These things used to be
awarded at least partly on a divvy-up-the-spoils system; committees made a
conscious effort to make sure that the various colleges or entities got a
roughly equal share.  We didn't think that contributed to quality, so we have
tried to base the decisions entrely on merit.  And, even though we try to
gather a broad spectrum of readers, we know that proposals will be read by
folks outside the proposer's field.  So we say explicitly in the guidelines
'write your proposal in language which can be understood by people from outside
your field'.  If they don't, they lose points.  Each year a few worthy projects
are not funded because they are not easily understandable.  We still get
complaints, of course, but all-in-all the system works better now.

2. Incentive grants.  We have just started giving a few $3,000 (max) incentive
grants for people to write big grant proposals, e.g. NSF, NIH, or NEH.  These
are judged by the same subcommittee of the FASDB as judges the Faculty Research
grants, but the criteria are a little different: the proposal must be large and
complex enough to take lots of time and also yield lots of buckswhen funded;
the idea being pursued must have some chance, at least, of being funded.  We
gave two of these a few years ago under a different rubric, eventually received
a $300,000 NSF grant and a $150,000 NEH grant as a result.  Two for two is
pretty good, so we've recreated the competition.  We've awarded two for this
year and will soon award two for next year.

Separating these two competitions helps, I think.  We work hard to make sure
that faculty research grants are as accessible for humanists and artists as
they are for chemists.  Mostly, it works.  Incentive grants are less likely for
humanists, if only because there are fewer opportunities.  But that competition
is directly tied to grant availability; the built in limits are obvious.

Sorry to be so verbose, this turns out to be a complicated set of issues.

Regards to Western Illinois, Bill Campbell
Director of Grants & Research
University of Wisconsin-River Falls