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From Idea to Plan: New Research Plan Empowers Emerging Leaders

A new type of internal seed program at UT is designed to support recently tenured faculty members who have a big idea, but not a full team or complete research plan. The Expanding Horizons Research Seed, offered through the Office of Research and Engagement, provides awardees with the skills and knowledge necessary to lead large teams or centers. This allows ORE’s Research Development group work with a small group of emerging research leaders to support significant, collaborative convergent research.

“We asked our associate deans of research and Governor’s Chairs to consider what they needed when they were newly tenured faculty, which was a very pivotal point in their careers,” says Kimberly Eck, assistant vice chancellor of research development. “The Expanding Horizons seed was born out of that discussion.”

Convergent research is a means of solving vexing research problems, especially complex problems focusing on societal needs. As such, it requires a transdisciplinary approach to integrate knowledge, methods, and expertise from multiple disciplines and form novel ideas that catalyze scientific discovery and innovation.

“The key difference between this seed and the other seed categories is that faculty need only an idea, not a full plan,” said Eck. “We are purposefully looking for people who don’t have it figured out yet, so we can help them formulate their big idea and help move the plan forward.”

Components of the Expanding Horizons program include monthly presentations and discussions, mentorship, specific capacity-building activities, and up to $50,000 in seed grant funding. Researchers will also receive critical input from program officers, other center directors, and influential scholars.

Eck said the feedback will help shape ideas, crystallize who should be on the team, identify gaps, and form the argument as to why UT should lead a particular effort. In the process, researchers will develop new skill sets, such as management of large teams, understanding how centers work, and how to effectively work with a variety of disciplines.

“We hope that, in 5–10 years, these faculty members are leading large, transdisciplinary initiatives and have established themselves as thought leaders in their fields,” said Eck. “They can also fail or decide this isn’t the right project. That’s okay. The point is to be able to explore new areas and use newly acquired knowledge to determine new approaches, as appropriate.”

Eligible faculty may apply for the Expanding Horizons Research Seed through InfoReady. The deadline for applications is November 6. Learn more about the research seed programs available through the Office of Research and Engagement at research.utk.edu.