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Request for Full Proposals: Open Topic Clusters

Chancellor Beverly Davenport has asked Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor John Zomchick and Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Robert Nobles to coordinate the establishment of transdisciplinary research clusters at UT. The chancellor’s initiative is intended to draw upon and enhance the university’s research strengths for the good of UT, the state of Tennessee, and society at large. This initiative is related to a national movement that enlists universities’ intellectual capital and research infrastructure in a campaign to address grand challenges faced by 21st-century global societies.

The first effort in this initiative—a cluster in data sciences—is a good example of the kind of challenge the initiative is intended to address. Not only are data science, big data, artificial intelligence, and other scientific fields related to data the subjects of intense transdisciplinary activity throughout the world, but skills in data sciences are eagerly sought by employers. Building capacity in data science promises to have a positive effect on our goal of increasing funded research, capitalizing on our relationship with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and producing graduates with sought-after skills.

While we undertake further discussions with our partners at ORNL on the data sciences initiative, we are announcing Phase 2 of the cluster initiative.

In Phase 2, the Office of the Provost and the Office of Research and Engagement request proposals for two additional research clusters. In these proposals, applicants must clearly convey how the proposed cluster hire will (1) build our reputation for research excellence; (2) provide a return on the university’s investment through increased research expenditures, faculty awards, or other measures of academic success; (3) address a grand challenge faced by 21st-century global societies.

Full proposals are limited to five pages, not including the cover sheet and proposed budget. There will be no pre-proposal stage.

In addition to a brief summary of the cluster’s area of inquiry and application, including the grand challenge it is meant to address, full proposals will provide the following information:

  1. The leader(s) of the cluster hire and a brief description of his/her/their expertise
  2. A proposed structure for the cluster, including proposed hires and academic and/or administrative units involved or to be created
  3. How the cluster will have a positive impact on transdisciplinary collaboration across the campus
  4. How the cluster builds upon existing research strengths at UT
  5. How the cluster will enhance the university’s reputation
  6. How the cluster will provide a clearly defined return on the university’s investment, with discussion of potential sources of funding (which must be more detailed than identifying the agency)

Complete and attach a budget using this form.

Full proposals are due by 5 p.m. on March 21, 2018. A review committee composed of faculty recommended by the collegiate deans and the Office of Research and Engagement will review proposals and make recommendations for selection to the interim provost and the interim vice chancellor for research.


Email questions to using the subject line “Question on Open Topic Cluster Hire Proposal.”

Please make sure you have all your proposal materials before clicking submit. Incomplete proposals will be rejected.