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2019 Interdisciplinary Research Seed Program


The University of Tennessee’s Office of Research and Engagement (ORE) announces this call for proposals for the Interdisciplinary Research Seed Program. This program offers internal funds intended to help generate compelling grant submissions, initiate new intellectual directions for our faculty, and foster relationships across colleges, departments, or centers. Funds will enable teams of faculty and potentially external collaborators to obtain initial results or data to prepare for large-scale funding opportunities or center grants. A key consideration is the likelihood that the project will attract new externally funded research.

An ideal project will apply for external funding and begin to generate publications no later than four months after the project’s completion. This multiple-investigator seed funding mechanism aims to promote interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborative teams. Teams with seed funding that generate preliminary results and work jointly have proven to be more successful. Most large research awards and centers are comprised of multiple universities and or corporate partners.


Proposals are invited from all UT Knoxville (UT) and UT Space Institute (UTSI) faculty. Each proposal must have a minimum of two PIs representing different disciplines and departments or external organizations. 

The Principal Investigators (PIs) must:

  • Be UT/UTSI faculty, including tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-trackresearch scientists
  • Have department and college approval to apply for internal funding, as evidenced by willingness to cost share in attached email or letter. (Non-tenure-track researchers must provide documentation from their department head indicating a long-term commitment to the PI and the PI’s ability to execute a future externally funded project at UT/UTSI that could extend beyond 2022.)
  • Be eligible to apply for external funding
  • Serve as lead PI on no more than one application to the Interdisciplinary Research category and no more than one additional application to one any of the following categories: Mission, Biomedical Research, or Community-Engaged Research.
  • Identify at least one funding mechanism from which they have not received funding
  • NOTE: Previous Research Seed grant awardees from any category who were lead PIs are ineligible to apply as lead PI for a new Interdisciplinary Research grant.

External Collaborations: Eligible applicants may propose to collaborate with UTIA faculty, faculty from other higher education institutions, researchers from ORNL, or researchers from corporations. The roles of each Principal Investigator(PI) as well as external collaborators must be clearly articulated in theproposal. Proposals should demonstrate how each contributor’s research is integrated to accomplish the research objectives.Although external collaborations with universities or companies are encouraged, seed-funded projects may not be used to support outside institutions. Further, external partners must provide funding or in-kind support for their portions of the project at a minimum level equivalent to 30% of the UT budget. Partner funding/support should be secured before submission and should be explained in the budget section of the proposal.

Budget and Project Duration

Period of Performance: Funds may be requested for a one- or two-year project period, based on the scope of work. If funds are requested for a two-year project period, the approval and release of the second year of funding will be based on the review of the first year’s results.

Award Amounts: One-year project: maximum total budget is $70,000 (must include a combined 20% cost share from the college/department – $56,000 ORE + $14,000 cost share). Two-year project: maximum total budget is $125,000 (must include a combined 20% cost share from the college/department – $100,000 ORE + $25,000 cost share. For two-year projects, up to $70,000 may be allocated to Year 1 and up to $55,000 to Year 2.) Projects with one UT or UTSI faculty as PI that partner with an external collaborator: maximum total budget is $45,000, including cost share ($36,000 ORE + $9,000 cost share) for Year 1. The maximum total budget for a two-year project is $80,000, including cost share ($64,000 ORE + $16,000 cost share). Up to $45,000 may be allocated to Year 1, and up to $35,000 to Year 2.

Use of Funds: Funds may be used for activities directly related to the research: salaries and benefits for research trainees (students, postdocs), research supplies, equipment/facility recharge, some travel, etc. Travel to federal agencies and proposer workshops is strongly encouraged and is likely to help obtain funding.  Funds will be available soon after awards are announced and will be provided on a cost-reimbursable basis.

Reimbursement requests may be submitted to ORE periodically as significant amounts are expended. Funds may not be used for faculty salary, course buyouts, administrative staff, seminar speakers, or conferences. Consultant costs may be considered.  Funds will be processed in two phases: recipients will be awarded 50% of funds to initiate the project, with the remainder made available upon completion and approval of a brief midterm project status report. All funds must be expended by the end of the project period unless an extension is approved by the AVCRD and contributing college/departments.


The internal proposal submittal deadline is December 12, 2018 at 12:00 p.m. The estimated date for notice of award is March 1, 2019, and projects will have a start date of May 1, 2019.

Application Instructions

Online submission will include completion of the online application form below, as well as submitting the following documents:  External Funding Strategy, Research Plan, Quad Chart, Budget, Current and Pending Support, and CVs.  Please note that the Research Plan outline is based upon the questions presented in the Heilmeier Catechism.

Instructions or Submittal: In addition to the online application form below, combine these documents into one PDF in this order: External Funding Strategy, Research Plan, Quad Chart, Budget, References, Current & Pending Support, CVs, and Cost-Share Support Letters.  Finally, submit a copy of the Quad Chart in a stand-alone PowerPoint format.

Format: Single-spaced, 12-point font with one-inch margins. Proposals should include the following sections:

  1. Online Application Form (see below)
  2. External Funding Strategy (three-page limit):
  • PI(s)must target at least one funding mechanismthat they have not received funding from in the past.
  • Strategy should address the following questions:
    • What specific funding opportunity will be targeted?
    • Who is the intended Program Manager/Officer?
    • What correspondence or interaction has been made or is planned with the Program Manager/Officer or federal agency? (Includeemails and a description of interaction when possible.)
    • What is the proposed timeline and target deadline for applying for external funding?
  • NOTE:Projects without an external funding strategy will be returned without review.
  1. Research Plan (four-page limit):
    1. Objectives and Significance. What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon. Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make? State goals of the proposed research and summarize the expected outcome(s). Explain the high-level importance of the problem or critical barrier that the project addresses. (Related review criteria: Merit and Significance)
    2. Current State of the Art. How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice? Briefly explain the current state of the art. Point out scientific challenges and limitations down to the root cause(s). Quantify whenever possible.
    3. What’s new in your approach? Describe your overall strategy, methodology, and analyses to be used to accomplish the project’s objectives. Address how your approach overcomes the root cause(s) of the challenge(s) you identified in the previous section. Specific details are helpful. (Related review criteria: Feasibility and Approach)
    4. Innovation/Differentiator. Why do you think your approach will be successful? Highlight the innovative nature of your proposal. Starting with the root cause of the challenges and limitations described earlier, how is your approach better? What differentiates your proposed research from the state of the art?  Is it a first? How might it revolutionize research and advance your field? Why hasn’t it been done before, and what leads you to believe that now is the optimal time? (Related review criteria: Innovation and Differentiators)
  2. Quad Chart (one-page limit– see quad chart example template) [PowerPoint Format]
  3. Budget with breakdown of cost categories
  4. References (one-page limit)
  5. Current and Pending Support for PI and senior personnel (see PI Current and Pending Support List template)
  6. CVs – Two-page limit per investigator
  7. Department/college/other unit willingness to cost-share –Attachemail or letter from all Department Heads (departments), Associate Deans for Research (colleges), and/or leaders of other university units who are committing cost-share to the project.

Review Process

Proposals reviews will be conducted by UT/UTSI faculty and staff, and may be extended to federal funding agency program managers for feedback. Deans and/or Department Heads of the PI and Co-PIs may also be asked for input on the importance of the project for their college or department. Evaluations will be based on these major criteria:

  1. Merit and Significance: Will the proposed project advance research in the field? Does it challenge the current state of art? Will it overcome a barrier to advancing research in this field and broaden the horizon for future research? Is this a major question or problem?
  2. Feasibility and Approach: Are the proposed research plans, methods, and analyses appropriate? Will the methods and analyses achieve the objectives of the project? Are adequate resources (expertise, tools, equipment) included in the proposal?
  3. Innovation and Differentiators: Does the project leverage new theories, tools, or applications to advance the field? Will the project shift the current paradigm in the field? Are technical or intellectual innovations included in the proposal? Does the PI leverage individual or institutional differentiators? (Criteria double-weighted in review.)
  4. External Funding Strategy: Does the project align with the funder identified? Is it reasonable to expect that, in addition to alignment, funds will be available in the future (i.e. targeted program is not sun setting and is of continued interest to the funder)? Is the PI viable from target funder’s perspective? Is there potential alignment with other funders not mentioned in the proposal? (Criteria double-weighted in review.)

ORE Programming Requirements

Awardees are strongly encouraged to work with an AVCRD staff member on the External Funding Strategy and to take part in at least one of the AVCRD workshops or training sessions during the period of performance.

Progress Tracking and Reporting

Awardees are expected to submit at least one external proposal based on the research. Awardees must submit a brief interim report (template to be provided) to release the remaining 50% of the funds and a final project report within 60 days of the award period end. The final report should include results of the research, new funding targets identified during the process, efforts underway to obtain external funding, and efforts to generate publications. Awardees requesting a two-year project period will be closely reviewed after 12 months to ensure adequate progress is being made. Lack of timely reporting may result in exclusion from future awards. PIs are responsible for tracking expenses associated with award. For more information or questions, please contact AVCRD@utk.edu.