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Grand Challenges

Request for Proposals

Overview: Indiana University announces the application process for the second round of Grand Challenges funding.

Grand Challenges are defined in the Bicentennial Strategic Plan as “major and large-scale problems” facing humanity that can “only be addressed by multidisciplinary teams of the best researchers.”

The university anticipates funding three to five comprehensive initiatives to address Grand Challenges by the conclusion of IU’s Bicentennial in 2020, with an investment of $300 million, including base funding for as many as 175 new faculty lines.

The development, proposal, and selection process in 2016–17 will facilitate the creation of a diverse array of initial concept proposals from faculty and deans during the fall semester. Approximately five will be selected for further development during spring semester 2017, and ultimately one recipient will be selected for implementation in late 2017 or early 2018. Proposals not selected in 2016–17 may be revised and resubmitted in future years, or may be considered for other types of research funding if appropriate.

This document describes the goals, criteria, and application and review process for 2016-17. Additional information and FAQs about the submission process are available at

Goals: IU’s investments in Grand Challenges are intended to serve six critical goals:

  1. To improve in tangible ways the quality of life of the people of Indiana and the world and to improve the economic vitality of the State of Indiana.
  2. To transform IU through strategic hires and by significantly enhancing the volume, quality, impact, and reputation of research at IU.
  3. To provide critical, strategic investment in the research infrastructure of IU.
  4. To improve IU’s ability to compete successfully for more ambitious and diverse external research support.
  5. To facilitate collaboration that enables IU to leverage its extensive and diverse resources in pursuit of common goals.
  6. To create valuable intellectual property, make it available to the public through appropriate commercialization, and create new sources of revenue for IU.

To achieve these ambitious goals, Grand Challenges initiatives will differ in scope, scale, and complexity from other important research programs. They must be sufficiently broad to have the potential to make a difference in local communities, the state, the nation, and the world. This will require an interdisciplinary approach that works across disciplinary and institutional boundaries. At the same time, they must be sufficiently focused to draw strategically on IU’s existing strengths and new Grand Challenges funding, have an impact that is measurable, and compete effectively for additional external funding.

Criteria: Successful Grand Challenges initiatives must:

  • Address a compelling problem or challenge, the resolution of which would significantly affect the people of Indiana and beyond. Impact matters, whether on individuals, communities, the economy, or quality of life. That impact may be achieved through basic research leading to scientific breakthroughs or significant advances in other fields, but each proposal must have defined, achievable goals that deliver tangible benefits to the people of Indiana and beyond.
  • Involve partnerships with organizations outside of the university. The involvement of industry, professionals, government offices, community organizations, foundations, and others can strengthen research, enhance its relevance, and demonstrate its impact in the community.
  • Strategically leverage IU strengths and existing resources.
  • Require a multidisciplinary team that reaches across departments, schools, and, in most cases, campuses. To help support the most creative, ambitious collaborations, more funding will be available for initiatives that involve more than one campus or collaboration between IU and Purdue.
  • Be able to attract the external competitive, philanthropic, corporate, and/or government funding necessary to sustain the work to successful completion. Despite the university’s significant investment, the scale of Grand Challenges initiatives should be such that they will require external funding to complete. That funding could come from federal agencies such as NSF or NIH, but proposals must also address the potential for funding from other government agencies at all levels, foundations, businesses, and private philanthropy.

The focus on tangible external impact is not intended to discourage proposals with bold scientific or other goals relevant to one or more fields of inquiry, but those goals should be articulated in a way that emphasizes benefits to the people of Indiana and beyond. Moreover, each proposal should include translational elements that demonstrate the benefits of the research for the public.

Initiative Funding: Funding for Grand Challenges initiatives will come from a combination of campus, school, and university sources, and will include support for up to 30 new faculty lines (across multiple units) for each initiative, as well as faculty startup packages, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, equipment, facilities, travel, and other expenses necessary for the research. Funding generally will be available for up to five years, although support for faculty lines will be base funding and will continue indefinitely.

Eligibility: Lead PIs must be tenured IU faculty members with a history of external funding. Given the scope of Grand Challenges initiatives, faculty with demonstrated experience administering large programs are preferred as lead PIs. Non-tenured faculty members and research scientists may participate as team members on proposals led by eligible PIs. Proposals including participation by women and members of underrepresented groups as PIs and team members are especially encouraged. There is no limit on the number of proposals on which faculty and research scientists may participate.

Process: The solicitation and review of proposals for Grand Challenge Initiatives in 2016-17 will proceed with a two-stage process:

  1. Preliminary Proposals, due November 11, 2016, with teams notified no later than January 16, 2017 as to whether they are being invited to submit a full proposal.
  2. Invited Full Proposals, due April 18, 2017, with a final decision by fall 2017.

All proposals—preliminary and full—will be made public.

Teams interested in submitting a preliminary proposal are invited to send an email to so that we may notify you directly of any changes to, or with additional information about, the submissions process.

Requirements for Preliminary Proposals: The preliminary proposal process is intended to help bring together groups of faculty interested in developing Grand Challenges proposals, while at the same time providing reviewers with a sufficient basis for determining which Grand Challenge proposals are most likely to succeed in addressing the goals set out above.

To help ensure strong proposals that draw strategically on IU’s strengths, deans are encouraged to work with their faculty and fellow deans to identify potential proposal topics and teams, and to help facilitate strong preliminary and full proposals. Active involvement by deans, department chairs, center directors, and other academic leaders is likely to contribute to stronger proposals, however, preliminary proposals do not require their support.

Preliminary proposals must be submitted at before 5:00 p.m. (EST) on November 11, 2016.

A successful preliminary proposal will be no more than 3,000 words (approximately six pages), excluding figures (which are often useful and are welcome, but should not exceed one page), the abstract, and biosketches. Each preliminary proposal should provide a coherent description of:

  1. The Grand Challenge: The nature and significance of the need(s) the research will address.
  2. Goals: The defined, achievable goals on which the proposed Grand Challenges initiative will focus.
  3. Proposed research and its impact: The broad contours of the proposed research, including major components or projects that make up the research; the way in which the proposed research will address the problem or challenge and achieve the Grand Challenges goals; and a brief explanation of how the proposed research is different or likely to be more effective than prior work.
  4. Resources: The IU strengths and resources on which the proposal would build, and a brief summary of key personnel and any other major resources for which funding is sought.
  5. Team leaders: List the team leaders who will be responsible for shepherding and, if selected, providing intellectual leadership for this Grand Challenge initiative, and briefly outline their relevance to the proposed initiative. Please attach biosketches for team leaders in NIH, NSF, or similar format, not to exceed 5 pages each.

Experience suggests that preliminary proposals are most effective if they tell a coherent, compelling story that can be understood by knowledgeable readers from diverse fields.

In addition, each preliminary proposal must have a one-sentence summary of the Grand Challenge and an abstract of no more than 200 words.

Teams working on Preliminary Proposals are strongly encouraged to work closely with the Office of the Vice President for Research and, as appropriate, the Office of the Vice Provost for Research (IU Bloomington), the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (IUPUI), and the Office of the Executive Associate Dean for Research (IU School of Medicine). This is intended to be a collaborative, transparent process; the resources of these offices are available to all faculty members interested in submitting proposals.

Requirements for Full Proposals: A successful full proposal will be no more than 10,000 words (approximately 20 pages) and will need to provide more detail about more aspects of the proposed Grand Challenges initiative. Detailed information about the full proposals and supporting documents will be provided by December 1, 2016.

Teams invited to submit a full proposal will work closely with the offices identified above, as well as the Offices of the Vice President for Engagement, the Vice President for Information Technology, and the Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations, and the IU Foundation. Modest financial support and other resources will be available to aid in the development of full proposals, including, where feasible, teaching release for team leaders.

Full Proposals must be submitted at no later than 5:00 p.m. (EDT) on April 17, 2017.

Review Process: Preliminary proposals will be reviewed by three groups.

The Grand Challenges Faculty Review Committee will review all proposals. The Review Committee’s members will be selected for their distinguished research record and reputation, experience in attracting research funding, broad disciplinary diversity, and representation of key units, including at least one regional campus. The Review Committee may supplement its assessment of proposals with additional external or internal reviews as necessary, before making recommendations.

The Community Advisory Board, comprising leaders from industry, government, and not-for-profit organizations throughout Indiana, will provide guidance for IU’s Grand Challenges program and the selection, implementation, and review of specific initiatives.

The Grand Challenges Steering Committee includes senior academic administrators, including the IUPUI Chancellor, Bloomington Provost, and School of Medicine Dean, and chaired by the Vice President for Research. This committee will review the proposals and the recommendations of the other review groups, and make recommendations to the President, who will make final decisions.

Full proposals will be reviewed through a similar process, but will also be reviewed by the academic deans and by a small number of external expert reviewers.

Each team will receive comments on its Grand Challenges proposal. The review process also may result in adjustments to proposed budgets, requests for revisions, and/or recommendations to merge or otherwise combine elements of proposals.

Administration of Grand Challenges Program: Development and implementation of a Grand Challenges Initiative requires faculty members to approach broad and challenging problems in new ways. The program similarly requires the university to make every effort to administer the program in such a way as to minimize the burden on all participants. To that end, key principles will guide the administration of the Grand Challenges program:

  • A commitment to being nimble and flexible in the implementation of Grand Challenges.
  • A commitment to being strategic in the investment of Grand Challenges funding.
  • A commitment to administrative efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
  • A commitment to transparency.
  • No shifting of funds between campuses without the explicit consent of campus leadership.
  • A concerted effort to reduce and, if possible, eliminate internal administrative barriers to collaboration and effective implementation.

For further information visit or contact:

At IU Bloomington:

Rick Van Kooten
Associate Vice President and
Vice Provost for Research


Simon Atkinson
Interim Associate Vice President and
Interim Vice Chancellor for Research

At the IU School of Medicine:

Anantha Shekhar
Associate Vice President for Research
Associate Vice President for University Clinical Affairs
Executive Associate Dean for Research Affairs

For all other inquiries:

Faith Kirkham Hawkins
Associate Vice President for Research Development