Research Cluster Seed Grants

Interdisciplinary Research Cluster Competition Request for Proposals

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Acceptable Funds Usage
Proposal Guidelines
Submission Process
Evaluation Process and Criteria
Contact Information


October 1, 2012:
The Environmental Sciences Network is pleased to announce the winners of its 2012 Seed Grant Competition. The three new research clusters will each receive $50,000 plus a great deal of institutional support to submit major grant proposals to make their great ideas a reality for outstanding environmental research, teaching and outreach.


  • Three awards are anticipated, maximum of $50,000 per award
  • Emphasis on formation of highly integrated, cross-college research clusters focusing on environmental issues
  • Funds to be used for activities enabling submission of large (>$3 million) grant application(s) within one year
  • Proposals due 8/1/12


The scale and complexity of environmental challenges often necessitate collaborative, interdisciplinary, system-based approaches to research.  Ohio State has made a commitment to support collaborative research efforts that coalesce around the questions and challenges posed in environmental natural and social sciences, engineering, education and natural and human resource management. Accordingly, the Deans of three university colleges (Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences) have made funds available for up to three $50,000 seed grant awards.

The objective of the seed grant competition is to foster the formation of cohesive, ongoing research clusters organized around a specific environmental issue and/or research approach. The term “cluster” is meant to indicate a larger scale of collaboration than partnerships based on one or several closely related narrow research questions. Rather, clusters are large loose, organic networks consisting of various parties organized around an interest in solving a common problem.

These parties may be individual PI research groups; academic center/laboratory research efforts; government, NGO, and extension operations; or industry research teams. Connecting these groups into a research cluster should: a) streamline the flow of resources and communications involved in work on common issues, thereby avoiding unproductive duplication of effort, and
b) promote synergy among the knowledge, tools and perspectives of diverse disciplines.

Due to the large scope of the problem to be tackled as well as the large number of groups involved, research clusters require large funding—indeed, the best examples of research clusters currently in existence are defined in terms of the large grants they have been awarded (e.g. NSF Sustainability Research Networks, USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiatives). However, the benefit works both ways: from the perspective of funding agencies, well-organized research clusters can be a highly efficient investment of public research dollars.

This seed grant competition aims to incentivize the formation of research clusters with compelling environmental foci and organizational functionality to be competitive for such large grants. Accordingly, the central element of this competition is the identification of a large (>$3 million) or multiple smaller (totaling at least $3 million) grant(s) for which a research cluster intends to apply.


Research clusters should include researchers from multiple disciplines, with representation from at least two Ohio State colleges. Environmental issues large and complex enough to require a cluster approach also inherently demand the synthesis of knowledge and approaches from an array of science and engineering disciplines. Preference will be given to teams that demonstrate high disciplinary diversity organized effectively in order to maximize synergy in tackling a pressing environmental issue.

The number of researchers involved may be as few as a dozen or upwards of a hundred. In the latter case we are interested in the organizational structure and the roles of core researchers.  Collaborative partnerships with other units at Ohio State, other universities, or other outside agencies are also welcome.

Groups that have previously applied for and/or won similar university grant competitions (e.g. Targeted Investments in Excellence or Centers of Innovation programs) are eligible to submit proposals in this competition. However, all proposals should demonstrate that their proposed cluster projects represent a new net increase in collaborative research scope and output at Ohio State.

      Acceptable Funds Usage

Teams may spend seed grant funds on workshops, trips to speak to funding agencies, release time, contracting for grant support, collaborator forum meetings, or other ways to bring a diffuse but related group of research entities into sustainable, productive collaboration.

      Proposal Guidelines

Proposals should be 10-15 pages in length and should include the following components:

Cover Page (1 page)

  • Project title.
  • Name, title, and affiliation of lead contact investigator.
  • Investigator names, titles and affiliations.
  • Anticipated large grant(s) team will apply for and deadline(s).
  • Abstract (<250 words) summarizing the organizing environmental problem, interdisciplinary approach and intended grant application activities of the group.

Rationale and Significance (1-2 pages)

  • Describe the central environmental problem/topic that pulls your team together and explain its significance.
  • Explain why the study of this particular issue necessitates an interdisciplinary approach and why its scope justifies the formation of a cluster (rather than a small research team).
  • Articulate the research cluster’s approach to the environmental issue, particularly emphasizing the ways in which it departs from/builds on previous approaches. Cite the most significant published work in this field.
  • Describe how addressing this environmental topic meets one or more of the goals of the university discovery themes: health and wellness, food production and security, and energy and environment.

Rationale behind team composition (1-2 pages, exclusive of investigator list)

  • List all investigators involved in the project.
  • Identify the strengths that each team member or related group of team members (i.e., previously established research collaborations serving specific functions) brings to the project, including previous collaborative successes.
  • Describe the sources of synergy across the university (including an explicit statement of cross-college collaboration) by which the unique combinations of expertise of the team members facilitate greater achievement than single investigators alone.

Research overview (1-2 pages)

  • Summarize the actual research activities for which the cluster will seek major funding, including approximate timelines/phases and sub-projects with likely point people.
  • Explain why these activities are important to advance knowledge, solutions, and community engagement regarding your environmental focus and why they need to be conducted in a cluster format rather than by smaller individual projects.
  • Explain the relationship of this research to the programs of the investigator(s) and how it differs from current or pending projects.

Specific plans for the target grant application(s) (2-3 pages)

  • Identify by name a large (>$3 million) or several smaller (totaling >$3 million) grants for which your group intends to apply. The deadline for proposals must be on or before 9/1/2013. We understand that in many cases, specific RFP deadlines may not have been announced; in that case please be as specific as possible.
  • Outline in detail the steps by which your group will:
  • submit target grant application(s) within the allotted time
  • use the available funds (up to $50,000) to enhance the potential for success in being awarded the target grant(s)
  • leverage university resources such as grant-preparation staff (no-fee or fee) and internal reviews to strengthen your application(s)
  • Define a timeline of activities with the names of the individuals/groups involved including point people. 

Cluster organizational dynamics (1-2 pages)

  • Describe the organizational structure of the team, in particular indicating which subset of investigators will be taking leadership in the stages preceding submission of the target grant application.
  • Identify potential obstacles to collaboration among cluster members and describe sustainable solutions to surmount them.
  • Create a management plan that clearly shows how all members of the cluster will be integrated into future funded activities in true synergistic collaboration (rather than simply dividing awarded funds).
  • Indicate how the group will sustainably handle accountability and reporting with respect to funds usage and completion of promised tasks on time


      Submission Process

Submit proposals by email in PDF format (set to print on standard 8.5” x 11” paper). Proposals must be received by 5:00 p.m. on August 1, 2012 in order to be considered. 


    Evaluation Process and Criteria

Evaluation of complete proposals will be conducted by a group of Ohio State faculty selected by the Executive Director and the Office of Research based on the research areas covered in the proposals. The reviewers will have a substantial record of grant success.

Proposals will be judged on four basic criteria:

  • merit of research approach to the environmental problem
  • ability of proposed cluster composition to create synergy among disciplines to solve the environmental problem better together than separately
  • likely effectiveness and adaptability of proposed organizational structure
  • viability for successful application for major grant funding.


Applicants should be aware of the following resources in planning their large-grant cluster proposals:

  • Internal reviewers. Ohio State environmental faculty are available to consult with cluster groups as applications are being prepared.
  • Grant support. Specialists are available in the university to help with grant proposal preparation (e.g., the Grant Support Development Unit based in the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences). For grants over $10 million the Program Council of Deans will consider funding a contract for an experienced grant specialist to assist with the proposal process.
  • Office of Research. No-cost and low-cost grant training are available on their website.

In addition, the Environmental Science Graduate Program is willing to be listed as a cost-share for one year of GRA support in exchange for an equal amount of overhead. For more information about any of these resources, please contact Richard Moore.


RFP released: March 1, 2012
Proposals due: August 1, 2012, 5:00 p.m.
Awards announced: September 15, 2012

    Contact Information

Richard Moore
Executive Director
Environmental Sciences Network
The Ohio State University

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