New awards to provide $15M to support faculty research at Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins has launched two new award programs that together will provide an additional $15 million to advance innovative faculty-led research over the next three years.

The expanded university funding is aimed at promising early-career scholars and at organizers of ambitious research projects proposed by teams that involve more than one Johns Hopkins division or affiliate. These new internal financial awards are urgently needed to make up for declining research funds from traditional government sources, such as the National Institutes of Health, university officials say.

"The academic leadership at the university wants our faculty to know how inspired by and supportive we are of the work they do to expand the horizons of knowledge," university President Ronald J. Daniels says. "These awards are a substantial investment in the promise of our young scholars and scientists and the creative collaborations of our faculty across the university."

Details of the new funding programs, called Catalyst and Discovery awards, were outlined in an announcement sent to the Johns Hopkins community on Jan. 27 by Daniels, Provost Robert C. Lieberman, and the deans.

These Johns Hopkins leaders recognize the increasing difficulty that their faculty members now face in finding dollars to support their research in health-related advances, technology innovations, and other scholarly pursuits, the message said. "This issue has particular salience given our status as America's first research university, and as the largest university recipient of federal grant support," university leaders wrote in their message.

As an example, the statement noted that "after the doubling of the government's investment in the NIH in 2003, we have experienced a 20 percent contraction in the real value of NIH funding. Discretionary funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities has declined by 25 percent in constant dollars over the last 10 years. These pressures can be even more difficult for our early career faculty members, who are searching for resources not only to start projects but also to launch their careers."

Daniels recently called attention to this problem in an article he contributed to the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the article, he noted that the drop in government research funding is causing many of the nation's youngest and most promising scientists to leave the academic biomedical workforce. He argued that this brain drain poses grave risks for the future of science.

The Catalyst Awards program is designed to address this challenge. These awards of up to $75,000 will be provided to early career faculty members who are undertaking exceptional research or creative endeavors. The awards will help these individuals launch their promising careers during the crucial years when startup funds are depleted and external funding or other support may be elusive. The guidelines define early career applicants as any full-time faculty member who was first appointed within the last three to 10 years.

Discovery Awards are designed to foster faculty-led cross-university research, encouraging new interaction among scholars from various university schools or affiliates. Some of these awards will be reserved for teams that need startup support while they look for outside funding, a large-scale grant, or a cooperative agreement. They must include at least two faculty and/or nonfaculty members who are from separate divisions or affiliates of the university.

The Discovery Award applications can be in one of two categories:

  • Cross-divisional Collaborative Projects, for which the applicants may seek up to $100,000 for a one-year term and must submit a proposal describing a project that assures they will make substantial progress with a single year of funding.

  • Program Project Planning Funds, for which the applicants may seek up to $150,000 of one-year funding to prepare a credible research program and must submit a description of how they will seek external funding to move the project forward.

Proposals for both the Catalyst and Discovery awards programs must be submitted by March 31; recipients will be announced in May, with funding set to begin in July.

In this first funding cycle, the university expects to allocate 20 to 30 Catalyst Awards and 15 to 20 Discovery Awards.

The funding can be used for a variety of related expenses, including support for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and technicians, as well as for equipment and travel.