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Challenge opens doors for grad student research partnerships

March 22, 2012 By Chris Barncard

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation is looking to draw graduate students into the spirit of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery with Discovery Challenge, a grant competition for collaborative research.

“We hoping that if we get graduate students and postdocs to go beyond their own silos, we’ll see some exciting new inventions and research,” says Laura Heisler, WARF director of programming. “We want to get them cross-pollinating, to enhance each other’s inventive activity.”

The first step in that cross-pollination is the Spring Poster Symposium set for May 23 in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery’s Town Center.

WARF has put out the call to graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to submit traditional or digital posters or live research demonstrations for inclusion in the symposium, which will give participants and other graduate students and postdocs from around the campus an opportunity to see work that may happen outside their usual research neighborhoods.

“We’re going to set up the symposium sessions in a way that allow for these people to mix, and also put the submissions together in a booklet that will give them even wider attention from potential partners at the university,” Heisler says.

Pairs of $500 awards will go to two top graduate student and two top postdoc presentations, judged on how well they describe research goals, the work’s potential, and its innovative and creative qualities.

Posters and presentations created for other settings are welcome, but each entry must include a new element to grease the collaborative skids.

“We do want submissions to include a side panel that helps decipher your work for more of a general audience,” Heisler says. “We want other students and postdocs outside your discipline to be able to understand your work. And we want you to give people an idea of what you’re looking for in a partner and collaborator.”

Spring Poster Symposium submissions — brief descriptions of the poster contents — must be sent to by noon on April 16. Acceptance notifications will follow by April 20. More details and submission instructions are available on the Discovery Challenge website.

All presenters – not just the four symposium prizewinners – will be eligible for mini-grants of up to $5,000 in the Discovery Challenge’s second phase, the Fall Research Competition. That competition is open to original research ideas proposed by interdisciplinary teams. The tentative submission date for brief grant proposals is Sept. 1.

“There are many people inside and outside Discovery that are very interested in finding ways to mix ideas from our creative graduate students — and eventually maybe even their labs and principal investigators,” Heisler says. “And we look at this as a way to get that started.”