Consider diverse audiences when penning a Fall Research Competition proposal
Adeline Lo, assistant professor of political science, insists that one of the best parts about being a researcher at UW–Madison is the exciting variety of research projects on campus.
But Lo also recognizes that this diversity in topics can make it difficult for someone who is not necessarily an expert in your field or subfield to review your work quickly and with the limited amount of information a project summary in a grant proposal can afford.
Lo’s advice for those writing a Fall Research Competition (FRC) grant proposal is echoed by researchers across campus: “When writing your proposal, make the contributions you are likely to see within your project scope as clear as possible in the proposal, both to your discipline(s) as well as to policy makers and the general public.”
The application period for the annual competition from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education opened Aug. 8 and closes at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 9. Funds are selected for research projects across each division — biological sciences, physical sciences, social sciences and the arts and humanities. The FRC is open to tenured professors and associate professors, tenure-track assistant professors and permanent PIs, and encourages collaborative studies.
The award comes through an annual gift from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, funded by income from commercial licenses brought in by UW–Madison faculty and staff patents. The application and instructions are available at https://research.wisc.edu/funding/fall-competition/. Decisions will be announced in December.
For Lo, research enhanced by the FRC funding include exploring interest in and factors that traditionally motivate intra-state conflict. Additionally, she examines post-conflict processes — such as refugee flows and the societies that receive them.
The forcibly displaced, of which refugees constitute a quarter in proportion, number over 80 million people worldwide as of the end of 2020, according to UNHCR Global Trends. Some of the flows of this population have been due to protracted conflicts and instability in home regions, such as the Syrian refugee crisis, and others from abrupt changes in international politics and regional tensions, such as displacements surrounding the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2021.
Lo’s recent work on these topics has explored how news media present refugee stories in Germany, and how this can influence inclusionary politics. She used FRC funding to support studying television news in Germany, fielding a nationally representative survey experiment with FRC funding.
“My funding also covered invaluable research assistant support from graduate students in both the Political Science and German, Nordic and Slavic+ departments to preprocess and manually/qualitatively code videos,” Lo explains. “Given the inherent vulnerabilities of refugees, it is even more important to study how national news media have portrayed news related to the population, whether these dynamics have changed over time, and if/how certain frames with which their stories have been presented influence native attitudes and behaviors towards them.”
Lo’s project takes a within-country sweep of broadcasted television representation and combines it with a causally identified, micro-level randomized survey experiment.
“I harness a unique broadcast television corpora collected and preprocessed from the ARD Tagesschau, spanning over 40,000 minutes of national German broadcast news,” Lo says.
Lo has discovered that refugee stories have been increasingly presented with more frequency, under a criminal justice framing, and visually presenting more young faces.
“I demonstrate that watching national broadcast news is correlated with attitudes towards migrants,” Lo says. “Finally, I use a randomized survey experiment to evaluate refugee video story frames and their effects on citizen attitudes and policy preferences towards refugees.”
Beyond contributing to literatures on migration politics, Lo’s findings will likely be of interest to policymakers, refugee advocacy organizations and applied researchers.
“When writing your proposal, make the contributions you are likely to see within your project scope as clear as possible in the proposal, both to your discipline(s) as well as to policy makers and the general public.”
For Arash Bashirullah, associate professor of pharmacy, the FRC has funded a critical position on his research team that is investigating the “Hobbit” protein.
Bashirullah’s lab focuses on the genetic study of metamorphosis-specific genes, and the research group has recently identified and described a novel family of proteins conserved across evolution, the bridge-like lipid transport proteins (BLTPs).
Lesions in members of this family of proteins are linked with human diseases, including a number of developmental and neurodegenerative disorders. However, the cellular and molecular functions of these proteins, and how these functions impact animal development and physiology, remain poorly understood.
“Our project takes advantage of a simple model organism, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, to investigate the relationships between the molecular, cellular, and developmental functions of one of the BLTPs, a gene we had previously characterized and named Hobbit (we have renamed the Hobbit protein as BLTP2),” Bashirullah says.
Bashirullah’s FRC grant funded the salary of a lab member, pharmacy research associate Sarah Neuman, who Bashirullah says has been instrumental in advancing this project and in generating the preliminary data necessary to support a National Institutes of Health R01 grant application.
FRC grants are often instrumental in developing projects to the point where they are likely to be more successful in receiving extramural funding.
Like Lo, Bashirullah recommends considering reviewers when drafting a FRC proposal.
“It is important to keep in mind that reviewers of the proposals are, like you, driven by exciting science and the potential impact of that work,” Bashirullah says. “Focus on why your work is exciting and how the FRC funding will open new research directions and/or support major federal grant applications.”
Claudia Solis-Lemus echoes the suggestion and has been successful in receiving extramural funding, recently being awarded a five-year research grant from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Award to explore how the biodiversity on Earth evolved from single-cell organisms.
“Make sure your (FRC) proposal can be understood by people outside your field,” says Solis-Lemus, assistant professor of plant pathology and affiliate with the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.
Solis-Lemus’ fall competition grant funded a graduate student to support merging statistics with biology to support big data scalability. Solis-Lemus is a teacher-scholar interested inspiring a new a generation of statisticians to build computational tools that will allow biologists to input their DNA sequences and get a network representation of the evolutionary relationships among their organisms of interest.
Solis-Lemus is interested in applying complex phylogenetic networks informed by big data to expand on the “Tree of Life,” a graphical representation of the evolutionary process from single-cell organisms to today’s biodiversity. However, recently scientists have challenged the notion that this evolution can be captured with a fully bifurcating tree that ignores important biological realities like hybridization, introgression or horizontal gene transfer.
Solis-Lemus hopes to produce a novel method to reconstruct phylogenetic networks based on algebraic invariants — accompanied by open-source publicly available software — that is expected to be fast and scalable to tackle big data.
“This Tree of Life helps us understand how biological traits develop through climate change, environmental influences and the evolution of pathogens,” Solis-Lemus says. “Ultimately, developing tools to reconstruct the tree of life could assist with human health research.
When applying for an FRC grant, in addition to carefully considering the diversity of reviewers, it is important to also review the FAQs specific to your division at https://research.wisc.edu/funding/fall-competition/.
To make the best use of the funds available to the FRC Committee, it is critical for applicants to seek and obtain other funds. Information about the granting procedures of various federal and non-federal agencies is available from the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs website, https://rsp.wisc.edu/