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Fall Research Competition continues to support researchers, graduate students

August 18, 2020 By Natasha Kassulke

Despite a year full of uncertainty, University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers can still count on the Fall Research Competition.

The annual contest offers funding for select research projects across each faculty division — biological sciencesphysical sciencessocial sciences and the arts and humanities — and is open to faculty and permanent principal investigators. The competition is a uniquely Wisconsin fall tradition.

“How can a public university in a state with a small population be perennially in the country’s top handful of research institutions?” asks Edgar Spalding, professor of botany and previous Fall Research Competition grant recipient. “I think you have to consider the Fall Research Competition as a part of the answer.”

The award comes from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education through an annual gift from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. The gift, funded by income from commercial licenses, is a reflection of the impressive efforts of UW–Madison faculty and staff who file successful patents through WARF.

Spalding — whose research focuses on how light, gravity, temperature and other variables influence how a dormant embryo within a seed becomes a seedling — especially encourages junior faculty to apply and offers them some advice.

“Anyone who truly believes their project will make a difference in a field of study but needs some funding to make it stronger, raise its visibility, make it competitive for other forms of support, should explain why all that is true in their application,” Spalding says.

For some researchers, the grant allows them to gather preliminary data and test new hypotheses that they can then incorporate into future grant proposals. For others, the Fall Research Competition is a great way to jump-start a new collaboration and mentor a graduate student.

“Even before joining UW–Madison, the Fall Research Competition was highly recommended by my then-future colleagues as a unique opportunity for insuring proposal submissions and supporting early-stage research directions,” recalls Jennifer Choy, professor of engineering physics. “For early-career faculty, support through the fall competition is especially beneficial in generating preliminary results to improve external grant applications that were not initially successful.”

Choy’s research is focused on improving the utility and performance of quantum sensors. She describes the Fall Research Competition application process as efficient, especially if researchers have already written an external proposal for the same or similar work.

Between the project description and short interview, she says, there is ample opportunity to articulate to the award committee the significance of the proposed project and the project’s specific needs.

Like Spalding and Choy, Marguerite Burns, professor of population health sciences, has benefited from the fall competition.

Burns studies the role of Medicaid coverage in determining a variety of health and social outcomes for individuals following incarceration.

“With OVCRGE (Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education) support, and in collaboration with the Institute for Research on Poverty and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, we are integrating unemployment insurance data into a longitudinal dataset that links Wisconsin Medicaid and Department of Corrections data at the person-level,” Burns says. “This unique dataset allows us to investigate the overall impact of Medicaid enrollment on recidivism, and the potential health and financial channels through which it may have an effect.”

With the Fall Research Competition grant, Burns has also been able to provide training in applied health economics to “a fantastic graduate student in economics,” Nico Badaracco.

“We are delighted that Nico will serve as a coauthor on the main paper resulting from this study,” Burns says. “Additionally, the resulting dataset provides a springboard for our own and our students’ subsequent empirical research on the barriers and facilitators to the successful transition from prison to community.”

Interested researchers can find more Information about the 2020 Fall Research Competition on the OVCRGE’s website. They may also reach out to their divisional associate vice chancellors for research with additional questions. Submissions may come from individuals or groups of UW–Madison collaborators. The online application is open and the deadline for submitting an application is 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 11. The application and instructions are available at: (click on “Apply Online”).

Applicants will be notified of the outcome in December.

The OVCRGE will also sponsor a separate Pandemic-Affected Research Continuation Initiative for projects that were compelled to expend research funds during the pandemic despite delays to their work due to, for example, restrictions to face-to-face interactions, travel or access to crucial facilities. These funds will help extend funds for researchers to complete those tasks. The OVCRGE will provide more information soon.

Additionally, researchers may request time extensions to prior year fall competition awards if COVID-19 created complication or delays to their research projects. Contact Russell Schwalbe ( or Jessica Wipperfurth ( to make a request.