Student support and insurance are backbones to the Fall Research Competition

August 20, 2019 By Natasha Kassulke

UW–Madison faculty and staff recipients of Fall Research Competition awards say they are thankful for the funding to help them acquire the resources they need to engage in their research. But just as important, they say, is the student support and insurance the competition provides as they apply for extramural funding.

Funding for this research competition, provided by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, is available because of impressive efforts of UW–Madison faculty and staff in filing successful patents through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).

Jenna Nobles, professor of sociology, says the Fall Research Competition has supported several of her projects over her decade at UW–Madison.

Photo: Studio portrait of Jenna Nobles

Jenna Nobles

“The fall competition has been enormously important in my ability to develop higher-risk, interdisciplinary research,” Nobles says. “The competition also is a critical source of support for our graduate students. It provides students with the opportunity to collaborate with faculty on research early in their time at UW–Madison.”

Three recent projects for Nobles with Fall Research Competition support included the study of violence in Mexico and migration into the United States, the study of the biological and behavioral effects of Zika infection risk on fertility in Brazil, and an ongoing study into the effects of social policy designed to support low income families in the United States.

“Successfully securing external funding has depended entirely upon the ability to demonstrate strong preliminary evidence,” Nobles says. “The Fall Research Competition provides the resources to build that evidence.”

“The fall competition has been enormously important in my ability to develop higher-risk, interdisciplinary research,” Nobles says.

Cécile Ané, professor of botany and statistics, studies scalable statistical methods for discovering past species divergence and convergence from molecular sequences. Analyzing differences and similarities across genomes can tell us about the past history of these species. But one challenge is that genomes have been shaped by diverse processes: species divergence (speciation), and species convergence when species hybridize or when individuals from one species migrate and mate with individuals from another species.

Photo: Portrait of Cécile Ané

Cécile Ané

Methods available to handle all these processes simultaneously cannot analyze data sets with more than about 30 species. Ané’s research aims to scale to hundreds of species and thousands of genes. These methods will open opportunities to understand the prevalence of gene flow across different groups.

Ané says the Fall Research Competition award has provided her with an “insurance” for the funding of one graduate student on a larger version of the project submitted to a joint NSF-NIH program.

“Thanks to the Fall Research Competition award, I was able to plan early,” Ané says. “I had time to recruit an excellent graduate student to work on the project. Even if the three-year federal funding was not awarded, the student was guaranteed to have funding for the next academic year. For the graduate student, this was extremely reassuring. Later in the year, we heard that the NSF was funding the entire project. But well before, the Fall Research Competition has been instrumental for student recruitment.”

“Thanks to the Fall Research Competition award, I was able to plan early,” Ané says.

Bradley Singer, professor of geoscience, used a Fall Research Competition award to acquire much needed equipment for the WiscAr Geochronology Laboratory. Geochronology is fundamental to discovery in every earth science discipline.

Photo: Bradley Singer sitting on a mountain

Bradley Singer

“The Fall Research Competition award was a key component that enabled my lab to purchase a new multi-collector mass spectrometer which will propel a new generation of geochronologic studies by my students and I,” Singer says.

By retiring a 20-year-old mass spectrometer and replacing it with a next generation instrument with novel detectors, Singer is able to continue to secure support from the NSF for his research program that in the next decade aims to investigate Earth’s magnetic field, interactions between the cryosphere and volcanic CO2 inputs to the atmosphere, and ocean-atmosphere dynamics during past greenhouse climate states.

The WiscAr Lab has provided training and data for more than 40 UW student thesis projects and dozens of researchers worldwide. Moreover, the new mass spectrometer is essential to ensuring that the revenue recovery system which has operated for 15 years continues to provide salary for research staff, and undergraduate and graduate students.

“The Fall Research Competition award was a key component that enabled my lab to purchase a new multi-collector mass spectrometer,” Singer says.

Information about the 2019 Fall Research Competition can be found on the OVCRGE’s website. The online application is open and the deadline for submitting an application is 4:30 p.m. Sept. 20.

Faculty members and investigators with permanent PI status may submit one application to this year’s competition. This may be an individual submission or a collaboration with another faculty member or permanent PI. Applicants will be notified of the outcome in December.

Those interested in applying are invited to read the FAQs relevant to each division — biological sciencesphysical sciencessocial sciences and the arts and humanities — and to reach out to the divisional associate vice chancellor for research with additional questions.