February 7, 2000
Volume 52, No. 20
URC grants pay off big for Emory
By Michael Terrazas
Young faculty have a lot to worry about, especially at a major research university. Often they have to acclimate to a new academic environment while juggling their teaching and research loads-and of course, the tenure clock has already started ticking.
But the University Research Committee (URC) is Emory's way of easing some of those worries, both for younger faculty and more established researchers. Launched in the wake of the Woodruff endowment nearly 30 years ago, URC grants have come a long way from their initial days as $800$1,000 awards given mostly to fund travel.
During fiscal year 2000, the URC will hand out about $1 million in seed grants, mostly to young faculty whose grant requests lack the research foundation necessary to secure larger grants from outside institutions like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. The committee works on two application deadlines during fall and spring semesters--the next is Feb. 15-splitting its annual budget roughly between the two.
But while Emory researchers benefit from the $30,000-maximum grants, the University as a whole reaps a larger reward when those seed grants pay off down the line with outside funding. According to Josiah Wilcox, associate professor of medicine and URC chair, the returns truly dwarf the investment.
For instance, going back to 1983-84 the URC gave out $288,936 in grants, which generated at least 16 publications and $855,431 in outside funding; the committee determined those numbers by sending a survey to grant recipients. Fast-forward to 1997-98, and the URC investment of $624,006 produced 42 publications and $3.1 million in external funding. In 1993-94 the return was even greater: $449,441 in URC grants resulted in 76 publications and almost $5.4 million coming back to Emory.
"The kind of income we bring back is key to justifying why we exist," Wilcox said. "It's really important to have these kinds of research funds available. Some of these people are young faculty members who are just getting started, and departments or divisions really can't support these individuals and let them get on their feet, get their first grant."
But it's not only young faculty who benefit: For many arts and humanities professors, Wilcox said, URC grants are the only funding they can find for travel, teaching leave or library expenses. From 198395, Emory College averaged $820,821 per year in outside funding as a result of URC grants.
"We think it is a wonderful investment not only financially as seed money to form proposals for larger grants but also as an investment in our most important resource: the faculty," said Provost Rebecca Chopp.
Of course, no researcher can benefit from a URC grant without actually submitting a proposal.
Representation across the University has sometimes been a problem for the committee, and it has received criticism for making too many grants to certain areas such as health sciences.
But Wilcox said both the money and the number of grants awarded break down roughly along the same percentages as faculty population across the schools.
The URC uses five subcommittees--biological and health sciences, humanities, social sciences, mathematics and natural sciences, and performing arts--to review proposals from their appropriate disciplines.
The review process differs among the subcommittees. For example, the biological and health sciences subcommittee follows the NIH review protocol.
For other disciplines the process may be less regimented but no less rigorous. At least two reviewers grade each proposal, and if an application falls outside the expertise of subcommittee members, they recruit ad hoc reviewers. Final funding decisions are made based upon the number of applications received and the money available.
Wilcox, who sits on review boards for the NIH and the American Heart Association, flatly said many proposals that earn URC grants would not merit consideration by the larger grant agencies--but that's not the fault of the researchers.
"It's almost like you have to do the research to do the research," said Don Stein, dean of the graduate school. "Very often, the major granting agencies like the NIH are very conservative. URC grants are like a kick-start for these young faculty."