The Harvard Data Science Initiative Competitive Research Fund 2017

Publish Date: Mar 30, 2017

Deadline: Apr 03, 2017

Overview of the Data Science Initiative Competitive Research Fund 

Deadline: April 3, 2017
Award Amount: $5,000-$50,000 for one year
Eligible Applicants: Individuals who hold a faculty appointment at a Harvard school and who have principal investigator rights at that school.

The goal of the Data Science Initiative Competitive Research Fund is to support research that advances Data Science at Harvard in new ways. Data Science is an emerging discipline, with its roots in computer science and statistics, an immense range of applications, and the potential, done right, to change our understanding of many problems in the sciences, humanities, and society more broadly. It is about both the science of data and science through data, and is about closing this loop so that methodological innovation is driven through new challenge applications.  This call invites innovative ideas whose interests span all areas of Data Science, including methodological foundations, as well as the development of quantitative methods and tools motivated by Data Science challenges.

The Data Science Initiative Competitive Research Fund is a targeted program that will provide funding in the following categories:

  1. Seed funding, to encourage faculty to pursue exciting new research directions in Data Science that might not yet be ready to compete in traditional funding programs.
  2. Bridge funding, to allow faculty to continue work on previously funded research in the area of Data Science that does not currently have external funding. Faculty who apply in this category should demonstrate that efforts have been made or will be made to obtain new external funding.

Please apply only if your funding needs fit into one of these categories. Project budgets of $5,000-$50,000 may be requested for 1 year, though it should be noted that funded awards may receive below the award ceiling.  


  • This program is open to individuals who hold a faculty appointment at a Harvard school and who have principal investigator rights at that school.  Applications from junior faculty, and those that involve collaborations among departments or schools, are encouraged. (Please note: Harvard Medical School faculty must hold a faculty appointment with PI rights in one of HMS’s basic or social science departments.)
  • Faculty may only submit one application in each funding cycle. We anticipate one funding cycle each semester.
  • Successful applicants will be expected to give a short presentation of the funded project at a symposium at the end of the grant year, and where code is developed to release this in a public GitHub repository.


Applications must be submitted online by 5:00 p.m., April 3, 2017.  Proposals will be read and evaluated by a committee made up of faculty with interdisciplinary expertise in Data Science, so please ensure that your proposal makes sense to someone outside of your discipline.  Applicants should provide the following:

  1. Contact information.
  2. Project description that is accessible to non-specialists (limit two pages).  The project description should include:
    • The question or problem, and why it is important.
    • The approach to be taken.
    • The potential impact of the proposed work.
  3. One paragraph explaining why this funding source is essential to the launch or success of the proposed project.  Please include an explanation of how this would provide either bridge funding or seed funding.
  4. Abridged CV or biosketch (limit two pages).
  5. List of all current or pending external sources of grant support, and information on any external funding you have applied for or intend to apply for to support the proposed project.
  6. Budget and budget justification (limit one page).  Budgets should provide enough information to convey the alignment of costs with the project.  Faculty are encouraged to work closely with their grant administrators when including personnel and fringe benefits.
  7. Description of the availability of data and/or resources, if appropriate.

We will keep reporting requirements very minimal. In addition to the symposium presentation, we will ask each funded project to submit, within one year of funding, something such as a pointer to a GitHub repo, a figure to summarize a new result, a paragraph of description, or a pointer to an arXiv paper.

Examples of eligible expenses include but are not limited to:

  • Personnel such as postdocs, research staff, graduate students, undergraduate students
  • Domestic and international travel
  • Training to acquire a new skill or area of expertise that will enable the proposed project

The following expenses are NOT eligible for funding:

  • Overhead
  • Faculty salary
  • Graduate student tuition
  • Educational/course use
  • Subcontracts outside Harvard
  • Equipment

Review Process:

The two co-directors (Francesca Dominici and David Parkes) have appointed a small committee of faculty to review the submitted applications and make awards.  The committee membership is as follows:

  1. Rebecca Betensky, Dept. Biostatistics, HSPH (co chair)
  2. Brendan Meade, Dept. Earth and Planetary Sciences, FAS (co chair)
  3. Karim Lakhani, Technology and Operations Management, HBS
  4. Rick McCullough, Vice Provost for Research (ex offico)
  5. Michael Mitzenmacher, Computer Science, SEAS
  6. Natesh Pillai, Dept. Statistics, FAS
  7. Sharad Ramanathan, Dept. Molecular and Cellular Biology, FAS
  8. Chris Winship, Dept. Sociology, FAS
  9. Alan Zaslavsky, Dept. Health Care Policy, HMS

The committee will evaluate applications based on the following application guidelines:

  • Grants will support novel methods, innovations, or solutions to Data Science challenges. Proposals that apply existing data analytic approaches without innovation will not be considered competitive.
  • Project goals should emphasize not just academic contributions—e.g., papers published, new collaborations, additional grant monies received, and so forth—but also measurable impact in the field.

For the current application cycle, the committee will meet in early April to decide among the applications submitted.  Before the final awards are announced, the co-directors  will meet with the committee co-chairs to review the funding recommendations.  With a budget for this cycle of $250,000k, the committee will make awards to only the most promising of the applications, and will stay within the budget of the Fund.  Awardees will be notified of funding decisions in late April with fund disbursal in early May.


If you have questions about the DSI Competitive Research Fund, please contact Liz Langdon-Gray at

For more information please click "Further Official Information" below.

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