At a time when more funding sponsors are limiting the number of proposals from a single institution, Northwestern University has put in place an efficient and successful approach to manage the review and selection of limited-submission grant applications.
A dedicated group of 15 faculty members — the Limited Submission Advisory Committee (LSAC) — is tasked with helping to select competitive applicants for some of the nation’s most prestigious early career honors. This is an advisory committee to Vice President for Research Jay Walsh, who is the institutional nominator.
Not surprisingly, these honors attract a lot of attention — so much so that their sponsors often limit the number of applications that an institution can submit. This is where the institution must exert special attention to refine the pool of proposals to only those that are nationally competitive.
In 2013 — the first year Northwestern was asked to submit proposals to The Hartwell Foundation — Edward Gong, urology, became the University’s first recipient of a Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award. His investigation into the use of stem cells to restore bladder function in children was as noteworthy as the impact the funding could have on his young career, Gong believes. But earning this honor wasn’t a given.
“The Hartwell Foundation allows a limited number of proposals, so it’s important that the University selects the most suitable nominees,” says Gong, now an ad hoc member of LSAC.
With guidance from Sarah Fodor, executive director of foundation relations and corporate engagement, and previous fellows such as Gong, LSAC has worked to identify factors — such as an early career researcher’s potential to be a future leader — that the Hartwell Foundation is looking for in its research applications. The Office of Foundation Relations works intensively with all nominated candidates to help them tailor their proposal to a particular funder’s interests.
Since Gong, Hartwell has awarded three additional Northwestern investigators with funding commitments surpassing $1 million in total.
Managed by the Office of Research Development (ORD), LSAC reviews proposals for an estimated 20 internal competitions every year to identify the most competitive candidate proposals for a given award. During the past five years, there has been a near doubling of competitions that require internal review by LSAC — at the same time, federal funding continued to decline. The more competitive atmosphere has meant that the committee discusses up to three competitions per month, with upwards of two-dozen proposals needing review.
LSAC meets monthly and is comprised of senior faculty members from the Feinberg School of Medicine, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, School of Communication, School of Education and Social Policy, and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
“One of the exciting things about being a member of this committee is that the bulk of internal competitions that we discuss are for early career awards,” says Michael Jewett, chemical and biological engineering, who is serving his second 1-year commitment on LSAC. “It’s extremely gratifying to learn about the diverse set of leading-edge research at the University.”
LSAC’s role is critical in helping identify candidates for a number of highly prestigious honors. With expertise across a wide range of disciplines, LSAC members recommend nationally competitive candidates for honors such as the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, the Hartwell Award, Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering, Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences, Rita Allen Scholars Award, and others. During the past five years, four out of 10 Northwestern nominees for the Dreyfus Award and Pew Scholars competitions and four out of six Hartwell proposals were national awardees.
“This funding success reflects the remarkable quality of our faculty and speaks to the University’s support for pathbreaking discovery,” says Karen Cielo, ORD associate director. “However, we could not achieve our success without the hard work, insight, and dedication of the Limited Submission Advisory Committee that helps to select the institutional nominees.”