Dean's Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship

Update: Beginning in fall 2021 the cap on awards from the Dean's Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship will be raised to $75,000.

The deadline to submit proposals for the Dean's Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship has passed. The information below pertains to the spring 2021 application cycle.

The Dean’s Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship is a targeted program that provides funding in the following categories:

  1. Bridge funding, to allow faculty to continue work on previously funded research, scholarship, or creative activity 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.
  2. Seed funding, to encourage faculty to launch exciting new scholarship or research directions that might not yet be ready to compete in traditional funding programs.
  3. Enabling subventions, to provide small funds to purchase (or upgrade) critical equipment. Applicants for such funds must have no existing startup funds on which they could draw for this purpose.

The Inequality in America Initiative will provide an additional increment of bridge and seed funding to support research that will advance our understanding of the causes and consequences of inequality, including its implications for a range of outcomes from economic growth and political stability to crime, public health, family wellbeing, and social trust. We are especially interested in supporting research projects that engage with the core themes of the initiative and that involve any of the following: interdisciplinary collaboration among departments or Harvard schools; new and early-career investigators; research opportunities for undergraduates and/or graduate students.

Please apply only if your funding needs fit into one of these categories. For all categories, applicants should clearly explain in non-specialist language the critical need, make a compelling case for large marginal gain, and justify the need for support from this fund rather than traditional sources. Project budgets of $5,000-$50,000 may be requested, though it should be noted that most funded awards will receive well below the award ceiling.


  • This program is open to FAS and SEAS assistant, associate and tenured faculty; Professors in Residence and Professors of the Practice are also eligible.
  • Faculty at other Harvard schools with no more than a zero FTE in the FAS/SEAS are not eligible for this program but may participate as collaborators on Inequality in America proposals.
  • Faculty may only submit one application per semester.
  • Previous recipients may apply, though the committee is unlikely to provide continued funding for a project that has already received funding through this source and applicants who have received prior awards may be assigned a lower priority. The Dean’s Competitive Fund is not intended to continuously fund a scholar from year to year.
  • Current research balances for any applicant are considered and may influence the likelihood of funding.


Proposals will be read by a committee made up of faculty from the three FAS divisions and SEAS, so please ensure that your proposal makes sense to someone outside of your discipline.  Applicants are asked to provide the following online here by March 9, 2021 by 5:00PM:

  1. Contact information
  2. Information on any external funding you have applied for or intend to apply for to support the proposed project
  3. If you received funding from this program in the past, you will be asked to describe how you used the funds.
  4. 1-3 sentence synopsis of the project (for public dissemination if awarded)
  5. One paragraph explaining why this funding source is essential to the launch or success of the proposed project
  6. Project description that is accessible to non-specialists (limit one page, PDF). Your proposal will be evaluated by reviewers from all three FAS divisions and SEAS, so it is critical that your proposal be accessible to those outside your field. The project description should include:
    1. The question or problem, and why it is important
    2. The approach to be taken
    3. The potential impact of the proposed work.
  7. Abridged CV or biosketch (limit two pages, PDF)
  8. List of all current or pending sources of support for the applicant (PDF, include $ amounts)
  9. Budget and budget justification (limit one page, PDF).  Budgets should provide enough information to convey the alignment of the costs with the proposed work. Proposals with insufficient budget justifications may see their budgets reduced. Faculty are strongly encouraged to work closely with their grant administrators when including personnel and fringe. Faculty in Social Science departments without a designated grant administrator should contact Jimmy Matejek ( for support. Faculty in the Arts and Humanities should contact Kathy Zuccala ( for support.

Examples of eligible expenses include but are not limited to:

  • Personnel such as postdocs, graduate students, undergraduate students, consultants, translators. For any personnel from outside of Harvard, the budget justification should explain why the outside personnel were selected and CV(s) should be included in the supplementary documents.
  • Fringe benefits
  • Computer software that directly supports the proposed research
  • Domestic and international travel
  • Equipment user fees
  • Archive fees
  • Copyright acquisition
  • Data acquisition costs, including human subjects payments
  • 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
  • Publication costs

Optional: If you have a proposal that you have already submitted for competitive funding and you didn’t receive funding you may submit that original proposal and any external reviews you received, up to ten pages.  Please note that proposals to the Dean’s Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship will be reviewed by non-specialists and there is no guarantee that these supplementary documents will be reviewed.

Review Process:

The FAS dean appoints a small committee of eight faculty (two faculty members from each division and SEAS) that meets once per semester to review the submitted applications and make awards.  The current committee membership is as follows:

  • Glenda Carpio, Professor of English and of African and African American Studies
  • Victoria D'Souza, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Daniel Jacob, Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Engineering
  • Robin Lee, Professor of Economics
  • Melissa McCormick (Chair), Professor of Japanese Art and Culture
  • Amanda Pallais, Professor of Economics
  • Maryellen Ruvolo, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology
  • Maurice Smith, Gordon McKay Professor of Bioengineering

Inequality in America proposals will also be reviewed by a multidisciplinary committee. With an annual budget of $2.5 million for the Dean’s Competitive Fund, and an additional $100,000 available from the Inequality in America Initiative, the committees will make awards to only the most promising of the applications and will stay within the budget of the funds. While there is no expectation that every application received will be funded, the committees will strive to award many small grants rather than a few large ones.