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Faculty Welcome New and Increased Research Funds

By Melissa C. Rodman, Crimson Staff Writer

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences expressed gratitude and excitement for new and increased faculty research funds, which FAS Dean Michael D. Smith detailed in an email to faculty members last Thursday.

Two new initiatives will increase funding for faculty research by $25 million over the next five years, Smith wrote. Harvard researchers said they looked forward to making use of this money from FAS, especially in a landscape where the federal government increasingly has tightened its pursestrings.

“We all know that, of course, research is at the center of the whole enterprise,” Sociology and African and African American Studies professor Michèle Lamont said. “To get internal resources to empower it is very wonderful.”

The first monetary increase will raise the “small amount of discretionary money” that Smith annually distributes to every ladder faculty member, he wrote.

Smith will expand these funds, called the “Dean’s Distribution,” from its current $1,000 value to $2,000 dollars for “faculty with past sponsored research funding or in departments typically receiving sponsored research,” according to the email.

For the remaining faculty members, the Dean’s Distribution will increase from the current $1,000 to $4,000, Smith wrote, adding that the change “directs more discretionary funding towards those with fewer funding opportunities.”

Smith’s second initiative is a new grant fund, according to the email. Each semester, a small faculty committee will evaluate and award grant recipients between $5,000 and $50,000 each, Smith wrote, from a starting annual budget of $2.5 million.

The new grant fund, which Smith called the Dean’s Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship, also will target projects that have not received external funding, that would not fit with “traditional funding programs,” and that would require upgrading research equipment, Smith wrote.

Citing strained national sources of funding, such as the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, Economics department chair David I. Laibson said he welcomed the new opportunities from FAS.

“A typical economist has many many projects, and we try to fund them from many different sources,” Laibson said.“This is another arrow in my quiver.”

Bioengineering and Applied Physics professor Kevin Kit Parker, who conducts research at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, said this kind of University funding specifically helps with cutting-edge projects that national grants might not aid.

“Peer review means that you’re basically constrained to a particular paradigm that’s supported by the masses,” Parker said, describing the constraints of national funding. “My mandate of being a professor at Harvard is that I better get out in front of the herd.”

Citing previous research examples such as the HIV and Zika viruses, Parker added that the government may not fund innovative work when research is just in its beginning stages. The University, however, has a different framework, he said.

“They are not giving me money to be comfortable,” Parker said. “That discomfort is what defines the cutting-edge.”

Laibson also said these FAS funding opportunities may allow him to pursue new projects.

“It’s exciting to me not because there’s a project right now that I’m going to go to the fund to try to support, but, rather, because I know there’s one more place I can go when I need funding in the future,” Laibson said.

In addition to the two initiatives, Smith wrote that he soon will establish a working group to investigate and streamline FAS’s online listing of funding opportunities for faculty members.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

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