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What is the Unfettered Research Grant and how is it structured?

The phrase "unfettered research" is inspired by a 1995 essay by mathematician Andrew Odlyzko. Writing about his arrival at Bell Labs in the 1970s, Odlyzko describes a style of research in which the researcher chooses a subject of his or her own choice for investigation,  "dictated by their curiosity."  Using examples like the invention of public key cryptography, which was funded by an unrestricted NSF grant , he argues that unfettered research - without pre-negotiated deliverables - is necessary to produce the kinds of scientific and technological advances  with the potential to change the world. Today, unrestricted funding is rare but is our belief at the Mistletoe Foundation that 'unfettered research' can unlock potential in early career academics. 


Each Mistletoe Research Fellowship recipient is awarded  a USD $10k Unfettered Research Grant which may be used for any university-approved research-related activity, including but not limited to conference and research travel, supply and equipment purchases, and software and database licenses. Note that research funding cannot be used for companion travel. 

The Momental Foundation does not in any way influence or direct the course of research supported by an Unfettered Research Grant.

The spending period of the Unfettered Research Grant is from July 1st until June 30th of the following year. This means that expenses incurred during the period are eligible for the grant. You may still file for reimbursement, according to the rules of your institution, after the grant spending period has expired - as long as the expenses were incurred during the grant spending period. 

The grant spending period means that once you receive access to your grant, on or shortly after September 1st, you may apply it to expenses that you incurred between July 1st and September 1st - the 60 days before the grant is made accessible. This 60 days is part of the "holding period." 

Grants are disbursed in late summer but by contractual agreement are held in escrow by the Fellow's academic institution until September 1st in order to ensure that post-award employment verification is complete. After September 1st, the grants should become available for use. Please contact the Momental Foundation if your institution has not made your grant available for use by September 15th. 


Do these grants have progress and reporting requirements?

The Momental Foundation does not have pre-award spending reports or progress reporting requirements. However, Research Fellows do have post-award reporting requirements.

At the end of the academic year, fellowship recipients are asked to submit a summary of research activities and outcomes and a detailed line-item expense report to the Momental Foundation. Templates for reporting will be provided directly by the foundation for this purpose. Research Fellows will additionally be asked to participate in an exit survey and short exit interview. 

Such post-reporting requirements provide oversight and help the foundation to assess its impact on scientific progress as a public benefit corporation. They also serve as a helpful tool to evaluate limitations of the provided funding and determine how best to support future fellowship recipients.

Other than our post-reporting requirements, there are otherwise no specific deliverables associated with the Unfettered Research Grant award. 

What can the Unfettered Research Grant be spent on? 

The Unfettered Research Grant can be spent on University-approved research-related activities with a few restrictions stuctured to ensure that the grant is focused on the advancement of your research.

This includes:

  • Travel that supports your ability to conduct your research, disseminate and present its results, or engage in professional development activities

  • Equipment such as durable machines and apparatus which you expect to have a useful life in excess of one year, including computing equipment such as laptops

  • Materials and supplies used for research that are consumable and expected to last less than one year

  • Professional development activities outside of those already associated with conference travel/networking

  • Research-related professional services

  • Publication and printing costs associated with making available to others the findings and products of research and projects

What can the Unfettered Research Grant NOT be spent on? 

Although the grant is as “unfettered” and unrestricted as possible, there are a few limits.  Again, these restrictions are in place to help the grant serve its intended purpose - to expand your early-career research opportunities.  We want to ensure that the funding we provide can help you to advance your research by affording you the means to engage in further research travel, the chance to explore research directions that may be independent of the projects or research areas funded by your lab or PI, and opportunities to take advantage of serendipity in your research without having to apply and wait for new funding when a suprising new experimental direction presents itself.   

The Momental Foundation promotes the idea that we must expand and improve research and professional development opportunities for early career academic scientists and engineers. In line with this mission, the Unfettered Research Grant is not designed as a mechanism for a laboratory or university to shift the institutional costs of employment. 


Thus, Unfettered Research Grants cannot be used for:

  • Salaries, wages, stipends, and fringe benefits

a.     Salaries, wages, and stipends: This also includes salaries other than yours that should also be covered by your lab or institution, such as stipends for research assistants, lab techs, or interns

b.     Fringe benefits: i.e. health insurance, childcare subsidies, workers compensation, tuition assistance

  • Companion expenses: i.e. travel expenses for people who are not YOU.

  •  Meals and entertainment: costs of entertainment, alcohol, amusements, and other activities (such   as tickets to performances, sporting events, shows, etc.) or trips that have no justifiable research,     research-travel, or professional development purpose.

Will my institution be allowed to take out overhead rates or administrative fees from the grant?

It is the universal policy of the Momental Foundation that overhead rates, infrastructure fees, and indirect costs may NOT be taken out of Unfettered Research Grants awarded to postdoctoral or PhD student recipients. No grants awarded by the Foundation cannot be used for fringe benefits or living expenses, including stipends, social security, or insurance. 

Unfettered Research Grants are intended to be used as direct research aid to support the individual professional development of scholars already receiving a stipend or salary funded by their academic institution. 

Most federal grants can be spent on salaries and wages. Why can't the Unfettered Research Grant be spent on supplementing my stipend or on funding a lab tech whose duties include assisting with my research in the lab, if this is where I feel I need the most support? 

The Unfettered Research Grant is not a federal grant. Federal agencies fund salaries due to a historical agreement that federal extramural funding agencies would provide universities with faculty salary support so that universities could “recover” some of the costs they take on by facilitating research in the public/national interest. This system of "salary recovery" allows NIH and NSF to achieve very specific scientific objectives via the efforts of university faculty.


The Unfettered Research Grant intentionally does NOT focus on specific scientific objectives. Instead, we invest generally "in people" and in the future of science by furthering research exploration and career opportunity for early career academics. This  grant was not designed for laboratories or institutions to "recover" their personnel costs. Today there are over 60,000 STEM postdocs employed by institutions in the United States alone and only a very small percentage will receive tenure-track positions or otherwise stable employment in academia.  Many of these postdocs also have very limited access to their own independent research funds, thus limiting the scope of their work and their future career prospects.


The Unfettered Research Grant attempts to address this challenge by modeling a system in which funding is focused on bringing research independence and exploration to postdocs and advanced PhD candidates, who otherwise do not qualify as PIs.  Although it cannot be used for salaries and wages, your Unfettered Research Grant allows for expanded professional development that we believe is critical to improving successful career outcomes for you as a STEM researcher, whether you choose to remain in academia or to pursue a scientific or engineering career in the private sector or civil


What happens if my postdoc transfers to another instittuion or I otherwise need to leave my employment/enrollment at my university for other reasons? 

While Unfettered Research Grants are tied to the specific award recipient, they are awarded  to the institutional partner who has made an agreement with the Momental Foundation to administrate the grant and to abide by the negotiated agreement between the foundation and the university.


In the event that a Mistletoe Research Fellow must transfer to another university, leaves their postdoc contract or PhD program, or otherwise takes an extended leave of absence from the institution, the balance of the fellowship award will remain with the institution to which the award was granted.

Can I keep devices or equipment purchased with the Unfettered Research Grant?

While the Foundation as a funder has some measure of control over how your funds may be used, ultimately your research is being sponsored as an employee of your university and falls under the governance of your institutions’ administrative policies. The deciding factor as to whether you may retain equipment purchased with the grant typically comes down to the policies of your department, as these decisions are not always consistent even within the same institution.


The Foundation recommends that you first explore your departmental/institutional written policies. Next, you may want to check with your principle investigator, or departmental administrator, or your institution's fellowship's coordinator regarding the equipment policy and whether there is known flexibility.

Where your institution turns to the sponsor's policies, it is our formal position that fellowship recipients should be allowed to keep equipment and devices wherever it is possible.  As a sponsor, we also ask that the university (or department) place no extra restrictions on a Research Fellow beyond those which would apply to a PI with grant funding.

How does Intellectual Property work for the Unfettered Research Grant?

During the course of your university-based research as a postdoctoral fellow or PhD student receiving funding support from an Unfettered Research Grant, it is possible Research Fellows may develop a patentable discovery or invention. Such discoveries and associated rights, titles, and interest, including all patents and copyrights, would  fall under the jurisdiction of your institution's intellectual property policies as they apply to you in your role as an employee, a researcher, a student, or all of the above. Please check your institution’s intellectual property policies for clarification.


The Momental Foundation will not make any intellectual property claim based on any university-based research that is supported by Unfettered Research Grants. That said, when you publish the results of research funded or otherwise made possible by your Mistletoe Research Fellowship and Unfettered Research Grant, the Momental Foundation would like to be acknowledged as a funding source.

You may publish any results of your research funded by the Unfettered Grant, subject to your institution's policies on publication.  However, if necessary the Momental Foundation may review a manuscript prior to its submission for publication in order to ascertain whether any of the confidential information of startups participating in the Mistletoe Research Fellowship would be disclosed by the publication. 

At the end of your grant period, the foundation also requests a summary of activities, a short exit survey and interview, and a post-funding report with line-item expenses so that we may better understand how to support future fellowship recipients. Other than these post-reporting requirements there are otherwise no deliverables associated with the Unfettered Research Grant award.

Note that during your time as a Mistletoe Research Fellowship, you will also be engaging in research-based collaboration as part of your professional development training in the MRF Startup Collaboration Program.  There shall be no overlap between your university-based research activities and your activities within the MRF Startup Collaboration.  The results of any research efforts as part of the extracurricular MRF Startup Collaboration program will fall under the Momental Foundation's Intellectual Property policies and procedures. Partner universities participating in the Mistletoe Research Fellowship agree not to make any intellectual property claims based on any research activities arising from participation in the MRF Startup Collaboration.  For more details, please refer to the portion of the FAQ addressing the MRF Startup Collaboration.

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