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

Grants are disbursed during the summer for planning purposes and are held in escrow by the Fellow's academic institution until the start of the academic year, after which they become available for use. 


Do these grants have progress and reporting requirements?

The Mistletoe Foundation does not have pre-award spending reports or progress reporting requirements. However, Fellows are required to submit post-award reports to assist with program-evaluation.

At the end of the academic year, fellowship recipients are asked to submit a summary of research conducted and outcomes and a line-item expense report to the Mistletoe Foundation.

Such post-reporting requirements provide oversight, 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 provided funding and how best to support future fellowship recipients.

What about overhead rates or administrative fees?

It is the policy of the Mistletoe Foundation that overhead rates, infrastructure fees, and indirect costs may not be taken out of Mistletoe Foundation grants awarded to postdoctoral or PhD student recipients. 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. 

What happens if my postdoc transfers or I otherwise leave my university?

Unfettered Research Grant awards are specific to a particular recipient but they are tied to institutional partners. In the event that a Mistletoe Fellow transfers to another university, leaves their postdoc contract or PhD program, or otherwise takes an extended leave of absence, the balance of the fellowship award will remain with the institution to which the award was granted.

How does Intellectual Property work for the Unfettered Research Grant?

During the course of research funded by the Unfettered Research Grant, it is possible a postdoctoral fellow or PhD student may develop a patentable discovery or invention. Such discoveries fall under the purview of the PhD fellow’s existing intellectual property arrangements with their university as a scholar or employee. Please check your institution’s intellectual property policies for clarification.

The Mistletoe Foundation asks to be acknowledged as a funding source in publications that result from projects funded by a Mistletoe Research Fellowship. At the end of the academic year (in May) the foundation also requests a post-funding report with line-item expenses so that we may better understand how to support future fellowship recipients.

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


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