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.
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.
COVID-19 DISCLAIMER: In 2020, grants will be disbursed without a holding period and should be available to award recipients by early October.
THE UNFETTERED RESEARCH GRANT
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 conducted 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.
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. 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.
Thus, Unfettered Research Grants cannot be used for:
Salaries, wages, stipends, and fringe benefits
a. Salaries, wages, and stipends: This includes salaries other than yours, such as stipends for research assistants, lab techs, or interns
b. Fringe benefits: i.e. health insurance
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 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.
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 specific scientific objectives via the efforts of university faculty.
The Unfettered Research Grant, however, does not focus on specific scientific objectives but on furthering research exploration and career opportunity for early career academics. This grant was not designed for laboratories or institutions to "recover" existing personnel costs. Today there are over 60,000 STEM postdocs in the United States alone and only a very small percentage will receive tenure-track positions or otherwise stable employment in academia. The Unfettered Research Grant attempts to address this challenge by modeling a system in which funding is focused on bringing research independence to postdocs and advanced PhD candidates, who otherwise do not qualify as PIs. Although it cannot be used for salaries and wages, the Unfettered Research Grant allows for professional development that we believe is critical to improving successful outcomes for STEM researchers, whether they remain in academia or pursue scientific and engineering careers in the private sector or civil society.
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 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 jurisdiction of your institution's intellectual property policies as they apply to you in your role as an employee, researcher, student, or all of the above. Please check your institution’s intellectual property policies for clarification.
When you publish the results of research funded or otherwise made possible by your Mistletoe Research Fellowship and Unfettered Grant, the Momental Foundation asks to be acknowledged as a funding source. At the end of your grant period, 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 these post-reporting requirements there are otherwise no deliverables associated with the Unfettered Research Grant award.
Note that the results of your research efforts as part of the extracurricular MRF Startup Collaboration are administrated under the Momental Foundation's intellectual property policy, as agreed to by all of our partner institutions. For more details, please refer to the portion of the faq addressing the MRF Startup Collaboration.