Skip to main content

School of Data Science and Society Seed Grants Request for Proposals

Program Overview

The School of Data Science and Society (SDSS) is shaping the evolving field of data science through data-driven discovery — the iterative process through which innovations in the collection and modeling of data generate valuable, problem-solving insights, which can in turn lead to further theoretical and applied innovation across Carolina’s data science ecosystem.

SDSS is excited to host a rolling seed grant program designed to link and grow the existing culture of interdisciplinary data science research and excellence at Carolina. The SDSS Office of Research Strategy will manage the SDSS Seed Grant program on behalf of the school.

These non-renewable, 12-month seed grants will be reviewed by the school’s *Research Advisory Council (RAC) on a rolling basis.

Projects should propose one of the following:

  1. Research in Data Science: Innovations in data science techniques, algorithms, and methods made possible by bringing together multiple data science disciplines.
  2. Data Science for Interdisciplinary Research: Projects that apply data science to solve a problem in a non-data-science discipline.
  3. Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues (ELSI) of Data Science: Projects that explore the larger ELSI in data science.

SDSS Seed Grants will generate new collaborations and resources to catalyze data-driven discovery at Carolina. Projects may propose new data collection and/or secondary analyses; they can generate new software, algorithms or models; and, projects may yield products that share new ELSI insights into data science. Seed funding is intended to unlock new research with a clear path towards extramural funding or commercialization.

*The Research Advisory Council (RAC) is a group of faculty and staff from across UNC that advises on strategic research issues, program allocations, core facilities and research program infrastructure.

Award Details:

SDSS anticipates awarding between 0-5 seed grants for a combined total of ~$200,000 each fiscal year. If selected, funds will be available as soon as ~3 months post full proposal submission. It is expected that much of the budget will be direct costs for research.

Key Dates

Open Invitation Posted Oct. 30, 2023
Concept Note Invitations Rolling, reviewed monthly during the academic year
Funding Decisions Rolling


Team leads (PI or co-PI) must be eligible to serve as a Principal Investigator as per UNC Office of Sponsored Programs policy. Applicants are highly encouraged to partner with individuals outside their home unit (department, school, center or institute) to pursue an interdisciplinary project. An investigator may be listed as Principal Investigator on one concurrent application; there are no limits to the number of applications where an investigator may be listed as a co-Investigator or other, non-PI supporting role.

Further Information

The FAQ page covers frequently asked questions. Please write to with any additional questions.

How to Apply

The SDSS Seed Grants are reviewed and awarded on a rolling basis using a multi-step process that is intended to promote early feedback and iteration on ideas.

Concept Note

Applicants must first submit a one-page concept note and arrange to meet a current member of the RAC for an initial 30-minute meeting (template). All concept notes must also be sent CC: to Applicants may contact the SDSS Office of Research Strategy for assistance in identifying the RAC member best suited to discuss their application.


After meeting with a RAC member, applicants may be invited to present their idea to a full RAC for consideration through a ~20-minute pitch and Q&A.

Pitches will be evaluated with the following in mind:

  1. Importance of the Research: Significance and Innovation
  2. Rigor and Feasibility: Approach
  3. Budget: Reasonableness of the budget and justification
  4. Scalability: Potential for the proposed program and team to compete successfully for
    1. Identified further funding from public or private entities, such as government agencies, corporations, private foundations, and/or venture capital OR
    2. Initiate sustainable research projects OR
    3. Create commercialization pathways via patents, licensing, spin-offs, and/or investment from the private sector.
  5. Expertise and Resources: Either rated as sufficient for the proposed research or not.

Full Proposal

Full proposals are by invitation-only and need include all components listed below. Proposals should be submitted as one document in PDF format to Note that research plan length can vary depending on the scope of the project. Use 1-inch margins and use a font size no smaller than 11pt. to ensure readability.

Proposal Cover Page: Please use the provided template.

(1) Project Description: The project description should be written with a broad scholarly audience in mind. The project description should include enough detail so reviewers can evaluate all review criteria defined to determine the project’s appropriateness and feasibility. The project description must articulate a clear set of goals. Figures and images are optional but are counted towards the page limit. The project description should include the following sections (suggested page allocation)

Research Plan (~1.0-3.0 pages): This section should include a discussion of the major challenges in the field/current frontier, a description of innovativeness of the proposed research, and how the research outcomes will catalyze broader participation in data-driven discovery.

Work Plan (~0.5-1.0 page): Outline the plan of work, with milestones to be achieved and metrics to gauge success.

Scalability Plan (~0.5-1.0 page): Include plans for scalability to attract extramural support, including name of the private or public sponsor, agency or source names, agency programs that would be the source of funding, timelines for proposal submissions, and potential amounts of funding. Scalability considerations may also be in the form of commercialization pathways via patents, licensing, spin-offs, and/or investment from the private sector.

(2) References Cited: Include a list of any references cited in the Project Description in any format appropriate for your field of work.

(3) Budget: Provide a single, one-year budget with a provided template. The template includes two tabs to be completed: “Requested Funds” and, if applicable, “Cost-Sharing Funds.” Projects may request start dates as early as three months post submission of the full proposal.

Example allowable expenses:

  • Research assistance (including undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral scholars) and associated fringe, tuition, and fees if not covered by another source.
  • Project management or coordination support.
  • Data costs associated with access or purchase.
  • Consumable materials for research.
  • Research participant incentives.
  • Consultant or service contracts.
  • Workshops on campus.
  • Cloud credits (exclusion: data storage).
  • Travel for project implementation or data collection, with international and domestic travel clearly identified.

Example expenses not allowed under the seed grant program:

  • F&A.
  • Equipment.
  • Conference registration fees.
  • Professional development for individuals including conference registration fees and workshops off campus.
  • Sub-awards to other universities.
  • Creating a small grants program.
  • Salary, summer salary, and course buyouts for principal investigators and collaborators (exceptions are allowed in special cases and with prior approval).
  • Out of state tuition for graduate students and non-mandatory fees.

Funds are governed by the applicable university policies on research expenditures and compliance. This includes the Research Code of Conduct and the policies pertaining to human subjects and privacy, vertebrate animals, hazardous materials, export control and conflict of interest. Budgets must also comply with state funding limitations.

(4) Budget Justification (up to 2 pages): Describe what funds are requested, providing a detailed breakdown of the proposed spending in each category as well as a justification for the numbers provided.

(5) An administrative, short-form CV or biosketch of up to 5 pages are requested of all investigators, co-investigators, and senior personnel. Biosketches conforming to NIH or NSF standards are acceptable. Submitters may elect to provide a CV or biosketch for collaborators providing significant contributions to the intellectual development of the project.

Review Process

The leadership of SDSS will review full proposals and will make final decision to fund the proposal.

Award Conditions:

In addition to preforming the work as described in the full proposal and appropriately managing award funds, awardees are expected to:

  • Present a progress update to the RAC halfway through the award period.
  • Develop and deliver a presentation on their projects suitable for campus leadership or lay audiences at an SDSS organized event such as Data Science Day.
  • Submit a two-page final report that details accomplishments at the end of the performance period. This report should describe research accomplishments as well as tangible results, such as publications, presentations at symposia, patents and grant submissions/awards that were produced/obtained because of funding provided by the seed grant program. Plans for the submission of proposals for extramural funding should be included, and SDSS should be notified of subsequent awards