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CNS Spark Grants is a new internal funding mechanism open to Associate Professors who seek to explore new research questions or experimental approaches. The goal is to support new ideas that are typically too early-stage in their development to be appropriate for routine funding opportunities. Spark Grants encourage high-risk/high-reward projects. Applicants may propose to develop new methods or to gather preliminary data for new vanguards in research. Proposals for exploratory and hypothesis-driven research as well as method(s) development are all appropriate for the program. 

Award Information

Up to five CNS Spark Grants ($200,000 maximum each) will be awarded annually. Awarded funds will be available for four years and remaining funds will be swept at the start of the fifth year.

ALLOWED Expenses:


  • Graduate student stipends and tuition
  • Postdoc and Research Scientist salaries
  • Lab technicians, undergraduate researcher salaries
  • Materials / supplies / consumables
  • Equipment
  • Course fees and travel for collaborations or acquisition of new skills / knowledge
  • Faculty salary (summer or otherwise)
  • Administrative or secretarial support
  • Routine conference travel



Inaugural CNS Spark Grants Timeline

September 20, 2021

Program announced

December 1, 2021

Application deadline

March 18, 2022

Approximate Award Notification

April 1, 2022 – March 31, 2026

Funds available

April 1, 2026

Unused funds swept

Eligibility Guidelines

  • Applicants must be a CNS Associate Professor at the time of submission.
  • Faculty can only submit one application per cycle but may submit up to five applications in total while in rank as Associate Professor.
  • Faculty can only receive one CNS Spark Grant in their career. 

Application Review Process and Evaluation Criteria

CNS Spark Grants will be reviewed by a standing committee of five faculty that will evaluate applications from all fields. 

Proposals will be reviewed using the following review criteria:

  • Potential impact in research field or methodology
    • To what extent does the proposal offer a new research direction or a significant enhancement of a current direction?
    • What impact will the new direction or enhancement have on the PI’s research approach or methodology?
  • Overcoming barriers
    • What barriers currently hindering progress or innovation are identified in the proposal? To what extent is the proposed strategy to overcome the barriers plausible?
  • Long-term impact on research
    • What is the potential for the project to foster high-impact research in the long-term?

Using these criteria, the review committee will score the proposals and group them into four categories:

  • Highest priority (up to 3 proposals)
  • High priority (up to 3 proposals)
  • Normal priority (up to 3 proposals)
  • Other priority

Uncommitted balances available to PIs through institutional accounts such as startup accounts will be taken into account in funding decisions to ensure maximum impact of new commitments. Final funding decisions will be made by the CNS Dean (or delegate) in line with available CNS funds and strategic priorities.

Submission Materials

Application pages for items A – C below should have 1-inch margins and use a 12-point font. Please combine all components (A – D) into a single pdf file.

A.    Lay Summary

In 500 words or less describe the proposed project and its potential impact using jargon-free language that may be understandable to non-scientists such as a colleague from a different college at UT Austin.

B.     Proposal

Limit to five (5) pages or less. Bibliography and figures do not count against the page limit. Organize the proposal in three sections:

1.     Rationale and Vision

Briefly describe your prior research arc. Summarize the key findings of your career to this point. Then, describe how the proposed project represents a new research direction or an enhancement of current directions. What motivates your interest in this new area/approach? Consider these questions:

      • How does the proposed project differ from your current research program?
      • What characteristics make the proposed project a novel addition to or enhancement of your existing research portfolio?
      • What technical hurdles are currently limiting your lab’s Spark in this direction?
2.     Project Description

Explain the project to be performed. This section should be technical, but understandable to scientists in CNS outside your field.

3.     Future Directions

Explain how the project may open up new avenues to your research program and foster high-impact research in the long-term.  

C.     Budget and budget justification

Submit a budget outlining expected expenditures in appropriate categories for each proposed year. Budgets should not include PI salary (summer or otherwise) or indirect costs/facilities & administrative fees. If applicable, other resources that will be committed to the effort, such as support from academic units, should be outlined. Justify each major expense. Applicants with discretionary account balances of $200,000 and above should explain why Spark Grant funding is necessary.  

D.    Biosketch or CV

Submit a current biosketch or CV and current/pending funding information (direct cost per year and total duration).


Application Instructions

Application website: https://utexas.infoready4.com/#competitionDetail/1851513

Create your application (UT EID and password required) and upload your materials at the website above by 4:59 PM, December 1, 2021, to be considered for a CNS Spark Grant. 

Note: If this is your first time submitting a proposal through the proposal submission website, you will first need to affiliate yourself with the College before you can submit. To do this, login with your EID and password, then click on the “Hello, [Name]” link at the top right of the website. This will take you to your user profile. In your user profile, under “Primary School or Department,” select “Natural Sciences, College of” and then scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the Save Changes button. You will now be able to apply for a CNS Spark Grant.