Google: Grants for Science Research

OVERVIEW: Google runs the occasional high-dollar research prize, but it also makes hundreds of academic research grants totaling millions every year. The company funds computer science and related fields and focuses on subjects of interest to the tech giant like machine learning and human-computer interaction. It supports both faculty and Ph.D. students.

IP TAKE: Google’s top priority is cutting-edge computer science, especially research directly related to Google’s portfolio of products and services and work that takes a “hybrid approach” that integrates both research and engineering.

PROFILE: Page and Brin were Ph.D. students when they formed Google, and they continue to build strong connections to outside researchers at universities. In fact, Google is a significant funder of academic research that serves its research needs.

Google runs the occasional high-profile competition for technological breakthroughs. The largest of these is the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a $30 million competition to send a privately funded robot to the moon. Detailed information can be found here.

The Google Faculty Research Awards program runs on an annual proposal cycle with a deadline in October of each year. Awards support tuniversities both in the U.S. and abroad. American winners include several of the country’s top universities. Faculty Research Awards are given only to degree-granting universities. Ph.D. students are the focus of this program; however, faculty may apply for awards for themselves. Past winners can be seen here.

Awards max out at $150,000; Google says the median grant amount ranges from $50,000 to $60,000, which is intended to give a Ph.D enough support for one year. While Google does not make grants as a 501(c)3, and does not report funding activities as such, its giving in this area likely reaches several million dollars annually. Grants support computer science, engineering, and related fields. Not surprisingly, most fields in which Google conducts research are related to the products and services the company wants to offer its users, such as systems, human-computer interaction, mobile, and machine perception.

Google’s research strategy takes a “hybrid approach,” meaning it blurs the lines between research and engineering. This means research is focused on rapidly bringing products to its users’ benefit in a span of a few years at most. While they are not opposed to long-term research, they usually try to break it into short-term chunks that can be rolled out and measured. Accordingly, they recommend proposals that have credible and specific outcomes, with clearly described goals and directions. Read the full approach in this pdf and advice for applicants here.  

Google also runs Focused Research Awards (FRA), which are larger, multi-year grants in fields key to Google. This program is by invitation only, so applicants need a Google research staffer to push the work on the inside. More information on the FRA and past awardees is available here.

The company also runs a Visiting Faculty Program in which 25 academics a year are invited to work with Google R&D teams, also only by invitation from a sponsor.  

Other awards include the Google Earth Engine Research Awards, which awards up to $150,000 to academics “pursuing cutting-edge research in the area of geospatial data analysis” (see past awardees here) and Latin America Research Awards, which “support the work of world-class permanent faculty members and their students at top universities in Latin America” through a one-year award, dispersed through a monthly stipend for one faculty member and one of his/her students.

Also offered are a variety of undergraduate scholarships designed to support students with disabilities, female students, and students from racial and ethnic groups that are underrepresented in the field.

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