Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement: Grants for Science Education

OVERVIEW: RCSA is a more than 100-year-old foundation that started with income generated by one inventor’s patents. While its emphasis is on groundbreaking research, its approach to sparking such work is to back young faculty, support undergraduate research, and draw more young people to the field by strengthening the bond between research and teaching. Two awards programs support college educators who excel in both teaching and research, while a regional program puts high school teachers into labs at universities.

IP TAKE: This foundation is after transformative breakthroughs and edgy work. Unlike some of the larger foundations, RCSA gives out many small- and medium-sized grants across a wide geographic range, so this is a great place to start for early-stage academics to make inroads.

PROFILE: The Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement is an independent, privately endowed foundation that supports physical science research, with an emphasis on how it connects to education and fostering a culture of young people entering the field. Founded in 1912 by inventor Frederick Gardner Cottrell, it started making grants from income gained by his patents, then went on to manage other patents and redistribute earnings back into research projects.

Based in Tucson, Arizona, today the foundation boasts a number of initiatives that emphasize edgy research, science education, support for early career scientists, and attracting and retaining more young scientists.

One of its main programs is the Cottrell Scholar Awards (CSA), created to curb the problem of research and education drifting apart at academic institutions. Awardees must demonstrate excellence in both research and instruction, and are expected to continue collaborating and sharing ideas with fellow scholars. $100,000 awards are made for three-year projects and can be used at the discretion of the awardee. Grants are limited to “tenure-track faculty members whose primary appointment is in a department of astronomy, chemistry or physics.”

Three additional awards are the TREE (Transformational Research and Excellence in Education) Award, the LEAD (Leadership Enrichment And Development) Award, and the SEED (Singular Exceptional Endeavors of Discovery) Awards. Eligibility for these prizes is limited to “Cottrell Scholars who are at least six years beyond receiving a CSA.” Depending on the award, funding goes to support additional research, travel to promote one’s scholarly work, and leadership development opportunities. TREE awards are $20,000, LEAD Awards come in at no more than$25,000, while the SEED Award is $50,000.

For CSA Scholars who have earned tenure within 5-10 years after receiving their award, there is the highly prized FRED Award (Frontiers in Research Excellence and Discovery). FRED Awardees in the “early stages” of a major research project are given $250,000 in support for conducting potentially transformative, “exceptional high risk/high reward research.”

For scholars who want to take on transformation at the teaching level, the Cottrell Scholars Collaborative is “a cross-disciplinary network of Cottrell Scholars who work in teams...to improve undergraduate and graduate science education at colleges and universities across the country.” This prize comes in at $25,000 but eligibility is limited to Cottrell Scholar conference attendees only.

After several decades of supporting successful research activities at primarily undergraduate institutions through the Cottrell College Science Award (CCSA) program, CCSA has been consolidated with Cottrell Scholars.

In addition to its direct giving, through its Partnerships, the foundation has teamed up with three organizations to offer additional awards.

Working with the German-American Fulbright Commission (GAFC), RCSA has created the Cottrell-Fulbright Scholars Program. This award is “modeled after the RCSA Cottrell Scholar Award Program” and will award two or three scholars whose “innovative research and teaching plans [show] high potential for transformative impact.”   

Then there is the Science Philanthropy Alliance. RCSA joined with heavy hitters like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Kavli Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Simons Foundation to found the SPA with the goal of “increasing private investment in fundamental research by an additional $1 billion annually within five years,” especially with an eye towards supporting young scientists to “take the risks appropriate to discovering nature’s deepest secrets.”

On a smaller scale, RCSA and the American Chemical Society give a $10,000 award split evenly between the awardee and his/her institution to recognize a chemistry professor whose research has received wide acclaim and directly benefited undergraduate students in their own work. A similar award is offered in conjunction with the American Physical Society.

Unlike some of the more exclusive science funders, this foundation gives out many small- and medium-sized grants to several different researchers. The awarded institutions are all over the map, and there’s plenty of opportunity for less-established or lower-profile academics looking for a boost in their careers.

Want to know more about RCSA’s grantees? The foundation’s awards database is a great place to start.

As far as the logistics of applying, the foundation accepts applications once per year, and makes grant decisions twice a year (reviews of proposals submitted in the spring are finalized in November, and those submitted in the fall are generally given final approval in May). Be sure to review the foundation’s Summary of Awards, which details application deadlines and award amounts.

Questions about a program or award? If you don't find the answer on the website, the foundation suggests you contact a program officer for more information.

PEOPLE:

  • Robert Shelton, President
  • Silvia Ronco, Senior Program Director
  • Richard Wiener, Senior Program Director

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