Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement: Grants for Science Education


OVERVIEW: RCSA’s grantmaking prioritizes groundbreaking research by funding young faculty, supporting undergraduate research, and drawing more young people to the STEM field by strengthening the bond between research and teaching. Two awards programs support college educators who excel in both teaching and research, and a regional program puts high school teachers into labs at universities.

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

PROFILE: Founded in 1912 by inventor Frederick Gardner Cottrell, the Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement is an independent, privately endowed foundation that supports physical science research and boasts a number of initiatives that emphasize edgy research, science education, support for early career scientists, and attracting and retaining more young scientists. The foundation seeks to “Advance early stage, high-potential, basic scientific research.” It supports science education through several programs.

One of these programs is the Cottrell Scholar Awards (CSA), created to help bridge the divide between research and education at academic institutions. Awardees must demonstrate excellence in both research and instruction and are expected to continue collaborating and sharing ideas with fellow scholars. The foundation awards $100,000 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 Career Advancement Awards (CAA): the TREE (Transformational Research and Excellence in Education) Award, the LEAD (Leadership Enrichment And Development) Award, and the SEED (Singular Exceptional Endeavors of Discovery) Award. Eligibility for these grants is limited to “Cottrell Scholars who are at least six years beyond receiving a CSA.” Depending on the award, funding supports additional research, travel to promote one’s scholarly work, and leadership development opportunities. TREE awards are $20,000, LEAD Awards are capped at $25,000, while the SEED Award is $50,000.

For CSA Scholars who earn 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 improve undergraduate and graduate science education at colleges and universities across the country.” Eligibility for this $25,000 grant is limited to Cottrell Scholar conference attendees only.

In addition to its direct grantmaking, the foundation Partners with three organizations to offer additional awards:

It works with the German-American Fulbright Commission (GAFC) to create the Cottrell-Fulbright Scholars Program. This award is “modeled after the RCSA Cottrell Scholar Award Program” and will fund 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 “supports several significant awards through national organizations that share [its] commitment to supporting science.” The foundation and the American Chemical Society fund a $10,000 grant 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 funds many small- and medium-sized grants to several different researchers. The awarded institutions are diverse and there is plenty of opportunity for less-established or lower-profile academics looking for a boost in their careers.

New grantseekers should check the foundation’s awards database for more information.

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). Grantseekers should review the foundation’s Summary of Awards, which details application deadlines and award amounts.