Submit a Cluster Pre-Proposal

Pre-proposals due by May 27, 2022

The Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures' goal is to nurture inspiring work that pushes the boundaries of faculty creativity — work that allows us to see what novel academic possibilities may exist and thrive. To this end, we offer a framework for experimentation, prototyping, and incubating multi-year transdisciplinary research and learning clusters across Arts & Sciences. 

We are now inviting pre-proposals for three-year cluster collaborations. 

Each cluster will be granted funding to:

  • foster transformative research collaborations among participating faculty, students, and external partners
  • generate impactful and ambitious research products, including traditional grant proposals, journal articles, and edited /co-authored books — as well as more innovative outcomes that could include digital media tools, industry/academy initiatives, experimental /experiential research symposia, or other learning opportunities
  • sponsor public-facing events and develop public-facing deliverables with transdisciplinary faculty and student participation
  • develop at least one new undergraduate or graduate course connected to the cluster theme or problem, ideally co-taught by the cluster members 

Pre-proposals should address how the cluster engages these areas to ensure the collaboration’s success.

Those pre-proposals selected to move on in the process will be notified in June. Full proposals will be due in late summer. Learn more about the process below. 

About the Clusters

Cluster Teams

Clusters teams must consist of faculty from at least three distinct units at the university and may include undergraduate and graduate students as well as post-doctoral fellows. Teams are encouraged to include external partners (local, national, or international) as well. Faculty Leads (PIs)—of which there must be at least two—can be tenure-track or research faculty whose primary appointment is in A&S. Clusters are also encouraged to include Teaching, Research and Practice faculty and team members who hold joint appointments or primary positions in other Washington University schools.


The overarching goal of the Incubator is to enable transformative research and education via new collaborative relationships. Whether the questions addressed in these research collaborations are use-inspired, application-oriented, or grounded in basic research, critical to a successful proposal is a hypothesis for how a new collaborative team could converge upon new discoveries. 

Public-Facing Deliverables

We hope all clusters will be able to produce high-impact public-facing deliverables that drive new research directions. Successful proposals will articulate what these may be. Whether these are new models for conferences/workshops, strategies to engage government and non-profits, or other kinds of public-facing scholarship, a successful proposal will imagine how the public-facing deliverables will not only increase the societal impact of the collaboration but also increase the academic visibility of the collaborative research.


All clusters must develop at least one new undergraduate or graduate course connected to the cluster theme or problem. Additionally, cluster teams may choose to develop a series of revised existing and/or new undergraduate and graduate courses related to the cluster theme or problem. Courses offered within a cluster framework will be cross-listed across A&S departments represented by participating cluster faculty. We encourage team-teaching configurations, strategies that promote transdisciplinary conversations, and innovative pedagogical approaches.

Outcome Metrics

Clusters will have the overarching goal of establishing novel transdisciplinary connections. Through these connections, teams will pursue clear research outcomes. Examples of these might include:

  • submitting major grant proposals for foundation funding or seeking industry / external support to advance or extend a cluster’s research/learning projects
  • completing highly visible scholarly products (journal articles, white papers, edited or co-authored books, for instance) and research and creative interventions that reach a variety of publics (cluster teams may work with the Program in Public Scholarship Initiative to help with this goal, especially public-facing products)
  • designing, developing, and disseminating digital media, tools, and analyses
  • hosting experimental/experiential research symposia or conferences that bring scholars to WashU and lead to durable relationships and stronger scholarly communities
  • promoting undergraduate and graduate student research related to the cluster theme at conferences, across the university, and in public-facing venues
  • developing new cluster-related courses
  • developing analytical tools and frameworks that can be patented and/or lead to commercial viability
  • supporting graduate training to broaden the impact of the cluster’s work
  • creating pathways to sustain the cluster focus and research energy beyond the Incubator funding period

NOTE: These metrics will be part of full proposals developed over the summer and are included here only to guide cluster teams in their thinking. 

Funding Structure

We anticipate that the Incubator will fund a set of the most innovative and bold cluster proposals. Not all clusters will receive the same amount of funding; funding will be appropriate for the scope and needs of each proposal. We recognize that clusters may have different funding requirements for their development and success, which may include, for example, post-doctoral research support, travel components, site visits, equipment or data sets, data or technology support and infrastructure, course development for cluster-related classes, and more. Funding per cluster will be up to $350,000 for the three-year period. 

Pre-Proposal Guidelines and Submission

Your pre-proposal should preview big ideas, themes and problems your cluster wants to address. Describe your focus; outline your goals and scholarly outcomes; describe the scale of resources that may be required for the proposed work; and share the strengths your team members—to the extent they have already been identified—bring to research on the theme.

Evaluation Criteria and Components

Proposals must include the below components. (You may also find this information in a downloadable pdf via Box.

  • Completed cluster cover sheet
  • 1,000-word narrative that outlines:
    • a description of cluster rationale, including the problem or core area of focus, the connections being made across fields of knowledge, and initial goals driving the cluster
    • the proposed research goals and outcomes, including public-facing deliverables
    • how the transdisciplinary connections of the team will transform the scholarly approach to the cluster's focus
  • 400-word statement on the enduring impacts this cluster may have on: 
    • the landscape of academic configurations across A&S and the university
    • the future of research collaborations
    • transformed learning opportunities across A&S and the university

Simply put, as we aim to make A&S a home for innovation that will have national or global visibility and impacts, how will this cluster contribute to this goal? 

  • Preliminary budget outline that may include, for example:   
    • research project costs, e.g., equipment, estimated travel expenses, space rental, guest scholars, residencies for external experts
    • student worker funding, including undergraduate research; graduate student research assistantship
    • graduate student support, including AI, fieldwork, project manager 
    • faculty lead partial-summer salary support
    • course development funds
    • programming, communications, and promotion

Members of the ITF Leadership Team will establish a review panel to evaluate pre-proposals based on the criteria outlined above.  

In June 2022, the ITF team will communicate with pre-proposal applicants. The ITF team may recommend connections between proposals, elements or directions to build out, or make additional suggestions for applicants to include in their full proposal.

Pre-proposals are due May 27, 2022 by 12 pm. Cover sheet and all materials should be emailed as one document to; email subject line: Pre-proposal Submission.

Join us for a virtual information session to discuss your proposal or questions.

Learn more and RSVP