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How does FQXi judge submitted grant proposals?
Proposals are evaluated by a panel of expert reviewers appointed by FQXi, according to their relevance and impact.

  • Relevance: Proposals should be topical, foundational, and unconventional.
    • Topical: Our Request for Proposals (Grant Competitions) are limited to research in physics (mainly quantum physics, high energy "fundamental" physics, and gravity), cosmology (mainly of the early universe) and closely related fields (such as astrophysics, astrobiology, biophysics, mathematics, complexity and emergence, and philosophy of physics), insofar as the research bears directly on questions in physics or cosmology. Although the distribution of funds across subject areas will be driven in large part by the quality of proposals received, a goal of the review process will be to fund diverse research topics that span the small and the large, and range from the elementary to the complex.
    • Foundational: Our Request for Proposals (Grant Competitions) are limited to research with potentially significant and broad implications for our understanding of the deep or "ultimate" nature of reality.
    • Unconventional: Our Request for Proposals (Grant Competitions) are intended to fill a gap, not a shortfall, in conventional funding. We wish to enable research that, because of its speculative, non-mainstream, or high-risk nature, would otherwise go unperformed due to lack of available monies. Thus, although there will be inevitable overlaps, an otherwise scientifically rigorous proposal that is a good candidate for an FQXi will generally not be a good candidate for funding by the NSF, DOE, etc.—and vice versa.

  • Impact: Proposals will be rated according to their expected scientific impact per dollar, taking all relevant factors into account, such as:
    • Intrinsic intellectual merit, scientific rigor and originality
    • Potential for significant contribution to basic science relevant to the topic and a high product of likelihood for success and importance if successful (i.e., high-risk research can be supported as long as the potential payoff is also very high)
    • The likelihood of the research opening fruitful new lines of scientific inquiry
    • The feasibility of the research in the given time frame
    • The qualifications of the principal investigator and team with respect to the proposed topic
    • The part a grant may play in career development
    • Cost effectiveness: Tight budgeting is encouraged in order to maximize the research impact of the project as a whole, with emphasis on scientific return per dollar rather than per proposal

Because of the unconventional nature of the FQXi mission, we encourage part-time work (15% to 40%), in parallel with the scientist's usual research, rather than full-time appointments or studentships. Acceptable use of grant funds include:
  • Student or postdoctoral salary and benefits for part of the academic year
  • Summer salary and teaching buyout for academics
  • Support for specific projects during sabbaticals
  • Assistance in writing or publishing books
  • Modest allowance for justifiable lab equipment, computers, publication charges, and other supplies
  • Modest travel allowance
  • Development of large workshops, conferences, or lecture series for professionals (Note that small programs of this type, and others costing less than US $10K, are best supported by an FQXi Mini-Grant.)
  • Development of outreach or educational programs for laypeople that disseminate knowledge regarding foundational questions in physics and cosmology (The impact criterion, in this case, will be judged on the proposal's ability to disseminate knowledge rather than develop it. Note that small programs of this type are best supported by an FQXi Mini-Grant.)
  • Overhead of at most 15%
After screening of an Initial Proposal, applicants may be asked to submit a Full Proposal.

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Doesn't the five paper requirement limit participation in FQXi Request For Proposals (Grant Competitions) to established researchers? After all, Albert Einstein hadn't published any papers (and wasn't associated with a research institution) before 1905. Would you accept Young Einstein's proposal if he applied today?

An application will not be rejected just because the five listed papers are insufficiently connected to the proposal. But one of the criteria for assessing an application to the FQXi grants program is how well "the qualifications of the principal investigator and team [suit] the proposed topic."

We acknowledge that our current system of identifying qualified, creative researchers is not perfect—after all, we are trying to do something totally new: provide grant opportunities to "unconventional" (by definition!) researchers. But we are working on it. We have received some excellent advice on this topic from our Scientific Advisory Panel, and we are continuing to refine our qualification procedures. Your input here, as always, would be greatly appreciated.

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