Frequently Asked Questions

What is Bass Connections?

Bass Connections is a university-wide program that brings together faculty and students to explore pressing societal challenges through interdisciplinary research and education. We support year-long research teams, summer research programs, interdisciplinary courses and faculty-mentored student research experiences. This work falls within six interdisciplinary themes focused on issues facing us locally, nationally and globally. Bass Connections Open provides additional opportunities for faculty to engage outside the themes.

How can I get involved in Bass Connections?

Faculty can engage in Bass Connections in a variety of ways. The most prevalent of these is to co-lead a Bass Connections project team. Project teams are generally groups of seven to 25 individuals, including at least two faculty/staff team leaders and graduate and undergraduate students, who work together to address a societal challenge through interdisciplinary research and outreach. Projects generally last nine to 12 months. While we provide funding one year at a time, team leaders may reapply for funding and continue for multiple years. 

Faculty can also participate on project teams as a contributor, engaging with a team occasionally throughout the year as a subject area expert, sounding board or advisor, but they are not responsible for leading the team.

Faculty may also propose a summer research project through Data+ or Story+.

We also encourage and support faculty efforts to design and teach team-based courses. We are always happy to provide guidance to faculty seeking to design a course to include more collaborative, project-based learning. Faculty can also check out our Collaborative Project Courses: Course Design Resource Center. If you are teaching a course that integrates collaborative projects, please let us know and we can help market your course by "tagging" it on our website and in DukeHub to help students find opportunities to engage in such courses. We occasionally provide course development grants or host course design programs to further support faculty course design efforts.

Please contact us or a Bass Connections theme leader to discuss ideas for new courses, project teams or other collaborative research experiences. 

How do faculty benefit from participating in Bass Connections?

Across years, approximately ninety-six percent of faculty leaders say that they would recommend participating in Bass Connections to a colleague. Faculty report participating for a variety of reasons including to:

  • Start a new research project or expand an existing one
  • Collect initial data to seed a grant proposal
  • Mentor students in a different way
  • Be part of something innovative
  • Join a multidisciplinary team
  • Expand their professional network

Faculty report that their teams result in a range of outputs including peer-reviewed publications, grant proposals and awards, new research collaborations, changes to their teaching, and exhibits and other tangible products. To learn more, read our evaluation report on the long-term impact of Bass Connections participation on faculty research, pedagogy and relationships.

How do I apply for a Bass Connections project team?

Requests for Proposals will be distributed to faculty each September for projects beginning the following summer or fall. Projects are reviewed by a panel of faculty and team leaders are notified of awards in December. When applying, you will need to select which theme you think your project fits within (or select Bass Connections Open). Some projects may fit within more than one theme. The RFP will ask you to:

  • Explain the goals of your project and a high-level research plan
  • Describe how you expect students to contribute to the research and what they will gain from the experience 
  • List faculty/staff co-leaders and contributors
  • Provide a high-level proposed timeline for your project
  • Submit a budget estimate

How are the themes determined and what if my work doesn’t fit within a theme?

The six themes of Bass Connections have been shaped based on input from across the university and are intended to align with Duke's interdisciplinary strengths and priorities. Each theme addresses challenges facing our society through the application of interdisciplinary research. Themes change over time in response to emerging issues. The themes are designed to be broad and encompassing of many disciplines. If you are uncertain whether your work aligns with a particular theme, we encourage you to contact a theme leader.

Faculty whose work falls outside the scope of the six themes may apply through Bass Connections Open - a channel for projects and courses that otherwise meet the model of Bass Connections but do not align with one of the existing themes. We also occasionally release special calls for “pop-up” themes around emerging issues. Past “pop-up” themes have examined hurricane recovery and resilience, immigration, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who can I talk to to help conceptualize a project idea?

Faculty are encouraged to reach out to program leadershiptheme leaders or members of the Bass Connections Faculty Advisory Council to brainstorm potential project ideas. Other faculty who have participated in Bass Connections may also make a great sounding board for deciding how to structure a potential project.

How can I find faculty to collaborate with on a project?

We recommend using Scholars@Duke to search for faculty with shared or complementary research interests, or contacting the Duke myRESEARCHnavigators who are available to help faculty find and connect with possible collaborators. We also invite you to contact Laura Howes (director of Bass Connections), a theme leader, or members or our Faculty Advisory Council to discuss project ideas and possible collaborators.

What types of projects are ideal for a Bass Connections team?

While successful projects take many different forms, they often share a few elements including:

  • Integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines
  • Are accessible to students from various learner levels, including undergraduates
  • Are research-based
  • Engage an external community or partner
  • Are of a scope that can be completed within a year (this may include completing a discrete phase of a larger research project)
  • Are suitable for group-based work

What types of projects are not funded?

Bass Connections projects are not standard courses or seminars, nor are they for individual faculty research or travel. Projects that are not sufficiently interdisciplinary or team-based will also not be selected.

How many projects are accepted each year?

Between 50 and 65 projects are accepted each year across all six themes and Bass Connections Open. The number of projects will depend on the quality of applications received, the awarded budget for each project and other sources of funding available. Themes make their best effort to fund, or partially fund, all projects that are recommended by the review panel.

What is the average budget for a project team and what activities are allowable?

Maximum project funding is $25,000 but average funding is approximately $20,000. Expenses should be driven by the scope of the research. More expensive projects tend to include field research or summer stipends for students. Major expenses for teams generally include student stipends, travel, post-doc support, data collection/research support and materials. Budgets can also include funding for team-building activities, meals and experiences.

If your project is selected, you will be responsible for administering the project funds (or working with a business manager in your unit to do so).

Can projects be multi-year?

Team leaders may reapply for funding each year, but projects are only awarded one year of funding at a time. Continued funding will depend upon the team’s past performance as well as the number and quality of the other applications received in a given year. Continuing projects typically comprise about 40 percent of the projects in a given year. 

How are Bass Connections project teams selected?

Each theme forms a panel of interdisciplinary faculty members to review applications. Projects are assessed on the following dimensions:

  • Goal clarity and feasibility: Articulates clear and realistic goals with a sound research approach
  • Interdisciplinarity: Fosters collaboration across disciplines
  • External salience: Addresses an issue of societal importance, ideally by including external partners and/or external engagement as key features of the proposed research 
  • Teamwork: Describes a clear plan for team-based research
  • Vertical integration: Fosters collaboration across educational levels (e.g., undergraduate and graduate students), with clearly differentiated leadership roles for graduate students
  • Budget: Reasonable budget that clearly supports the project goals
  • Theme alignment: Aligns with the Bass Connections theme to which it has been proposed (unless submitted to Bass Connections Open)

What are the responsibilities of project team leaders?

It’s important to understand and be realistic about the time required to lead a project team. Generally speaking, team leaders are responsible for:

  • Conceptualizing and proposing the project: Team leaders create the overarching vision for a project, identify co-leader(s) and submit the RFP. If the project will engage external partners, which is encouraged, team leaders are also responsible for identifying and recruiting those partners.
  • Team formation: Once a project has been funded, team leaders form their project team by selecting students from the applications received and/or personally recruiting students. They also set up a framework for when the team will meet and how they will work together.
  • Project administration: Team leaders are responsible for structuring the overall project and effectively engaging all student team members in the work. This includes setting and communicating clear goals and timelines, setting norms for team operations and setting expectations for students. Teams should meet at least once a week and at least one team leaders should be at each meeting. For students receiving credit, team leaders will need to provide a course permission number and grade student performance. Team leaders are also responsible for administering the project funds and managing the budget.

    Many team leaders invite a graduate student or postdoc to join the team as a project manager to help with the project administration and to mentor students. However, team leaders should continue to play an active role, regardless of the presence of a graduate student.

  • Project leadership: Throughout the project, the team leaders will continue to set a vision and provide direction for the team, but they are also encouraged to give team members significant responsibility for the direction of the project, while providing coaching and support. Bass Connections provides guidance, support and team resources to simplify the process of leading a team.

Finally, team leaders will be invited to participate in optional networking and informational events as part of Bass Connections and their particular theme. Team leaders will also be responsible for reporting on the outcomes of their projects and completing a post-program survey.

How much time is required to lead a team?

Faculty estimate that they spend an average of five hours per week on their project.

Are there opportunities for professional masters and doctoral students to participate in Bass Connections?

Absolutely! An ideal team includes participants at multiple educational levels working together. While project teams are required to include opportunities for undergraduates to participate, all projects are strongly encouraged to propose opportunities for graduate student participation. We have heard from graduate and undergraduate students, and faculty, that the opportunity for students to work across levels is a unique and valuable aspect of Bass Connections.

What are the benefits to students of participating on Bass Connections project teams?

On average, ninety-three percent of participating students – undergraduates and graduates – say they would recommend the program to a friend. Common benefits reported by students include the opportunity to:

  • Explore their research and career interests
  • Gain research experience
  • Work closely with faculty and other students 
  • Gain valuable experience for their resume
  • Work with external stakeholders
  • Connect classroom lessons to social issues
  • Work on a diverse interdisciplinary team

Students generally receive credit and/or stipends for their participation.

What are some challenges that faculty face when leading a Bass Connections team?

The most commonly reported challenge is finding time to dedicate to the team. A related challenge is finding a common time when all members of the team are available to meet on a regular basis. To address this, many team leaders designate a specific time to meet prior to selecting team members, which ensures that everyone who applies for the team will be available at the same time. Some faculty have noted that they would like to see students take more initiative around the project, acknowledging that some students require mentorship and a bit of prodding in order to feel comfortable with the expectations inherent in participating on a project team.

What support is available to project team leaders?

Each theme has both a theme leader (in some cases two co-leaders) and a theme administrator who are available to answer questions and assist team leaders. Theme administrators also work with team leaders to manage student recruitment and enrollment and administer funding. Team resources provide guidance and simplify the process of leading a team. Team leaders might also consider inviting a graduate student or postdoc to join the team to help organize the team and mentor students. We are always happy to meet with team leaders and discuss their project.