Project Proposal Guidelines

The deadline has passed to propose a 2023-2024 project team.

The following information will remain available for reference until our next request for proposals (August 2023). Faculty are encouraged to reach out to Laura Howes, Director of Bass Connections, at any time of the year to discuss possible project ideas.

Request for Proposals for 2023-2024 Bass Connections Project Teams

All proposals must be submitted through the online proposal form. You may work directly within the online form and save and return to the form as you work. You may also preview the proposal questions and draft your responses using the following Word template.

These guidelines are intended to provide guidance on the proposal process and address common questions. Interested faculty, particularly those who have never led a Bass Connections team, are also encouraged to contact a Bass Connections theme leader or Laura Howes, director of Bass Connections, at with questions or to discuss potential ideas. Or drop in at any time to one of our informal Zoom office hours (

  • Friday, September 9, 10:00-11:00
  • Friday, September 30, 9:00-10:00 
  • Friday, October 14, 1:00-2:00
  • Friday, October 21, 11:00-12:00
  • Friday, October 28, 9:00-10:00 


Bass Connections brings together faculty, postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates and community partners to tackle complex societal challenges in interdisciplinary research teams. This RFP is for year-long project teams (with the option to pair a proposal with a summer Data+/Climate+ or Story+ team for Summer 2023). Funding for year-long project teams is between $5,000 and $25,000.

For some faculty, Bass Connections provides a mechanism to pilot a new research initiative and lay the groundwork for external grant proposals. For others, Bass Connections offers an innovative teaching model and the chance to mentor students in a small group atmosphere. Bass Connections also provides a model for initiating or deepening engagement with a community organization or collaborators outside of Duke who can provide input into the construction of research questions and translate research findings into action. For more information about benefits for faculty, see our faculty perspectives or our faculty evaluation report.

Key Requirements and Eligibility

  • Proposals may be submitted by faculty, staff, graduate/professional students, postdocs and trainees/fellows, but all projects must have at least one faculty team leader.
  • Individuals may propose more than one project but should not serve as a team leader on more than one project per year, unless those projects each have another committed co-leader who is a regular rank faculty member. Individuals may serve as a team contributor on more than one project.
  • Team leaders are expected to be regularly available (i.e., not on sabbatical away from Durham or extended leave) during the year in which the project would take place (2023-2024), and at least one team leader is expected to attend each team meeting. We recommend that faculty notify their department chairs of their intent to apply, in order to help with departmental planning.
  • Teams should provide opportunities for at least five students (including both graduate/professional and undergraduate students) to participate.
  • Bass Connections teams are expected to meet at least weekly. During the academic year, students typically receive academic credit for their team participation (via a tutorial or independent study). Student compensation during the academic year is generally reserved for students in leadership roles who are not also enrolled for academic credit for the same work.
  • Projects typically run for either 9 or 12 months. Projects may start in Summer 2023 or Fall 2023.

The Bass Connections Model

Bass Connections project teams should include three core connections:

  1. Across areas of disciplinary expertise
  2. Across learner levels
  3. Between the academy and the broader world

Project teams are expected to be more than a collection of individuals working in parallel. Instead, they should foster dynamic collaboration in which all members are exposed to the diverse aspects of each project and work together toward shared goals.

Projects should provide students and faculty the opportunity to grapple collectively with a complex problem and produce meaningful deliverables. Outputs may take several forms, including published reports and articles, curated exhibits, datasets to spur further research, marketable services or products, and strategic solutions for community needs. Projects are encouraged (but not required) to involve external community partners (e.g., nonprofits/NGOs, private companies, school systems or government entities).

Thematic Areas

Projects may be proposed in relation to one or more of the six broad, interdisciplinary themes of Bass Connections, or to Bass Connections Open.

Bass Connections Open

Faculty may propose a project that meets the three core connections of Bass Connections but does not align with one of the six themes. You cannot apply to both Bass Connections Open and a theme. Proposals submitted through this channel should explore new topics beyond the current theme areas, keeping in mind that those themes are broad and interdisciplinary.

The Model in Practice

For faculty who have never led a Bass Connections project, the following information may be helpful in understanding how the program works operationally:

  • Team leadership: Teams are generally led by at least two leaders at least one of whom must be a faculty member. Staff, graduate/professional students, postdocs and trainees/fellows may co-lead projects, but all projects must have at least one faculty team leader. Team leaders are actively engaged in setting project goals, managing project details and mentoring students. Team leaders must attend all (or almost all) team meetings. Teams may also include faculty contributors who engage with the team occasionally.

    Team leaders should ideally represent different disciplinary perspectives (even if within the same school or department). If team leaders do not represent different disciplines, the project proposal should clearly articulate how the research, and the team of students to be formed, will take an interdisciplinary approach. Co-leaders from other institutions/external partners are also welcome. 

    Looking for collaborators? Visit myRESEARCHpath for resources or contact us to brainstorm ideas

    Faculty who are expected to account for, and certify, 100% of their effort, may budget a portion of their time to the project (see budget guidelines for more information); limited staff/postdoc/student time may also be included in the budget. Faculty may request a reduction in teaching time from their unit, but such activities would have to be funded by the unit and this is not typical. We realize that it takes time to lead a Bass Connections project. These projects work best when they align with and support a faculty leader’s research goals, providing student support to advance this research. Please also note that we are available to partner with faculty to identify resources that might help reduce time demands.

  • Meeting times: Teams should meet at least once a week (in person or virtually), with individual task assignments between meetings. Some teams divide into subteams that meet weekly and then meet as an entire team every other week or monthly. Appointing a graduate/professional student or postdoc as a project manager can help with the facilitation of these meetings as well as general team productivity and communication. However, please note that project managers are meant to complement, not replace, faculty leadership of a team.

  • Student credit and compensation: Undergraduate and graduate/professional students generally receive academic credit for their team participation during the academic year. Bass Connections will work with you to set up credit options and get students enrolled. By default, teams will be set up as a tutorial, although independent study credit will remain an option. Advanced graduate/professional students and/or students serving in a differentiated role that requires additional responsibilities (e.g., project managers) may receive compensation in lieu of credit. Students may not receive both credit and compensation for the same activity. Any compensation for students should be included in the budget. 

  • Team size: The size of Bass Connections teams varies widely and depends on the scope of work, how you envision dividing tasks and your leadership structure. On average, our teams include about ten students (graduate/professional and undergraduate). Given the high degree of student interest, we encourage teams to create opportunities for at least five students per team. All teams must include undergraduate students, and we encourage teams to keep an open mind about accepting students with varying degrees of experience. Teams are strongly encouraged to include differentiated roles for graduate/professional students to serve as mentors, subteam leaders and/or project managers. 

  • Student recruitment and selection: Bass Connections program leadership works with team leaders to distribute information about the project to prospective students and to solicit applications through a central application process. Team leaders may also recruit students through their own channels.

  • Timing of projects: Projects generally run for a year. For some teams this means a full calendar year in which students do baseline research or fieldwork during the summer preceding or following the academic year; other teams take place during the academic year alone. Teams may apply for renewal funding, but funding is only provided one year at a time.

  • Administrative management: Each Bass Connections theme is led by one or two faculty and a theme administrator. Themes, working with the Bass Connections office, will provide support to teams throughout the year including helping with student recruitment, course credit options, financial management, troubleshooting, etc. Themes also provide opportunities for faculty and students to share practices and lessons across teams.

Special Opportunities

When completing a proposal, faculty may choose to take advantage of the following opportunities. Please note that applying for these opportunities will not increase your project budget, but rather may increase the likelihood that your project will be selected by allowing us to leverage funds designated for a specific purpose.

  • Joint proposals for Summer 2023 Data+/Story+ and 2023-2024 Bass Connections projects: Data+ and Story+ are summer research programs affiliated with Bass Connections. You may propose a Data+ or Story+ project for Summer 2023 linked to a year-long Bass Connections project through this RFP. Data+ is also accepting proposals for Climate+, a new theme within Data+ focused on applying data-driven approaches to climate, environment and energy research. You do not need to complete a separate application for Data+/Story+. 

    Connecting your project with a summer program will enable you to jump-start the work of your team by having a small team of students work on either a data science project or an arts/humanities research project over the summer that will then support the goals of your year-long Bass Connections team. Your proposal should articulate how you will connect the summer research experience with the year-long project.

    You do not need to include Data+/Story+ expenses in the enclosed budget template, which is for year-long teams only. Please note that funding decisions will be made by each program individually, so it is possible that your proposal may be accepted for only Data+/Story+ or only Bass Connections. Please contact us if you want to discuss how other faculty have linked these experiences in the past. 

    Please contact Paul Bendich or Gregory Herschlag with questions about Data+.

    Please contact Jules Odendahl-James and Lou Brown with questions about Story+ and read what makes a strong Story+ project

  • Biodiversity Conservation: Through a gift to the Nicholas School of the Environment (NSOE) and Bass Connections, funds are available to support projects related to biodiversity conservation. These projects must include at least one NSOE faculty, postdoc or graduate student team leader on the proposal. For more information, contact Lori Bennear. Faculty who wish to propose projects under this opportunity should apply through the Energy & Environment theme and check the Biodiversity Conservation option.

  • Ethics: Funds are available to support projects that address ethical issues, broadly conceived, with a preference for projects that overlap with the theme “Pursuing the Good: The Good Life, the Good Community, the Good Society.” If you are interested in discussing ideas for potential projects, please contact David Toole. Faculty who wish to propose projects under this rubric should apply through any theme or Bass Connections Open and check the Ethics option.

  • Arts & Humanities: Funds are available to support projects in any area of research related to the arts and the humanities. Teams that include external artists might also consider applying for the Visiting Artist Program. In addition, the Digital Humanities Initiative at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute is looking to support projects with a substantial digital or computational humanities dimension. If you are interested in discussing ideas for potential humanities projects, please contact Christina Chia or Victoria Szabo. Faculty who wish to propose projects under this rubric should apply through any theme or Bass Connections Open and check the Arts/Humanities option.

Proposal Elements

All proposals must be submitted through the online proposal form, but you may preview this form or prepare your responses using the following Word template. Main proposal elements include:

  1. Basic information: Project name, theme selection, primary point of contact
  2. Project background and description: What issue does the project aim to address and how will the team approach the project?
  3. Team composition and student opportunities: Team leaders, contributors, ideal composition of the student team, external partners; description of how the team will work together and the opportunities for students
  4. Timeline and project details: Travel, summer opportunities
  5. Budget estimate

    Project Selection Criteria

    Each theme manages the selection process for projects proposed to that theme. Proposals are sent out to faculty for review and are generally assessed on the following dimensions.

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

    Budget Guidelines

    Budgets typically range from $5,000 to $25,000. Funding may cover reasonable research costs such as student support, participant payments, travel, materials and supplies. In general, projects with the highest level of funding include those with travel, summer funding for student work, graduate/professional student support for project management roles and/or special research materials.

    Tip: If your project involves sensitive protected health information, consider whether you need to budget for PACE in order to enable students access to the data (see PACE cost info).

    We strongly encourage proposals that leverage additional funds. Please describe such matching funds (both awarded and under consideration) so that we understand the comprehensive outlay for the project.

    Budget Restrictions

    The budget template includes common expenses, but you may also add additional expenses. Please note the following specific guidance:

    • Faculty salary: Budgets should not include faculty salary except when a faculty member is expected to account for and certify 100% of their effort. Faculty salary expenses should not comprise more than 25% of the total budget.
    • Staff salary: Budgets should not generally include staff salary. Exceptions include instances in which staff have specialized skills that cannot be covered by students, postdocs or faculty, and in which the staff member would not otherwise be able to participate in the project without salary coverage. Staff salary expenses should not comprise more than 25% of the total budget, unless an exception has been granted prior to submission of the proposal. 
    • Postdoc salary: Postdoc salary should be limited to no more than $10,000 (including fringe). Exceptions will be considered upon request. 
    • Student support: During the academic year, students participating in Bass Connections should receive course credit in lieu of a stipend. Exceptions include advanced graduate/professional students and/or students serving in a differentiated role that requires additional responsibilities (e.g., project managers). If your budget includes funding for a specific Ph.D. student, we recommend you confirm your budget plans with the student’s director of graduate studies. Hourly pay rates for students in FY 2022-23 are as follows: 
      Minimum Maximum
    Student Assistants-General $15.00 $19.50
    Student Assistants-Advanced $16.00 $22.50
    • Non-Duke students: Financial support for non-Duke students should only be included in instances when including such students will enhance the research outcomes of the team. This support may include covering expenses that would enable these students to participate but should generally not include direct compensation.
    • Conferences and publication costs: While we encourage teams to share and distribute their research, teams should limit spending on conferences and/or journal fees to a total of $3,000.

    Project Selection Timing

    • Proposals are due November 7, 2022 at 5:00 p.m.
    • Proposals will be reviewed and refined as needed, and selections will be made by early December 2022.
    • Students will be recruited for selected teams in January and February 2023, with student selections made by team leaders by the end of March 2023.
    • Projects may begin as early as Summer 2023 and must begin by no later than Fall 2023.

    For More Information

    For questions, to discuss potential project ideas, or to identify possible faculty collaborators contact:

    Drop in to one of our Zoom office hours (

    • Friday, September 9, 10:00-11:00
    • Friday, September 30, 9:00-10:00 
    • Friday, October 14, 1:00-2:00
    • Friday, October 21, 11:00-12:00
    • Friday, October 28, 9:00-10:00 
    Or contact:

    Laura Howes, Director, Bass Connections
    (919) 684-9021

    For questions specific to a theme, please contact a theme leader or administrator, as listed on our website: