Special Call: Projects Related to International Geopolitics and Humanitarian Crises in the Middle East and Beyond

Deadline to submit: Friday, July 12, 2024, at 5 p.m.

Important Note: This RFP is only for 2024-2025 projects related to international geopolitics and humanitarian crises in the Middle East and beyond. Our next general call for Bass Connections project proposals will be issued in August 2024.


Bass Connections brings together faculty, postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates and community partners to tackle complex societal challenges in interdisciplinary research teams. For some faculty, Bass Connections provides a mechanism to pilot a new research initiative, bolster an existing project or lay the groundwork for external grant proposals. For others, Bass Connections offers an opportunity to mentor students in a small group atmosphere and collaborate on interdisciplinary research with colleagues across the university. Bass Connections also provides a model for initiating or deepening engagement with a community organization or collaborators outside of Duke who can translate research findings into action. 

This special call is for year-long project teams beginning in Fall 2024 related to the humanitarian implications of geopolitical conflict in the Middle East and beyond. Funding for year-long project teams typically ranges from $10,000 to $25,000. Maximum funding is $40,000, but budget requests above $30,000 must include additional justification (see budget guidelines below).

Given the fast ramp-up for these projects, we encourage all teams to develop a robust project management plan, including using a portion of the budget to fund an advanced graduate student, research associate or postdoc. We will help teams that do not have access to a project manager recruit an appropriate project manager in the form of a postdoc, research project manager or advanced doctoral student (the proposal submission form will collect additional information about any project management needs). 

International Geopolitics and Humanitarian Crises

The Israel-Hamas war has led to a devastating humanitarian crisis and brought profound human suffering to Israelis and Palestinians. From communities on the ground to the classroom, the conflict has sparked fierce debate about the complexities of international geopolitics and regional dynamics in the Middle East, the intricate interplay of historical, political, socioeconomic and environmental factors in shaping and exacerbating conflict, and the role of local and international actors in mitigating suffering and promoting peace.

The October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the ensuing Israel-Hamas war is not the only current conflict that has sparked a humanitarian emergency. According to the U.N., nearly 300 million people worldwide will need humanitarian assistance in 2024 due to conflicts, climate emergencies and other drivers. Currently, conflicts in Ukraine, Sudan, the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, Syria and elsewhere have led to mass displacement, widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure, catastrophic damage to food systems, spreading of communicable diseases, and lasting psychological damage.

In partnership with the Provost’s Initiative on the Middle East, we invite proposals for year-long projects that seek to investigate topics related to geopolitical conflict and humanitarian crises in the Middle East and beyond.

Research questions may include, but are not limited to:

  • How can we foster greater understanding of the complex historical, political, social, economic and/or environmental factors that underlie geopolitical conflicts?
  • What are the most effective strategies for delivering humanitarian assistance in conflict zones to address issues such as human displacement, food and water insecurity, health care needs, and destruction to infrastructure?
  • What are the psychological impacts of conflict and humanitarian crises on affected populations, and how does such trauma impact human development? How can psychosocial support and mental health services be integrated most effectively into humanitarian responses?
  • What factors shape public perceptions about geopolitical conflicts and how do these factors influence decision-making processes and conflict dynamics?
  • How does art help us grapple with the political, historical and ethical dilemmas inherent to geopolitical conflict (e.g., power, justice, human rights, violence, legacies of colonialism)? What are the roles that the narrative and creative arts can play in times of conflict (e.g., documentation, witnessing, protest, education, propaganda)?
  • What are the optimal roles for the United States, United Nations, NGOs and other international actors in humanitarian assistance policy formulation and implementation?
  • How can emerging technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence, remote sensing, mHealth) be leveraged to improve the efficiency, accountability and effectiveness of humanitarian responses?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities for post-conflict reconstruction, reconciliation and peacebuilding, and what strategies have proved most successful in promoting sustainable peace in the aftermath of geopolitical conflicts?
  • How can communities meet the psychological and educational needs of children impacted by war?

Proposal Deadline and Submission

The deadline for proposals is Friday, July 12, 2024, at 5 p.m.

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

Interested faculty, particularly those who have never led a Bass Connections team, are encouraged to contact a Bass Connections theme leader or Laura Howes, assistant vice provost for interdisciplinary studies and Bass Connections, with questions or to discuss potential ideas. Or, drop in at any time to one of our informal Zoom office hours (https://duke.zoom.us/j/96527747696):

  • June 4 from 11:00-12:00
  • June 20 from 10:00-11:0

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 faculty co-leader. 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 academic year in which the project would take place (2024-2025), 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 to support 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. Student compensation during the academic year is 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 should begin in Fall 2024.

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 a 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, digital and physical 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 partners (e.g., community members, nonprofits/NGOs, private companies, school systems or government entities).

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 operates:

  • Team leadership: Teams are generally led by two or more 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 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, so it works best when projects 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, with individual task assignments between meetings. Some teams divide into subteams that meet weekly and then meet as a full unit 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.
  • Student credit and compensation: Undergraduate and graduate/professional students typically 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. 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; however, students may not receive both credit and compensation for the same activity.
  • 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 10-12 students (graduate/professional and undergraduate). Given the high degree of student interest, we require 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 levels 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 projects 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 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.
  • Themes/Administrative management: Each Bass Connections theme is led by one or two faculty theme leaders 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 and troubleshooting. Themes also provide opportunities for faculty and students to share practices and lessons across teams. Day-to-day financial processing/grant management is generally managed by a team leader's unit. 

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 and 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, goals for each semester
  5. Budget estimate

Project Selection Criteria

Proposals are sent out to other 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. Teamwork: Describes a clear plan for team-based research
  4. Vertical integration: 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
  5. Budget: Reasonable budget that clearly supports the project goals
  6. Issue alignment: Aligns with the topical focus of the call 

Budget Guidelines

Budgets typically range from $5,000 to $25,000. Maximum funding is $40,000, but budget requests above $30,000 must include additional justification as noted in the budget template. 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 extensive student work, postdoc/graduate/professional student support for project management roles, and special research materials or equipment needs. Please only request the amount that you are confident that you will need and note that we do allow teams to request supplemental funds for unexpected budgetary needs.  

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.

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/fringe: Budgets should not include faculty salary except when a faculty member is expected to account for, and certify, 100% of their effort. Faculty salary and fringe expenses should not exceed $10,000.
  • Staff salary/fringe: Budgets should not generally include staff salary. Exceptions include instances in which staff have specialized skills that cannot be covered by students and in which the staff member would not otherwise be able to participate in the project without salary coverage. Staff salary and fringe expenses should not exceed $10,000. Exceptions may be made for postdoc support. 
  • Student pay/fringe: During the academic year, students participating in Bass Connections typically receive course credit rather than a stipend or hourly pay. Exceptions include advanced graduate/professional students and/or students serving in a differentiated role that requires additional responsibilities (e.g., project managers). Students may not receive academic credit and pay for the same work. Hourly pay rates for students in FY 2024-25 are noted below. You should also budget for fringe – fringe rates by student level are listed in the budget template. Note that if your budget includes funding for a specific Ph.D. student, we recommend confirming your budget plans with that student’s director of graduate studies.​​​​​​
  Minimum Maximum
Student Assistants-General $16.00 $20.50
Student Assistants-Advanced/Specialized $17.00 $23.50
  • 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 strive to limit spending on conferences and/or journal fees. Conference funding should be reserved for high-quality student presentation opportunities. We also encourage teams to participate in virtual conferences when possible to reduce financial and environmental travel costs.

Proposal Selection Timing

  • Proposals should be submitted by Friday, July 12, 2024, at 5 p.m.
  • Proposals will be reviewed and refined as needed, and selections will be made by late July.
  • Students will be recruited for selected teams in August 2024. 
  • Projects should begin in Fall 2024. 

For More Information

For questions, to discuss potential project ideas, or to identify possible faculty collaborators: 
Drop in to one of our Zoom office hour sessions (https://duke.zoom.us/j/96527747696):   

  • June 4 from 11:00-12:00
  • June 20 from 10:00-11:00

Or contact:
Laura Howes, Assistant Vice Provost of Interdisciplinary Studies and Bass Connections
(919) 684-9021