Special Call for Proposals for Project Teams Related to COVID-19

Deadline for priority consideration: June 15
Final deadline: June 30

Important Note: This RFP is only for projects related to COVID-19. All other proposals for Bass Connections teams should be submitted through our normal RFP, to be issued in early September.

COVID-19: Responding to Current and Future Challenges

In a matter of months, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged nearly every institution and caused the world community to alter long-held ways of living. There is no doubt that the impact of this pandemic will be profound and lasting.  

Bass Connections, in partnership with the Margolis Center for Health Policy, issues this special call for proposals for teams interested in addressing research questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic through a Bass Connections project in 2020-2021. 

  • Maximum project funding is $20,000, but we encourage teams to keep the budget lean. We anticipate capping funding at $15,000 unless a team has a particular need that justifies a higher budget. 
  • All teams must be led by at least one faculty member.
  • Bass Connections teams are expected to meet at least weekly.
  • Proposed research must be capable of proceeding remotely if necessitated. Travel should not be included as a critical element of the team’s work. 
  • Projects may start this summer or this fall.
  • Bass Connections typically supports year-long projects but we will also consider proposals for shorter, intensive projects. 

Research questions may include, but are not limited to: 

  • How can we improve our capacity to predict, prevent and respond to future emerging viruses?
  • Which of the changes introduced to medical practice and the provision of healthcare should we maintain after this initial wave of the pandemic? How should we adapt policy to facilitate such longer-term changes?
  • How has physical distancing and sheltering at home affected the mental health of various populations, with what long-term mental health implications? 
  • What can we learn from the very different responses of local, subnational and national governments to the pandemic? Or from the varying strategies of private firms or NGOs?
  • What behavioral, economic and social methods best incentivize different populations to practice preventive measures such as physical distancing, wearing masks, etc. in the short and long terms?
  • What are possible paths forward for the U.S. and/or global economy? Which economic relief measures have had the greatest impact on the economy? How might COVID-19 reshape global trade patterns and globalization?
  • What is the global impact of COVID-19? How has the pandemic affected migration patterns and the stance of governments towards immigrants? Are governments capitalizing on this opportunity to restrict human rights and civil society?
  • How has the closure of schools affected the academic progress and social and emotional well-being of children, as well as the circumstances of working parents? How will school systems help students catch up, recognizing that the move to online learning may have increased existing achievement disparities?
  • How can congregate communities such as nursing homes, prisons, deportation facilities and homeless shelters slow the spread of COVID-19 and better prepare for future pandemics?
  • How might we harness the power of big data to better predict and trace disease outbreaks, while also protecting individual privacy?
  • How can we rapidly expand access to testing, and how do we ensure that testing reaches under-served communities and communities more averse to engaging with authorities?
  • What might we learn from the current reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that might inform a greener future as society returns to more normal economic activity? What could a green stimulus look like? How could COVID-19 impact the clean energy transition?
  • What have we learned from the ethical and moral dilemmas faced by healthcare providers and first-responders in allocating scare resource as we prepare for the next pandemic?

Submission Instructions

Please use the proposal template (Word document) to prepare your proposal. Proposals should be submitted in a single document to laura.howes@duke.edu by June 15, 2020 for priority consideration. We aim to make expedient decisions for time-sensitive, compelling projects. Thereafter, we will have a rolling deadline through June 30, 2020. Please contact Laura Howes, Director of Bass Connections at laura.howes@duke.edu with questions. 


  • Proposals may be submitted by any faculty member. Staff, graduate students, postdocs and trainees/fellows may also propose projects, but all projects must have at least one faculty team leader.
  • 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 (2020-2021).
  • 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.

The Bass Connections Model

Bass Connections supports interdisciplinary, collaborative research in which faculty, postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates and community partners work together to address pressing societal challenges, typically related to five interdisciplinary themes

Bass Connections project teams should establish 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 struggle collectively with a complex problem and produce meaningful deliverables. Products may take several forms, including published reports and articles, curated exhibitions, oral histories, websites, datasets to spur further research, marketable services or commodities and strategic solutions for community needs. Projects are encouraged (but not required) to involve external community partners (e.g., private companies, school systems, international NGOs and U.S. or international 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 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 students, postdocs and trainees/fellows may co-lead projects, but all projects must have at least one faculty team leader who engages with the team regularly (i.e., attends all team meetings). 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. 
  • Meeting times: Teams should meet live at least once a week (in-person or virtually), with individual task assignments between meetings. Some teams divide into sub-teams and meet within sub-teams weekly and then combine as an entire team every other week or monthly. Appointing a graduate 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 students generally receive credit during the academic year. Bass Connections will work with you to set up credit options and get students enrolled. Advanced graduate students and/or students serving in a differentiated role that requires additional responsibilities (e.g., project managers) may also receive compensation in lieu of credit. If you plan to budget for student support while students may still be participating remotely, please note that undergraduate students may not be paid for work performed remotely outside of the state of North Carolina and graduate students must be living in one of 10 locations where Duke is set up to operate in order to work remotely. 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 nine students (graduate 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. Teams are strongly encouraged to include differentiated roles for graduate students to serve as mentors, sub-team leaders and/or project managers. 
  • Student recruitment and selection: Bass Connections 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 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: Bass Connections, and faculty in staff in each of the Bass Connections themes, and in this instance, the Margolis Center for Health Policy, provide support to teams throughout the year including helping with student recruitment, course credit options, financial management, troubleshooting, etc. 

Proposal Elements

Please use the proposal template (Word document). Main proposal elements include:

  1. Basic information: Project name, primary point of contact
  2. Project description: Background context, goals and methods for the proposed project
  3. Team composition: Team leaders, contributors, ideal composition of the student team, external partners
  4. Project approach: Plan for how the team will work collaboratively, opportunities for students, timelines and milestones
  5. Budget estimate

Project Selection Criteria

Proposals will be reviewed by other faculty and will be assessed on the following dimensions:

  1. Vertical integration: Fosters collaboration across educational levels (e.g., undergraduate and graduate students), with clearly differentiated leadership roles for graduate students
  2. Interdisciplinarity: Fosters collaboration across disciplines 
  3. Teamwork: Describes a clear plan for team-based research
  4. Clarity of purpose: Articulates clear goals (which can still be exploratory in nature) and conveys the potential for the project to lead to later endeavors (whether in the form or additional research, education, or engagement)
  5. Alignment with COVID-19 Theme: Topic clearly aligns with challenges and responses to COVID-19 and future pandemics – whether within the U.S. or internationally

Budget Guidelines

Maximum project funding for this call is $20,000 but we encourage teams to keep the budget lean. We anticipate capping funding at $15,000 unless a team has a particular need that justifies a higher budget. Funding may cover reasonable research costs such as student support, participant payments, materials and supplies. In general, projects with the highest level of funding include those with summer funding for student work, graduate student support for project management roles, and special research materials.

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 included in the proposal form 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 secure 100% of their salary. 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.
  • Student support: During the academic year, students participating in Bass Connections should receive course credit in lieu of a stipend. Exceptions include advanced graduate students and/or students serving in a differentiated role that requires additional responsibilities (e.g., project managers). The following resources may be useful for budgeting for students: 1.) Hourly rates and work limitations for all students (click on “Duke Employers” – and note that while this information is on the financial aid site, hourly rates pertain to all student employees); 2.) Ph.D. student stipend rates.
  • 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.  

Project Selection Timing

  • Proposals are due June 15 for priority consideration, or June 30 for final consideration.
  • We will review proposals on a rolling basis and may fund time-sensitive, compelling projects prior to the official deadline.
  • Decisions will be made by July 20, 2020 (or earlier for projects with a proposed summer start).
  • Projects may begin as early as Summer 2020 and must begin by no later than Fall 2020. 

For More Information

For questions, to discuss potential project ideas, or to identify possible faculty collaborators contact Laura Howes, Director, Bass Connections at laura.howes@duke.edu.