Our requests for applications (RFAs) serve a critical function in helping us fulfill SFARI’s mission (“to improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders by funding innovative research of the highest quality and relevance”). These open calls for scientific proposals are SFARI’s opportunity to consider some of the research community’s most creative and impactful ideas. And we know that proposals can come in many forms. Sometimes it’s an out-of-the box idea that could be transformative…or fall flat on its face. Other times, it’s a long-held hypothesis in the field that needs resolution but hasn’t been properly investigated. Such varied science requires funding mechanisms tailored to the potential promise and uncertainty of each project. In light of this, the SFARI science team has taken stock of our current RFA programs, and in the coming months, we will be rolling out changes to several of our existing grant programs.
Our overarching objective is to realign our RFA funding mechanisms and associated processes to better reflect two distinct goals:
- seeding exploratory hypotheses and
- sustaining support for high-priority topics.
The hope is that the coming changes will reinforce these conceptual goals and help us to communicate and achieve those objectives.
One of the major changes will be to end the current Explorer Award RFA and to adapt the high-risk/high-reward goals of the Explorer Award into a more effective version of our Pilot Award. The last receipt date for the Explorer Award RFA will be June 15, 2018.
The updated Pilot Award program will have twice-yearly receipt dates and focused internal and external review but will maintain budget caps comparable to Pilot Awards in past years. The first receipt date for the new Pilot Award RFA will be in fall 2018, with an additional receipt date expected to be in spring 2019.
For researchers who have an Explorer-like idea but are unable to submit their proposals by June 15, we encourage them to consider submitting their applications in response to the new Pilot Award RFA. This RFA will have flexibility in both budget and duration, allowing researchers to tailor funding to the needs of individual projects.
Our Research Award RFA will also be getting a reboot. Our intention is for this award to provide sustained support for topics of high priority to SFARI, regardless of conceptual novelty. Funded grants will directly address key questions in the autism field. It is anticipated that our first Research Award RFA with this updated focus will be launched in early 2019.
Over the next few months, we will be providing more information about our updated Pilot and Research Award RFAs via SFARI.org and our newsletter. In the meantime, we welcome your constructive feedback on the scientific priorities and procedures we should consider. (Contact [email protected].)
Lastly, it’s important to note that these anticipated changes will not impact our unwavering commitment to supporting outstanding science across a wide range of disciplines. Autism science is an exciting and challenging field, and our goal is to drive the science forward with effective and nimble strategies. We are excited about these upcoming changes and look forward to engaging our community even more effectively.