Bridge to Independence Award Program

SFARI is invested in supporting the next generation of top autism researchers. The Bridge to Independence Award program promotes talented early-career scientists by facilitating their transition to research independence and providing grant funding at the start of their professorships at a U.S. or Canadian research institution.

Annual Request for applications (RFA) open each spring and are aimed at senior postdoctoral fellows who intend to seek tenure-track faculty positions during the upcoming academic year. Awardees will receive a commitment of $495,000 over three years, activated upon assumption of a tenure-track professorship.

Letters of recommendation and LOIs due
Maximum Budget

Over Three Years $495,000

Important Dates
  • proposalCENTRAL opens for LOIs
  • Letters of recommendation and LOIs due
  • Awardees notified
  • Approval application submission (rolling basis)
    December 1, 2019 –
    December 1, 2020

  • Grant funding begins (rolling basis)
    January 1, 2020 –
Contact Info

Background

The autism research community has expanded substantially in recent years and SFARI has contributed to this change by attracting outstanding established scientists to the field of autism. In order to sustain this level of scientific excellence in future years, SFARI is extending our support to promising early-career investigators. One of the most salient milestones in a scientific career is the transition from formal mentorship to an independent position. Unfortunately, making this transition has become increasingly difficult in recent years, in part because of the decreasing number of tenure-track faculty positions, compounded by the increasing number of Ph.D. graduates and postgraduate traineeships1. SFARI created the Bridge to Independence (BTI) Award program in 2015 to address this issue and to encourage continued excellence in the autism research field.

Program Overview

The BTI Award program promotes talented early-career scientists by facilitating their transition to research independence and providing grant funding at the start of their professorships. Annual Request for applications (RFA) open each spring and are aimed at senior postdoctoral fellows who intend to seek tenure-track faculty positions during the upcoming academic year. Awardees will receive a commitment of $495,000 over three years, activated upon assumption of a tenure-track professorship at a U.S. or Canadian research institution.

Importantly, although eligible applicants must be currently in a postdoctoral training position, the BTI Award itself is not a training fellowship but a research grant to newly appointed faculty. The program’s selection process is uniquely designed to enhance the BTI awardees’ job prospects by providing a letter that specifies SFARI financial commitment to the research project once the BTI awardee has secured a suitable faculty position. For more information on eligibility requirements and the funding process, see the RFA section.

The BTI Award program welcomes applications that span the breadth of science that SFARI normally supports, including genetics, molecular mechanisms, circuits and systems, and clinical science. For reference, please see past BTI awardees and a list of all SFARI Investigators, as well our postings on SFARI scientific priorities.

While we encourage applications from postdoctoral fellows who are working on autism-related projects, we would like to stress that this award is also open to researchers who are not currently working on autism but who are interested in starting research projects in this area and who have expertise that could be brought to bear on this complex disorder.

Current Awardees

The program currently supports 23 awardees, many of whom have secured prestigious tenure-track faculty positions and are actively carrying out their SFARI research projects. For more information, see a list SFARI’s current BTI awardees, as well as a SFARI Conversation with Sung Han, a 2015 BTI Investigator.

BTI awardees at the SFARI Fall 2018 science meeting, New York, NY.

References

  1. Biomedical research workforce working group report, National Institutes of Health (2012) PDF
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Maximum Budget

Over Three Years $495,000

Important Dates
  • proposalCENTRAL opens for LOIs
  • Letters of recommendation and LOIs due
  • Awardees notified
  • Approval application submission (rolling basis)
    December 1, 2019 –
    December 1, 2020

  • Grant funding begins (rolling basis)
    January 1, 2020 –
Contact Info

Application Process

BTI grants are awarded through a multi-stage process. The first stage is a competitive process in which Letters of Intent (LOIs) are reviewed by the SFARI science team and an external scientific panel. BTI awardees are selected at the end of stage one. Upon notification, awardees have one year to secure a tenure-track professorship at an academic institution in the U.S. or Canada and submit an approval application. Review of the approval application is a non-competitive, internal process intended to confirm that the awardee has secured an academic research position and adequate institutional resources to accomplish the Bridge to Independence research proposal. After the Simons Foundation accepts the approval application, awardees will receive a commitment of $495,000 over three years, awarded through their faculty appointment institution.

Eligibility

  • Applicants must hold a Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent degree
  • Applicants must have fewer than six (6) years of postdoctoral or otherwise mentored training.
  • Applicants must be currently in non-independent, mentored, training positions, as recognized by their institution. The following guidelines should be used to distinguish independent from non-independent positions (modified from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) K99/R00 program announcement eligibility section):

    Evidence for non-independence may include:

    • The applicant’s research is entirely funded by another investigator’s grants.
    • The applicant’s research is conducted entirely in another investigator’s assigned space.
    • According to institutional policy, the applicant is not allowed to submit an application for an NIH research grant (e.g., R01) or SFARI grant (e.g, Pilot, Research, and Targeted awards) as the principal investigator (PI).

    Conversely, evidence for independence, and therefore lack of eligibility, includes:

    • The applicant has a full-time faculty position. Exception: A clinician who holds a faculty member position in order to fulfill their clinical responsibilities but who does not hold an independent research faculty position may still be eligible. Such individuals should contact the foundation to confirm their eligibility prior to submitting their applications.
    • The applicant received a start-up package for support of his/her independent research
    • The applicant has research space dedicated to his/her own research.
    • The applicant is eligible to apply for independent research funding as the PI of an NIH research grant (e.g., R01) or SFARI grant (e.g, R01) or SFARI grant (e.g, Pilot, Research, and Targeted awards).
  • Applicants must be actively seeking a tenure-track position at a U.S. or Canadian institution of higher education during the 2019-2020 academic year.
  • Applicants are not eligible if they are recipients of other career development awards with similar budgetary scopes as the SFARI Bridge to Independence Award. These include, but are not limited to:
    • NIH K99/R00 (please note that other K awardees may be eligible, e.g., recipients of K01 and K08) Burroughs-Wellcome Fund Career Award for Medical Scientists
    • American Academy of Neurology Career Development Award
    • Howard Hughes Medical Institute Hanna H. Gray fellowship

    You are strongly encouraged to contact SFARI before applying if you believe your career development award is comparable to the BTI Award but it is not listed above.

  • Applicants must not have accepted a formal offer for a tenure-track faculty position.
  • There are no citizenship requirements.

All potential applicants with questions about eligibility are strongly encouraged to contact SFARI at sfarigrants@simonsfoundation.org before submitting an application.

Level and Duration of Funding

The principal investigator (PI) will receive research support at a fixed rate of $495,000 over three (3) years, including 20 percent for indirect costs (see SFARI policies). The award is administered through the institution at which the PI has a tenure-track faculty appointment. Awardees may defer submission of their approval application for up to one year after receiving their finalist notification in order to secure their faculty position. Funds may not be used toward the PI’s salary but may provide salary support for other laboratory personnel. Institutional start-up packages may not be reduced because of SFARI funding.

Important dates

May 14, 2019: proposalCENTRAL opens for LOIs
August 8, 2019: Letters of recommendation and LOIs due
November 21, 2019: Awardees notified
December 1, 2019 – December 1, 2020: Approval application submission (rolling basis)
January 1, 2020 – December 1, 2021: Grant funding begins (rolling basis)

Instructions for submission

Letters of Intent
The deadline for receipt of the LOI is August 8, 2019. LOIs must be completed electronically and submitted using forms provided at proposalCENTRAL. Please log in as an applicant, go to the “Grant Opportunities” tab, scroll to “Simons Foundation” and click “Apply Now” for the “SFARI Bridge to Independence Award” program.

LOIs should include the following (for more details, see the Instructions document, available for download in the “Download Templates and Instructions” section of proposalCENTRAL):

  1. Specific Aims Page: The Specific Aims Page should not exceed one (1) page and should be a summary of the proposed project focused on the research aims of the project, including a concise rationale for the hypothesis, description of preliminary data and experimental approach, and impact on autism research.
  2. Proposal Narrative: The Proposal Narrative should not exceed three (3) pages of single-spaced, size 11 text, 0.5 margins. The Proposal Narrative should be considered an expanded version of the Specific Aims Page and used to provide more detail on the following:
    1. Relevant scientific background
    2. Preliminary results when applicable
    3. Specific aims
    4. Experimental design
    5. Pitfalls and alternative strategies
    6. Project significance and relevance to autism
    7. Timeline and milestones
  3. Biosketch
  4. Overview of scientific interests and goals describing your future research program as an independent investigator and how autism science fits in with your intended research program. This should be no more than one (1) page.
  5. Letter from current institution officially confirming you are in a mentored training position (e.g., letter from department chair or grant office)
  6. Letters of recommendation (separate, blind submission; deadline August 8, 2019). Three (3) letters of recommendation are required from current or former mentors, or other senior scientists who have substantial familiarity with your scientific career thus far. At least one letter of recommendation must be from a current or former scientific mentor. Confidential letters must be submitted through proposalCENTRAL (see instructions available for download in proposalCENTRAL).

LOIs are reviewed by the SFARI science team and competitive LOIs are further reviewed by an external scientific panel. Reviewers will weigh criteria related to the applicant’s scientific potential as an independent investigator and their ability to formulate an impactful, innovative and feasible autism research project.

Awardees

BTI awardees will be notified of their status by November 21, 2019. The notification letters will outline SFARI’s commitment to awarding the Bridge to Independence Award, contingent upon satisfactory fulfillment of the approval application. Upon notification, awardees have up to one year to secure a tenure-track faculty position and submit an approval application. Once job negotiations develop during this intervening year, awardees are strongly encouraged to contact their SFARI science manager. SFARI may informally review job offer letters to avoid potential problems in activating the grant.

Approval application

To activate their grant, awardees must submit an approval application, which includes the tenure-track faculty appointment offer letter with confirmed research startup package and laboratory space commitments. Other required documents include applicable updates to the research proposal, biosketch, current and pending support, budget, budget justification, research environment and resources, renewable reagents and data-sharing plan, and signature page.

SFARI will review these documents internally with the intention of funding all awardees who have secured sufficient institutional resources and academic privileges to complete the BTI project. If these are deemed acceptable, a grant funding letter will be sent.

SFARI reserves the right to withhold grant support 1) if the awardee is unable to secure a tenure-track position at a suitable academic institution within one year of their award notification letter, 2) if an institutional environment is deemed inadequate by SFARI to support successful completion of the research project, 3) if the revised and updated research plan is not considered adequate, or 4) if the applicant is unable to fulfill the responsibilities of the PI for other reasons. Such instances will be handled on a case-by-case basis. It is our intention that withholding grant support from awardees will occur only in rare instances. When appropriate, SFARI will work with awardees and their prospective institutions in developing mutually agreeable solutions.

Contacts

Scientific inquiries:
sciencerfa@simonsfoundation.org
646-654-0066

Administrative inquiries:
sfarigrants@simonsfoundation.org
646-654-0066

Simons collections inquiries:
collections@sfari.org
646-654-0066

proposalCENTRAL:
pcsupport@altum.com
800-875-2562

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proposalCENTRAL Logo

The Simons Foundation uses an electronic grants submission process. All interested grant applicants must submit their applications online through proposalCENTRAL.

Maximum Budget

Over Three Years $495,000

Important Dates
  • proposalCENTRAL opens for LOIs
  • Letters of recommendation and LOIs due
  • Awardees notified
  • Approval application submission (rolling basis)
    December 1, 2019 –
    December 1, 2020

  • Grant funding begins (rolling basis)
    January 1, 2020 –
Contact Info

The deadline for LOI submission is Thursday, August 8, 2019 at 5 p.m. EDT.

Accessing the Letter of Intent Application in proposalCENTRAL:

Prospective applicants must submit a letter of intent (LOI) using the LOI application via  proposalCENTRAL (pC).    To start an application in pC, users must first login to their pC account.

If You Need to Create a New Account in pCValidate

To create a new account, go to https://proposalcentral.com/ (pC) and click CREATE ONE NOW under APPLICATION LOGIN. Fill in the required fields, check the boxes to agree to pC’s Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy and then click SAVE. For the next steps, see the If You Have an Existing Account in pC section below.

If You Have an Existing Account in pC

For all users with a pC account, log in under APPLICATION LOGIN at https://proposalcentral.altum.com/ and select CREATE NEW PROPOSAL or click on the GRANT OPPORTUNITIES tab. Scroll down to SIMONS FOUNDATION and then click APPLY NOW for the Simons Foundation Autsm Research Initiative – Bridge to Independence Award in order to start the proposal and access the templates. After all sections are completed, you will be able to click on the SUBMIT button.

LOI Requirements and Submission Instructions

To submit a first-stage proposal, the following proposalCENTRAL sections must be completed:

  • Title Page: Enter proposal title in this section.
  • Download Templates & Instructions: The LOI template and the Principal Investigator (PI) biosketch template can be downloaded in the Templates & Instructions or the Attach LOI Documents sections. Attachments can be submitted only as PDF files in the Proposal Attachments section.
  • Enable Other Users to Access this Proposal: This section allows you to give other users access to your grant application. When you give a person access to your grant application, you can give them one of three levels of permission. These include View, Edit and Administrator.
  • Applicant/PI: Enter the name of the PI for the proposed funding here. While the PI does not need to submit the application him/herself, this section must be filled in for the intended PI for proper proposal tracking and review.
  • Organization/Institution: Enter PI’s institution.
  • Letters of recommendation (separate, blind submission; deadline August 8 2019): Three letters of recommendation from current or former mentors, or other senior scientists who have substantial familiarity with your scientific career thus far. At least one letter of recommendation must be from a current or former scientific mentor. The applicant CANNOT submit the letters of recommendation directly. Note: Individuals submitting references are referred to as “referee” in proposalCENTRAL.In this section, you will be able to list the referees who will submit letters of recommendation on your behalf through our confidential submission process. To enter the referees:
    • Enter and confirm the email address of the referee you have chosen in the text box provided and click the “Add” button.○ A small pop-up window will open, prompting you for the referee’s first and last name. If the referee is already registered in proposalCENTRAL, the name will automatically display in the window.
    • Enter the referee’s full name and click the “Send Email” button, then click ”Close Window.”
    • An email will be sent to the referee from proposalCENTRAL requesting a confidential letter of recommendation. The email will include instructions, the referee’s proposalCENTRAL account information, and a link for the referee to upload the completed letter of recommendation directly to your grant application.
    • To ensure confidentiality, you will not have access to these letters. Once the email is sent, the referee’s name and contact information will appear under the “Letters of Recommendation” section in your application. The referee information is displayed in the table (i.e., name, email address, date/time email was sent, etc.). You can refer to this table to check on the status of the letters that have been uploaded to your application. When each of the letters is uploaded, the status will display as “Submitted.”
    • Repeat this process for each referee you wish to add. You will NOT be able to submit your application until three referees are uploaded.
    • Letters of recommendation must be submitted by Thursday, August 8, 2019, 5:00 p.m. EDT. It is advised that applicants begin the online application at least three weeks prior to the August 8 deadline for letters of recommendation. Applicants will not be able to submit their proposal without the required references.

    NOTE: The referee will not have access to any portion of your grant application in the upload process.

  • Attach LOI Documents: The following documents are to be uploaded in the Proposal Attachments section, where they are also available for download:
    • Specific Aims Page: The Specific Aims Page should not exceed one (1) page and should be a summary of the proposed project focused on the research aims of the project, including a concise rationale for the hypothesis, description of preliminary data and experimental approach, and impact on autism research.
    • Proposal Narrative: The Proposal Narrative should not exceed three (3) pages of single-spaced, size 11 text, 0.5 margins. The Proposal Narrative should be considered an expanded version of the Specific Aims Page and used to provide more detail on the following:
      • Relevant scientific background
      • Preliminary results when applicable
      • Specific aims
      • Experimental design
      • Pitfalls and alternative strategies
      • Project significance and relevance to autism
      • Timeline and milestones

      Figures, figure legends and references should follow the narrative text and will NOT count towards the page limit. References should be in Journal of Neuroscience format, including full author list, title and a link to PubMed. Figures are limited to 10, each fitting on a single page. Please attach them at the end of the three-page narrative in the same PDF file.

  • Biographical sketch: Please upload biosketch of PI.
  • Overview of scientific interests and goals: Up to one (1)-page overview of your future research program as an independent investigator and how autism science fits in with your intended research program.
  • Letter from current institution officially confirming you are in a mentored training position (e.g., letter from department chair or grant office).
  • Validate: You must click the “Validate” button below to check for any missing required information or files. All missing required information will be listed on the screen. Please correct any missing information before proceeding to the next step.
  • Submit: You will be unable to submit if you have not provided all the required information. Any missing information will be listed on the screen. If your submission is successful, you will receive a confirmation message on the screen and a confirmation email will be sent to the applicant.

Please note that research proposals exceeding the three (3)-page limit will not be reviewed. No extensions will be given.

Contacts

Scientific inquiries:   sciencerfa@simonsfoundation.org   646-654-0066
Administrative inquiries:   sfarigrants@simonsfoundation.org   646-654-0066
Simons collections inquiries:   collections@sfari.org   646-654-0066
proposalCENTRAL:

 

  pcsupport@altum.com   800-875-2562
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Maximum Budget

Over Three Years $495,000

Important Dates
  • proposalCENTRAL opens for LOIs
  • Letters of recommendation and LOIs due
  • Awardees notified
  • Approval application submission (rolling basis)
    December 1, 2019 –
    December 1, 2020

  • Grant funding begins (rolling basis)
    January 1, 2020 –
Contact Info

2018

2017

Rebecca Muhle, M.D., Ph.D.

Yale University

Rebecca Muhle is American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry certified and has both a clinical and a research practice at Yale University, within the Yale Child Study Center. Muhle works with individuals with neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and uses animal and cellular model systems to uncover the biological changes that occur when genes associated with ASD are disrupted.

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2016

Sung Eun (Samuel) Kwon, Ph.D.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Sung Eun “Samuel” Kwon is an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Kwon focuses on cellular, molecular and circuit mechanisms underlying sensory cortical plasticity in both health and conditions of neurocognitive disorders using in vivo imaging, electrophysiology, opto- and pharmaco-genetics, and behavior in the mammalian brain.

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Tomasz Nowakowski, Ph.D.

University of California, San Francisco

Tomasz Nowakowski is an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Nowakowski pioneered the use of single cell RNA sequencing to study the heterogeneity of cellular populations in the developing brain. His research focuses on understanding how the human genome reproducibly generates diverse neuronal populations and how genome abnormalities affecting these developmental processes cause developmental neuropsychiatric disorders like autism.

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2015

Graham Diering, Ph.D.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Graham Diering is an assistant professor at University of Carolina, Chapel Hill. He studies the molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity, with a particular interest in sleep. Using mouse models of human disease as well as primary cultured neurons, Diering applies his work to understanding and treating neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and intellectual disability. He broadly studies biochemistry, pharmacology, animal behavior and genetics.

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