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Global Call for Ideas

The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research has invited the global research community to submit proposals for ideas for long-term collaborative research into complex, fundamental questions of importance to Canada and the world.


Research is at the very core of understanding the world in which we live. The benefits that have emanated from research have transformed our world, leading to longer and healthier lives, greatly increased crop yields, higher standards of living, the capacity to communicate in an instant, and a deeper understanding of the fundamental structure of matter and the evolution of our planet, the universe and life on earth.

For over 30 years, CIFAR (the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research) has linked some of the best researchers worldwide to create global research networks. The goals of these interdisciplinary networks are to connect Canada’s best researchers with their counterparts worldwide, create new knowledge, transform our thinking about important questions and open up new fields of enquiry.

CIFAR's research model is unique. Where other organizations fund direct experimentation and infrastructure, CIFAR takes research leaders out of their day-to-day environments and encourages them to think more deeply, gain inspiration from their peers and find new ways of framing and addressing complex challenges.

Currently, CIFAR has 11 networks or programs in four over-arching themes: improving human health, transforming technology, building strong societies and sustaining the Earth. Our global community includes close to 400 Fellows and program Advisors from 16 countries and 104 institutions. As a global institute based in Canada, CIFAR is committed to building research capacity in Canada in areas of international research importance. About 55% of CIFAR researchers are based in Canada. CIFAR Fellows work closely with the Institute to build active communities of knowledge outreach and exchange, ensuring that their research has broad impact though research into action.

CIFAR provides research support for the core members of the network, as well as for interactions that bring a program together two or three times a year. Each program is supported for a renewable, five-year period. Expenditures for each of the existing 11 global networks range from $0.8 to $1.5M annually.

As part of a renewed vision for CIFAR [Bernstein, A. (2013): Nature 496, 27], CIFAR is now issuing its first-ever call for proposals for new research ideas that address global, complex questions facing our world.

The scope of this initiative is broad, encompassing all areas of research and scholarship. We invite proposals from individual researchers or small groups that either create new areas of foundational work for CIFAR or significantly extend existing CIFAR programs across the natural sciences, health and biological sciences, social sciences and the humanities. This is a global call for ideas so Letters of Intent are eligible from researchers based in any country.


We encourage researchers in Canada and around the world to respond to this call for new ideas. A two-stage process will be used to identify the most promising proposals.

Stage I requires a Letter of Intent (LOI) from one or several researchers who would be core members of the project. This three-page summary should identify the elements of the research idea and the range of possible research questions for consideration. A Global Idea Selection Panel will identify a shortlist of approximately ten LOIs. The proponents of the shortlisted LOIs will be invited to have a face-to-face meeting with the panel. This panel will then recommend to CIFAR up to six LOIs that should proceed to the second stage of the competition.

The deadline for LOI submissions is 7 June 2013. No late submissions will be accepted.

Stage II will support the development of up to six full proposals. Each proposal team that passes Stage I will work with CIFAR staff to convene two workshops over a six-month period and prepare a full proposal. The full proposals will be reviewed by a separate International Assessment Panel. The Panel will make their recommendation for new five-year programs to CIFAR’s President. CIFAR's Board of Directors makes the final decision as to what proposals will be approved as new programs.


  • Stage 2 began with 7 finalists announced on August 27th.

Stage I: Letter of Intent

CIFAR is looking for novel ideas to form the basis of new CIFAR programs that address complex, fundamental research questions of importance to Canada and the world. These ideas must require sustained, deep collaboration arising from an international, truly multi-disciplinary research network. They should be ambitious enough to sustain the active engagement of outstanding investigators for at least five years.

Letters of Intent must be no longer than three pages. A successful LOI must address the four criteria outlined in the section below.

Up to ten LOIs will be selected for final consideration by the Global Idea Selection Panel, and the panel will have a face-to-face meeting with each proponent. Up to six LOIs will be invited to proceed to Stage II, based on the four criteria described in more detail below.

Stage II: Proposal Development

The proponents for an LOI recommended for full proposal development will first discuss with Institute staff how best to use the workshop process to create the strongest possible proposal. CIFAR will provide the resources for these workshops (travel, accommodation, meals) and the necessary logistical support. The purpose of these workshops is to bring the researchers involved in developing the full proposal into face-to-face conversation with other international researchers in order to refine the question or challenge. Some of these researchers may be involved in the subsequent research program.

Each workshop will bring together 8 to 15 researchers from Canada and globally to further articulate the nature of the research question, how it could be tackled, and what intellectual and research resources are needed to make progress.

A full proposal will consist of a 20-30 page document that describes the research question and how it addresses one or more global, complex questions facing our world. The full proposal will also provide evidence of the excellence of the leadership and potential team members. In addition, the proponents will describe what resources would be needed to create the required global network of outstanding researchers. Proponents will also be asked to identify ways that the expected research outcomes can be communicated to augment their impact.

The workshops will be held during the period from August 2013 to January 2014.

The LOI proponents, and possibly a few additional collaborators asked to join the proposal writing process, are responsible for preparing the full proposal. Templates for the full proposal will be provided.

The proposals will be reviewed by an International Assessment Panel of outstanding international researchers based on the criteria outlined above.

Criteria for Selection

The Global Idea Selection Panel and the International Assessment Panel will use the following four criteria to assess the submissions.

Significance: An important research issue of fundamental significance on which there are reasonable grounds for transformational progress or change in humanity’s understanding.

CIFAR is an institute of advanced research – it seeks out challenges to our understanding of our world across the breadth of the natural sciences, health and biological sciences, social sciences and the humanities. You are asked to state clearly what the challenge is, why it has global importance, requires international engagement, and how an extended CIFAR effort would catalyze progress.

Potential: The opportunity, through CIFAR, to create a global research network that will make a paradigm-changing contribution to knowledge and the challenges facing humanity.

The complexity of a challenge suited to CIFAR’s model requires sustained, global engagement with some of the world's best researchers. A decision to tackle a specific topic also depends on timing: Why is this the time for CIFAR to take on this question? Applicants should make the case why a CIFAR effort, based around a global, deep collaboration, would produce unique and important progress.

Excellence: The academic excellence of the core group preparing the LOI and the researchers who would potentially be engaged.

CIFAR’s model for supporting research involves engaging outstanding groups of scholars committed to deep collaboration. Applicants are not expected necessarily to identify the membership of the proposed program. However, they should describe their stature in the field and the stature of those that could ultimately join the program. Early-career researchers can be applicants and/or part of the core group. Their record as emerging research leaders should be characterized. We request short curriculum vitae and/or biographies of the applicants (please limit these to no more than five pages).

Leadership: The potential intellectual leadership of the applicants.

CIFAR’s experience has shown that leadership plays a key role in the success of a given program. Applicants should identify a potential leader of the group, and provide evidence to support this choice. CIFAR connects some of the best researchers in Canada with their counterparts worldwide. A successful proposal will have at least one potential leader based at a Canadian institution.

Assessment Process

CIFAR anticipates LOIs on a broad range of topics, consistent with our mandate to advance knowledge across the full spectrum of research. The assessment panel for the submitted LOIs – the Global Idea Selection Panel – will consist of a group of highly accomplished research leaders drawn in part from the Institute’s Research Council.

The panel will identify up to ten of the most promising LOIs. CIFAR will then organize face-to-face meetings with each set of proponents (one or two representatives will be asked to attend these meetings). The panel will provide feedback on each LOI and make a recommendation on which submissions should proceed to the workshop stage to be developed into full proposals.

The panel for the full proposals – the International Assessment Panel (IAP) – will consist of international researchers chosen for their intellectual breadth and leadership. The full proposals will be requested to address several other aspects of the proposed research program.

A. The manner in which the program will develop Canadian research capacity. A successful proposal would demonstrate how it would engage some of the best researchers in Canada and the world, and how it could help build capacity in Canada through recruitment or retention of world-class research talent.

B. The possibilities for augmenting the impact of the proposed research program on Canada and the rest of the world through knowledge outreach and exchange.

Following submission of the full proposals, the Panel will hold face-to-face meetings with each team of lead proponents (one or two representatives will be requested to attend). The Panel will then make recommendations to CIFAR’s President on those proposals that meet the full set of CIFAR’s criteria, and on the relative priority. All new CIFAR programs are approved by the Board of Directors.

Number of Successful Proposals

Once we have identified proposals that are enthusiastically recommended by the IAP, we will approach possible funding partners in the public and private sectors to augment the number of proposals that can be supported. Our goal is to initiate between two and four new global research networks.

CIFAR has supported several research programs for over ten years, one of which is coming to the end of a five-year period during this competition and will undergo external international peer review. CIFAR will ask the IAP to rank, relative to the proposals developed through Stage II, the renewal proposal for this existing research network.

Further Information

A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page has been developed to address questions that we have been able to anticipate. We encourage potential applicants to review these, and to contact Pekka Sinervo (psinervo@cifar.ca) or Denis Thérien (dtherien@cifar.ca) if your questions aren’t answered there.

Download Global Call Details (PDF)

CIFAR Global Call Details.pdf
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