The Data Science Initiative Competitive Research Fund

Award Amount: $5,000-$100,000 for one year (the Fund will support two awards of up to $100,000 each, and two to four smaller awards of up to $50,000 each.  A total of $250,000 of funding is available).

Eligible Applicants: Individuals who hold a faculty appointment at a Harvard school and who have principal investigator rights at that school (see Eligibility section, below).

Overview of the Harvard Data Science Initiative Competitive Research Fund

The Harvard Data Science Initiative is connecting faculty and students across all schools to advance a new science of data. By asking the right questions, driving breakthrough scientific advances, and working with data of a size and variety that was previously unimaginable, we can make startling discoveries, promote better decisions, and effect positive change. 

The 2021 DSI Competitive Research Fund will support grants that coalesce and accelerate methodologically-focused research.   We are especially interested in projects that intersect with or are likely to have impact within or across the DSI’s research themes: 

  1. Data-Driven Scientific Discovery(includes discovery of new materials, drug and gene discovery, environment, astronomy, neuroscience)

  2. Markets and Networks(includes networks and influence, innovation and crowds, digital economy, jobs, data-driven decisions, blockchain)

  3. Personalized Health(includes precision medicine, precision public health, medical informatics, diagnostics, personal devices)

  4. Evidence-Based Policy(includes equality of opportunity, healthcare economics, democracy and governance, climate change -- resilience and mitigation)

Work that is primarily methodological is also strongly encouraged. We are interested in promoting advances across many areas that relate to the science of data, including causal inference, visualization, scalable and robust inference, experimental design, interpretability and robustness, ethics (including privacy and fairness), control of false discovery, human-in-the-loop systems, reinforcement learning, adaptive data systems, deep learning, streaming algorithms, theoretical foundations, reproducibility, and data sharing.

We recognize that strength comes through diversity and welcome proposals from teams with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and identities. We encourage PIs to consider this aspect of their proposal, and whether it can be helpful to involve partners from affected communities. 

Proposed projects should suggest the possibility of longer-term research programs, and should describe creative and innovative approaches to advancing research over one to two years. If you would like to see an example of a successful award, please contact


This program is open to individuals who hold a faculty appointment at a Harvard school and who have principal investigator rights at that school. (Please note: Harvard Medical School faculty must hold a faculty appointment with PI rights in one of HMS’s Quad-based, preclinical departments).

Individual faculty members may only submit one application in this funding cycle. Successful applicants will be expected to give a short presentation of the funded project at a symposium during or at the end of the grant period, and to share any code that is developed through a public GitHub repository.

Application Requirements

Applications must be submitted online here by 11:30 p.m. by March 1, 2021. 

Information requested in the online application includes the following:

  1. Contact information

  2. Project description that is accessible to non-specialists (limit 3 pages). The project description should include:

    1. The question or problem, and why it is important.

    2. The approach to be taken.

    3. The potential impact of the proposed work.

  3. Abridged CV or biosketch (limit two pages)

  4. List of all current or pending external sources of grant support, and information on any external funding you have applied for or intend to apply for to support the project. 

  5. Budget and budget justification (limit one page). Budgets should provide enough information to convey the alignment of costs with the project. Faculty are encouraged to work with their grant administrators when including personnel and fringe benefits. We expect to make funding available in late Spring, 2021.

  6. Description of the availability of data and resources, as appropriate.

  7. The HDSI is committed to supporting research that promotes fair and responsible data science.  Where appropriate, we ask that you submit a short  impact statement (<500 words) that speaks to the ethical issues and potential societal impact of your proposal. This can be in addition to the 3 page limit.  This requirement is modeled in part on a similar requirement by NeurIPS, and applicants may find this guide helpful in thinking about how to write this statement. 

Examples of eligible expenses include:

  • Personnel, such as postdocs, research staff, graduate students, undergraduate students

  • Travel (domestic and international)

  • Acquisition of datasets

The following expenses are NOT eligible for funding:

  • Faculty salary

  • Graduate student tuition

  • Educational use

  • Subcontracts outside Harvard

  • Equipment

School assessments and/or indirect costs should not be included in your budget (the DSI will arrange these with home schools separately). 


If you have questions about the DSI Competitive Research Fund, please email