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University unveils new way to fund academic research, encourage collaboration

It could be the name (which has a somewhat Avengers-esque feel) but I find myself intrigued with Mcubed, a new research funding initiative from the University of Michigan. Described on its website as “a modern alternative to the traditional year-long government grant review process,” the program will award funds to “three researchers from different disciplines… [who] come up with an idea and agree to work together.”

Nature’s newsblog further describes:

A total of $15 million will be doled out to projects continuously posted on the MCubed website, beginning with its launch in October. On the site, faculty can start their own projects by publicly describing what they want to do, why, and vow to report back on their project’s status at a MCubed symposium. Or they can sign up to be the second or third member of a project already posted. If they happen to be third, boom: within 24 hours the threesome wins $60 thousand. The competition for funds depends only on speed, and isn’t fierce. [Thomas Zurbuchen, PhD, associate dean for entrepreneurial programs at the College of Engineering] estimates that some 1500 faculty will be competing for 750 so-called tokens worth $20,000 each (but only cashed out in threes).

Zurbechen and the two other professors who conceived of the initiative thought it would be a great way to stimulate interdisciplinary collaborations and encourage newborn ideas in a timely fashion. “I’ve sat on review boards for different agencies, and it’s really damn hard to judge who the best person is to execute a project,” says Zurbechen. “Instead we are allowing people to just execute their project themselves, and after the fact we’ll see how they do. So really, it will be the purist form of a review.”

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