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Applications being accepted for clinical-research exchange fellowship

Penn State Strategic Initiatives, via the thematic priority of Enhancing Health, has provided funding for an exchange fellowship to stimulate partnerships among faculty clinicians and non-clinician faculty researchers and engineers, bridging interests, resources and expertise to unite patient care with other scholarly disciplines.

The Stimulating Partnerships among Researchers and Clinicians, or SPARC, exchange fellowship will allow each partner to immerse in the other partner’s realm. Clinical faculty members will spend time in scholarly contexts across the University, and non-clinician faculty members will spend time in the clinical environment.

The goal of the SPARC program is to initiate and nurture interdisciplinary collaborations as a powerful way to address unmet medical needs while simultaneously expanding health sciences research at Penn State. Applications in response to this RFA may initially request up to $7,500 per partner for teaching or clinical buyout (minimum 5 percent effort, maximum 10 percent effort) for a six-month period (Level 1 Funding). Additional competitive funds for $40,000 (Level 2) to $100,000 (Level 3) will be available for collaborations yielding projects on a trajectory to attract external funding.

Application deadline for the next round of funding is noon Jan. 6, 2020.

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RFA Details: Stimulating Partnerships among Researchers and Clinicians (SPARC)

Program Guidelines and Eligibility Expand answer
  • Clinicians can be any practicing health professional in Penn State Health or Penn State College of Nursing at any site, with a Penn State faculty appointment. Researchers can be anyone with a full-time faculty appointment in any Penn State college and on any campus.
  • Matching funds for salary support (1:1) from each partner’s home unit (college, school, institute, department or division) are required for Level 1 and 2 Funding. Applicants are very strongly encouraged to seek support from the department chair, and/or any other individual with supervisory responsibility for the applicant, with regard to providing the match and approving the associated leave from teaching or clinical responsibilities during the initial six-month period. There are no restrictions to using sabbatical leave congruent with the timing of Level 1 or Level 2 funding.
    • Applicant pairs where both partners are faculty members of the College of Medicine should alert the Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Studies of the intent to submit by emailing prior to applying.
  • Funds will not be used to support existing projects.
  • Both partners with be required to participate in SPARC cohort events, to include kickoff, interdisciplinary research workshop and strategic doing workshop, to build interdisciplinary skills and encourage cross-fertilization among pairs.
  • One interim and one final report will be required of both partners reflecting on the SPARC program and their individual partnership, noting any early tangible outcomes such as publications or submitted proposals.
Proposal Format Expand answer

Page Format

All pages of the proposal should have 1-inch margins all around and use 11-point Arial font or larger. Number all pages consecutively, beginning with the Letters of Interest.

Letters of Interest

These should be limited to three single-spaced pages and must include:

From the clinical faculty members:

  • Statement of problem with known barriers
  • Vision for how the non-clinician partner could interact with the clinical practice (shadowing, conferences)
  • Time constraints at any level
  • Potential impact

From the basic research or engineering faculty members (essentially any non-clinical faculty member):

  • High-level statement of problems of interest and what their expertise might bring to the problem
  • Vision for how the clinician partner could interact with the basic or non-clinical research group
  • Vision for how this collaboration will fit into the scientist’s research trajectory
  • Time constraints at any level

The goal of the SPARC program is not to fund clinician-researchers or a pre-existing partnership with evidence of functionality in the form of publications or grants.


Using SIMS, applicant teams should create one budget using the “Group” function to create four separate components – one for the SPARC program for each partner, and one for the department or other unit of each partner.

Budget must include salary and fringe and any desired travel reimbursement, not to exceed $7,500 for each group ($30,000 total). Funding period should be either July 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020, or Jan. 1 to June 30, 2021.


Include a current NIH or NSF biosketch for each partner.

Letters of Support

A letter from the individual(s) with budget authority and/or supervisory responsibility for each partner, acknowledging the 1:1 match (up to $7,500) and approving the associated leave from teaching or clinical responsibilities during the initial six-month period, is encouraged.

In some cases, this may be the same person.

The letter(s) should be addressed to the Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at the College of Medicine.

How to Submit Expand answer

Prospective applicants should forward their proposal, all in a single PDF file, to Penn State Limited Submission via on or before noon, Jan. 6, 2020.

Program Timeline Expand answer

The Clinical-Research Exchange Fellowship initiative encompasses the following phases:

  • Phase I: Partner identification. Clinical and research faculty members seeking suggestions for potential partners should contact any member of the SPARC oversight committee and/or the Research Concierge at the College of Medicine.
  • Phase II: Application for Level I. Interested partners apply for Level 1 Funding (Jan. 6, 2020). Selection committee reviews applications and prioritizes partnerships and awardees are notified (early February 2020).
  • Phase III: Immersion. A six-month period, either July 1 to Dec. 31, 2020, or Jan. 1 to June 30, 2021, where face-to-face discovery interactions take place on an approximately weekly basis between the partners to immerse in the respective professional environments. During this time, partners will identify questions, resources and approaches that will allow acquisition of the premise necessary for being competitive for Level 2 funding.
  • Phase IV: Application for Level 2. Interested partners apply for Level 2 funding (December 2020 or June 2021) to continue face-to-face interactions and generate preliminary data. Applicants are expected to identify and describe opportunities for collaborative presentations and publications.
  • Phase V: Project Development. July to December 2022.
  • Phase VI: Interested partners are encouraged to apply for external funding and may apply for Level 3 funding. This will be done in July 2022 to begin June 1, 2023, to continue face-to-face interactions and fuel scholarly productivity. Applicants are expected to provide evidence of collaborative scholarship and to have engaged appropriate funding agency program directors.

Scientific Merit Review for Level 2 and 3 funding will be implemented by Research Development at the College of Medicine, to include relevant Penn State units, and will forward the review outcomes to the SPARC oversight committee for prioritization and funding decisions.

SPARC Oversight Commitee Expand answer

Additional SPARC oversight committee members are welcome. Anyone interested in serving on the committee should email Sarah Bronson at

Learn More

For questions regarding this announcement, contact Research Development at Penn State College of Medicine at 717-531-6949 or

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