Cottrell Scholars



The Cottrell Scholar Award (CSA) is available to early career faculty at US research universities and primarily undergraduate institutions. Eligible applicants are tenure-track faculty members whose primary appointment is in a department of astronomy, chemistry or physics that offers, the minimum, a bachelor’s degree. For the 2018 proposal cycle, eligibility is limited to faculty members who started their first tenure-track appointment anytime in calendar year 2015.


CSA proposals contain a research plan, an educational plan and a clear statement on how the CSA will help applicants become truly outstanding teacher-scholars and future academic leaders. The project plans must be for a period of three years. The ability of applicants to mount a strong and innovative research program and achieve excellence in education and their potential leadership skills are key criteria in the selection of the awards.

Research Plan. Successful research plans identify a relevant problem of high scientific significance and describe innovative and feasible approaches to its solution. The research plan may or may not describe a new scientific thrust for the applicant, but new directions and outcomes (different from what is already funded by other sources) need to be clearly highlighted. Winning proposals must convince external reviewers and the RCSA Science Advisory Committee that the applicant is pursuing an important independent program of research that is already having, or is likely to have, high impact in their fields.

The primary criterion for research funding in the Cottrell Scholar Award program is to add to fundamental scientific knowledge in one of the three core disciplines (Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy) and hence, applied research without a significant fundamental component is not funded. "Applied research" is interpreted as any type of research aimed at developing new technology, methods or techniques, or the applications of methods and techniques to topics in disciplines other than the three core disciplines, and includes areas such as science education, social science, environmental remediation studies, geochemistry, pharmacology, pharmaceutical sciences, nutrition and food science, and the type of biomedical research typically conducted in Schools of Medicine or Biomedical Engineering Departments. In addition, research in the life sciences is excluded, including physiology, ecology, cell biology and genetic studies. If unclear on whether a particular research area fits programmatic guidelines, please contact program directors Silvia Ronco ( or Richard Wiener (

Educational Plan. The educational plan should identify a significant problem in undergraduate or graduate science education and offer a feasible strategy to address it. Main criteria for evaluating the educational plan include: (a) the originality of the proposal; (b) the potential impact in undergraduate or graduate science courses; (c) the potential impact in student demographics; (d) the applicant’s commitment to excellence in education; (e) knowledge of current science education literature; (f) assessment of the proposed educational plan; and (g) suitability and sustainability within the institutional setting.

Because each institutional setting is unique and has different needs, the components of a successful educational plan vary widely. Goals and desired outcomes that will help enhance the applicant’s institutional educational environment must be clearly stated. Prior accomplishments in STEM higher education enhance the case for the applicant's commitment to education.

Academic Citizenship.  The academic citizenship statement should briefly indicate your plan to become a stronger academic citizen by gaining a deeper understanding of, and by participating in, the governance structure, policy-setting, and decision-making in your institution; by serving as a mentor, supervising student research projects, and collaborating with colleagues; and by taking time to consider institutional needs and opportunities, to develop and share creative ideas to enhance your university or college and advance its mission through meaningful service and (perhaps in the future) leadership positions. You may bolster your case by describing your past and/or current citizenship activities.

A sample proposal form can be viewed below.

CSA 2018 Sample Proposal Form


Cottrell Scholar Awards are for three year projects in the amount of $100,000 for the entire project. Budgets are not required; hence, there is no budget page in the proposal. Funds from Cottrell Scholar Awards can be used at the discretion of the Scholar for most direct costs, with limitations only on the range of acceptable expenditures. There is no provision for indirect costs or overhead, academic-year faculty salaries or for routine institutional services. Summer faculty salaries are only allowed for faculty at non-doctoral departments. Funds from an award may be used to support both the educational and research projects of the Cottrell Scholar and to cover travel expenses related to attendance at two annual Cottrell Scholar conferences.

Application Process

Potential CSA applicants begin the submission process by completing the online eligibility quiz. If eligible, applicants gain access to a web page containing the CSA pre-proposal application form and instructions for electronic submission. Only applicants with successful pre-proposals are invited to submit Cottrell Scholar proposals and are given access to full proposal application forms. Submissions must conform to guidelines and directions, and be endorsed by the applicant’s home institution. See Dates and Deadlines page for CSA pre-proposal and full proposal submissions deadlines.

Evaluation and Award Approval

Applications that conform to guidelines are first reviewed by science education experts to assess the quality of the educational plan. Submissions which include truly excellent educational plans aimed at improving undergraduate or graduate science education are further considered and reviewed by external research experts and Science Advisory Committee members.

Award recommendations are made by the Science Advisory Committee and approved by the RCSA Board of Directors. CS Awardees are required to attend at least two Cottrell Scholar Conferences during the duration of the award. Attendance of two Cottrell Scholar conferences within the award period is a condition for eligibility for career advancement and FRED awards. See the Cottrell Scholar Conference page for more details.