Global Call
for Ideas

Global Call for Ideas


For more than three decades, CIFAR’s global research programs have connected many of the world’s best minds – across borders and disciplines – to shape new perspectives and spark groundbreaking ideas. Our commitment to sustained research interactions and engagement through interdisciplinary research networks offers researchers the rarest of commodities: freedom to take intellectual risks that are essential for creating truly transformative knowledge.

CIFAR invites the global research community to submit proposals for new programs that address complex, fundamental questions of importance to the world. Ideas must be novel, bold, and potentially transformative to warrant the creation of a sustained, interdisciplinary, and collaborative research program.

See the short-listed proposals

The Opportunity

CIFAR is pleased to announce a second Global Call for Ideas, inviting research leaders from around the world to identify important global research challenges that would benefit from CIFAR’s approach to sustained research interactions that include diverse perspectives.

Submissions must address global, complex questions and identify an interdisciplinary research approach. Proposals will be accepted from all areas of research.

Application Timeline and Process

Call for Letters of Intent opens: November 15, 2017

LOI deadline: January 21, 2018 (CLOSED)

Announcement of short-listed proposals: Spring 2018

Final proposal deadline: Fall 2018

Announcement of competition results: Spring 2019

Stage I requires a Letter of Intent (LOI) from researchers who would be key members of the program. This submission should identify the core elements of the research idea and the range of possible research questions for consideration. CIFAR will shortlist LOIs based on the recommendations from the International Review Body and CIFAR’s Research Council.

Stage II of the process will support the development of full proposals. Each LOI team that passes Stage I will work with CIFAR to convene up to two small workshops over a four-month period to prepare a full proposal. The full proposals will be reviewed by an International Assessment Panel (IAP) comprised of research leaders with diverse expertise. The IAP will make recommendations to CIFAR’s Research Council. The Research Council will make recommendations to the President about funding decisions. CIFAR’s Board of Directors will make the final decision based on the recommendation of the President.

Letters of Intent

Instructions for completing the LOIs are available here. Please follow these instructions to ensure that the necessary information is provided.

LOIs must be submitted electronically through CIFAR’s online portal

Frequently Asked Questions

  1.   Is CIFAR looking for any specific research areas, topics, or questions?
    No. In the Global Call for Ideas, we are open to receiving LOIs from any area of research. Please read the criteria in this document for further information.
  2.   How many proponents are expected to prepare an LOI?
    We require that the LOI be prepared and submitted by a small core group of researchers, up to seven in total, who will participate fully as the research leaders for the proposed effort. In the full proposal stage, up to 15 members should be identified.
  3.   Do I have to be Canadian to apply?
    No, but the proponents of an LOI should include at least one researcher currently living and working in Canada (with or without Canadian citizenship).
  4.   I already collaborate with several researchers with whom I'd like to submit an LOI, but none of them are working in Canada. Does this matter?
    Yes. See question above "Do I have to be Canadian to apply?"
  5.  I’m already part of an existing network of researchers – is it OK if we submit an LOI on an idea we’ve already been discussing for a while?
    Yes. Please read the criteria in this document for further information.
  6.  Does my LOI need to be in English?
    Yes, we will only accept LOIs that are written in English.
  7.   What kind of research support do CIFAR researchers receive?
    CIFAR supports research in two ways: (1) Two to three times per year, CIFAR brings researchers from across the world together for face-to-face interactions and to maintain active collaboration. (2) CIFAR Fellows receive support on an individual basis, which is intended to enable researchers to have more time and space to work on the goals of the research program. This can be used quite flexibly – for teaching load adjustments, student stipends and postdoctoral fellow support, amongst other uses – consistent with the requirements of the researcher's department and/or university.
  8.  Do you provide money for things like infrastructure, individual researchers, or existing research programs?
    No, we do not fund infrastructure, the work of individual researchers, or pre-existing research programs. Instead, we support global networks of researchers who work together on a common question from an interdisciplinary perspective.
  9.  My LOI overlaps slightly with an area that you already support. Should I still apply?
    Yes. In your LOI, please tell us how your idea is novel and extends CIFAR’s current research areas. Please review the criteria for selection in this document for further information. 
  10.  Can I ask my postdocs to be part of the LOI process?
    No, this process does not serve as a training opportunity, although training opportunities are available within active CIFAR programs. To be a core CIFAR Fellow, a researcher must be best suited to support the interdisciplinary research program (i.e., researchers at the top of their respective fields, full-time permanent researchers), and must have the capacity to contribute in unique ways to the proposed research program. This is in line with CIFAR’s model to promote interdisciplinary approaches to research.
  11.  Many of the researchers I’d like to work with on my LOI are very senior. Is this okay?
    Yes. The researchers involved have to be committed to the project and have the capacity to contribute in unique ways. You may have noticed from our website that our programs have researchers across a range of career stages, from early-career faculty to professors emeriti.
  12.  Can I submit more than one LOI to this Global Call?
    An applicant can be the Principal Applicant on only one LOI. However, they can be team members on other LOIs.
  13.  How do I know the process is fair?
    CIFAR is committed to an open, fair, and transparent process. Like any competition, the purpose of our process is to seek out the very best ideas as judged against our criteria. LOIs will be externally reviewed by an International Body of Reviewers comprised of exceptional researchers that span disciplines and who are selected for their expertise. The highest quality LOIs will be chosen by a panel made up of eminent researchers who serve on our Research Council. These LOIs will be selected to develop Full Proposals in Stage II.
  14.  What exactly is the LOI submission process?
    On this site, you’ll find a place to enter the LOI submissions system when the call launches on November 15. You will first set up an account for your team’s submission and then activate that account. Then you will enter basic contact information for you and your team, answer a few questions, and respond to the criteria outlined in the LOI guidelines by filling in corresponding fields. You will also upload PDFs of your team’s CVs and literature cited in the proposal and provide three suggested reviewers for your LOI. 
  15.  What kind of research do you support?
    CIFAR supports research endeavours that are sufficiently bold, require an interdisciplinary lens, and necessitate long-term collaboration. Due to this approach, research programs are not expected to have immediately applied outcomes. We suggest visiting the CIFAR Research Programs page of our website to see the diversity of programs CIFAR supports today.
  16.  Today, it looks like CIFAR doesn't support research questions that emerge out of the Humanities. Will you accept LOIs with leadership from the Humanities?
    Yes. CIFAR seeks to support research in all areas of human endeavour, including the Humanities.
  17.  If I make it to Stage II and my team writes a full proposal but doesn’t end up becoming a CIFAR program, can we apply again at a later date?
    Yes, you can apply again at a later date if your proposal is not selected. We are planning to have another Global Call in approximately 2 years.
  18.  Are you running this competition on an annual basis?
    We are currently planning to repeat this competition approximately every 2-3 years. This will depend on the success of this competition, and the resources we have available to support new research efforts. 
  19.  Some of your programs have been around a long time. Is that typical? How often do you start new programs?
    Research support is only provided to CIFAR programs for a five-year period. At the end of five years, each program undergoes a rigorous external, international review. The program is only renewed if it is deemed to be transforming fields of study and if it is has charted out an ambitious collaborative research question for the next five years.

    On average, CIFAR programs receive about 15 years of funding. In the last 10 years, we have launched 7 new programs and closed 4 programs.
  20.  What’s the maximum amount of time a CIFAR program can exist?
    No maximum time limit has been set.
  21.  Will this Global Call for Ideas mean that you will replacing any of your current programs?
    All CIFAR programs are subject to a competitive review. Existing programs that are up for review at this time will be assessed competitively with short-listed proposals through the Global Call for Ideas. This will allow CIFAR, through the eyes of the International Assessment Panel, an opportunity to measure the quality of these existing programs against new research ideas. We have 6 existing programs up for renewal in this competition. We expect to start between 3 and 6 new programs.
  22.  My research fits in well with one of your existing programs. Can I apply to be in that program? Who should I contact?
    Program membership is determined by the programs in consultation with CIFAR. For more information on a particular program you can contact the CIFAR Senior Director, Research listed for that program.
  23.  Why has CIFAR decided to do this now?
    The Canadian and global research communities have grown exponentially since CIFAR was launched in 1982. Today, we believe we need to reach out to new members of these communities to make sure we continue to support our vision to deepen our understanding of the world, creating knowledge that enriches human life and leads to a better future. We look forward to the many new ideas that will emerge from our Global Call for Ideas.
  24.  What is the standard size of an established CIFAR program?
    In general, CIFAR programs start small and tend to grow over time. Initial membership may only be about a half-dozen researchers. The practical limit they reach over time is the number of people that can interact and collaborate deeply. That, in our practice, ranges from about 10 to the low 20s, though we do have larger programs that are the result of extended engagement and collaboration over many years. We are not expecting applicants to outline the overall size and composition of the proposed program in detail. Instead, we prefer applicants identify the areas of expertise that would be needed to address the question as well as some of the key people that the applicants believe would be attracted to collaborate.
  25.  Is a budget required for the LOI submission?
    Applicants are not expected to provide a budget. CIFAR manages each program budget on a case by case basis, dependent on the size and needs of the program. Our funding model is flexible to allow for necessary support for the given team based on the size of the program and the number of planned meetings per year. CIFAR develops the necessary budget once a program has been approved.
  26.  Are references required in the LOI submission?
    References may be included in the strict word limits if you wish. However, we recommend that applicants do not spend significant effort summarizing the current literature, but rather focus on the key ideas or challenges that emerge from the literature.
  27.  Is there a specified format for CV submission?
    There is no standard format we expect. The only requirement is that it be no more than five pages. The CVs allow the assessment panel to be familiar with the applicant’s and co-applicants’ backgrounds, contributions, and any recognition they have received for their work. We are discouraging lengthy lists of publications, lectures, and committee involvement.
  28.  How much detail should I include in the Excellence of Research Team and Potential Leadership sections?
    The excellence discussion should focus on those researchers who will make up the core research team. Applicants should identify the nature of the team that they argue should be brought together, and then identify some of the key researchers that they anticipate would likely be drawn to the collaboration, beyond the co-applicants. It's partly speculative, as we are not expecting that the applicants have already sought out and enlisted this broader group. However, we expect the applicants to argue who should be attracted based on the ambitious nature of the question or challenge that is being proposed.

    The discussion on leadership should focus on the researcher(s) who would be Co-Directors of the program, were it to be supported.
  29.  Is there a minimum number of researchers I must include on the research team?
    Yes, for the LOI a minimum of three additional researchers are required (not including the Principal Applicant). For the full proposal, a minimum of seven additional researchers are required.
  30.  If I am the Principal Applicant on the LOI, do I have to be one of the Co-Directors put forward in the submission?
    The Principal Applicant does not have to be one of the Co-Directors proposed in the submission.
  31.  I plan to submit an LOI in which I am the Principal Applicant. I was also asked to be a core team member on another LOI. Can I be included on two or more LOIs?
    Yes, an applicant can be a member of the core team on more than one LOI. However, an applicant can only be the Principal Applicant on one LOI submission. 
  32.  Can I be a proposed Co-Director in more than one LOI submission?
    No, an applicant can only be put forward as a proposed Co-Director in one LOI submission.

For questions about the Global Call for Ideas, please email