Michael Woodford Named as a 2017 RISE Awardee

Columbia University Office of the Executive Vice President for Research announced the names of six teams receiving funding through Research Initiatives in Science and Engineering (RISE), one of the largest internal research grant competitions within the University. The annual award provides funds for up to six interdisciplinary faculty teams from the basic sciences, engineering, and/or medicine to pursue blossoming and extremely creative research projects. Each team’s award is worth $80,000 per year for up to two years.

The RISE competition was created in 2004 to provide Columbia faculty and research scientists with the initial funding necessary to explore paradigm-shifting and high-risk ideas. Amidst federal budget cuts for the sciences, researchers are increasingly challenged to provide more conclusive initial proofs of concept to demonstrate viability, even though they lack funding to complete such preliminary work. In this competition, Columbia follows the National Institutes of Health’s definition of high-risk research as having “an inherent high degree of uncertainty, and the capability to produce a major impact on important problems.”

“RISE serves two fundamental purposes: Firstly, it seeds imaginative and daring interdisciplinary research collaborations,” says G. Michael Purdy, Executive Vice President for Research, and Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “Secondly, it strengthens these projects chances of receiving future federal funding in a mutable climate. RISE will empower these six new teams, just as it has done for the 61 previous awarded teams. RISE’s investment can be quantified–funded projects have received back 600% of the original investment in follow-on funding from the government and foundations, which testifies to the distinction of our researchers and the great utility of seed funding at Columbia. With the impending cuts to federal discretionary spending, seed funding programs such as RISE have never been more important.”

The 2017 competition accepted 29 Round 1 applications, thereafter inviting 10 full proposals into Round 2. Between six and nine reviewers were assigned to each Round 2 proposal in order to evaluate the interdisciplinary quality, potential impact, and innovation of each project. 94 reviewers—tenured or tenure-track faculty or research scientists within the University—participated in selecting this year’s awarded teams. “It is never easy to select only five or six projects from so many extraordinary proposals,” says Victoria Hamilton, Executive Director of Research Initiatives, and administrator of RISE. “This year alone, 94 reviewers generously lent expertise to select the high-risk, high-reward proposals that RISE seeks to seed. Some of these six projects—just like some of the previously awarded projects—may not result in the substantial discovery and impacts that they targeted, but this is the hallmark of risky research. We are excited by each of the teams and their proposed challenges, and eagerly await the inevitably remarkable discoveries that these investigations will make over the coming years.”



Integrating Information Sampling and Decision Making Through Large Scale Testing of Human Information Seeking Behavior

Jacqueline Gottlieb, Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience

Michael Woodford, John Bates Clark Professor of Political Economy, Department of Economics

Understanding information sampling decisions—our ability to seek information from specific sources at specific times—is crucial for describing phenomena of central interest in economics, neuroscience, and psychology. However, our field has scant empirical evidence that characterizes such decisions and can constrain formal theories. The experiments we propose are motivated by preliminary data we obtained indicating that human information sampling policies show marked individual variation and contradict the predictions of normative models. We propose to extend these results by developing novel APPs that are downloadable on mobile devices, and allow collection of much larger data sets than is possible with standard methods (20,000 participants or more). In parallel, we will extend prominent economic theories of information sampling in ways that are consistent with the empirical data. Together, our efforts will (1) provide empirical answers to key questions regarding information sampling policies; (2) allow significant extension of normative theories of decision making to take account of informational constraints and the strategies that individuals use to overcome these constraints; and (3) establish a robust behavioral testing platform that can be extended in the future to gather other types of “big data” on human behavior.


More information on the RISE program can be found here.