DataLab is accepting applications from UC Davis faculty and professional researchers for 2024 Start-Up Research Collaborations. These exploratory, or early phase, research collaborations pair domain area researchers with DataLab’s data scientists to gather data and/or perform preliminary exploration and hypothesis testing to make rapid progress on a data-driven domain research problem. We will begin reviewing proposals on December 10, 2023.


We are particularly interested in soliciting proposals that align with UC Davis’ Grand Challenges for rapid innovation in the following focal areas: 

  • Climate Crisis: Climate change is impacting our world in multifarious ways, from rising sea levels to more frequent and intense wildfires. Without innovative measures to reduce greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere and substantial modifications to how our society operates, additional negative impacts will accelerate. We must chart paths forward to mitigate existing impacts, cultivate innovative adaptations, and provide community resilience while simultaneously addressing historic inequalities and building equity into climate solutions.
  • Emerging Health Threats: Human and animal health face new and evolving issues derived from, and impacting, our society and the environment. We do not exist in isolation. Society’s ill-prepared response to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in widespread suffering and loss, with disproportionate impacts on the most vulnerable populations. This tragedy is a clarion call to action for the entire world – to act now to prevent emerging health threats, of all kinds, from defining our future.
  • Reimagining the Land Grant University: Land grant universities, including UC Davis, were created in the 1800s to meet a growing demand for agricultural and technical education, but at a terrible cost. The U.S. took nearly 11 million acres of land from approximately 250 tribes, bands, and communities to create these institutions. We must address the harmful origins and complex aims of our land grant university, forge meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with Native nations, break down disciplinary silos, and develop models of positive public impact and equity for others to follow.
  • Sustainable Food Systems: The modern food system destroys more health, social, environmental, and economic value than it creates. Changes to our food and agricultural systems are needed to reduce hunger, protect managed and natural ecosystems, build climate resilience, and improve health and the quality of life for people around the world.

We also strongly encourage proposals for projects that directly or indirectly impact social and environmental justice issues.

This program represents a significant investment from DataLab to support UC Davis researchers who have ideas for data intensive projects but lack the technical and data science expertise to carry out the research. Specific aims of this exploratory work generally focus on honing or determining the validity of proposed research question(s) relative to the available data, assessing potential approaches and piloting solutions, and/or producing preliminary results suitable for the development of successful proposals for multi-year, collaborative, externally funded research.


Projects can be at any stage of the research pipeline for the given research question (data gathering, cleaning, management, analysis, visualization, interpretation, dissemination, preservation) and feature any type of data (e.g., numeric, text, image, audio, etc.). For example, prior projects have included:

  • modeling and data exploration;
  • visualization, including large-scale 3D/virtual reality;
  • text analysis and natural language processing;
  • network analyses;
  • image classification;
  • informatics.

Products from Start-Up Projects are exploratory in nature and additional work may be necessary for publication and production-ready products. Accepted projects will be scoped to include statements of work and project deliverables that can be successfully achieved within 8-12 weeks from the start of work.  Prior project descriptions can be found on DataLab’s research pages.

Proposals will be evaluated and selected in early 2024. Project work will begin in either Winter, Spring, or Fall 2024. Start-Up Projects selected to begin in Spring 2024 will have the benefit of incorporating participation from student interns enrolled in DataLab’s introductory data science series.


  • Regular consultation with the DataLab directorate;
  • Technical project management by DataLab staff;
  • 20%+ time of dedicated DataLab staff data scientist time to work on the project;
  • Customized training opportunities for partnering groups on an as needed basis;
  • Access to DataLab compute infrastructure as necessary and suitable for completion of the project;
  • Up to $1,500 dollars as needed in fees for licensing data required to complete the proposed project;
  • All project PIs are invited to become DataLab Affiliates;
  • Access to DataLab physical facilities in Shields Library for team meetings.
  • Engagement with the broader Grand Challenges community at UC Davis, potentially including networking and large scale proposal development support.


  • Participation in weekly project meetings (typically virtual but in person also possible);
  • Ability to dedicate focused time towards the completion of the proposed project during the identified time period;
  • Availability to DataLab staff and directorship for communications (phone, email, Zoom, etc.) required to keep project moving forward successfully between project meetings;
  • Review and contributions to the final project report and documentation;
  • Present research at a DataLab hosted event (timing to be mutually determined);
  • Participation in a DataLab networking event;
  • Provide attribution to DataLab in any resulting products from the collaboration;
  • Actively seek out, co-write and co-PI suitable follow-up applications for external funding to expand and continue the research. (Expectation is that domain researchers would be the primary PI on a domain-focused grant, whereas DataLab would lead on a technical or data science-focused grant.)


Any principal investigators (PIs) from any department at UC Davis and UC Davis Health are eligible to apply.  Postdoctoral scholars and advanced graduate students seeking support for a project may write a proposal but require support and engagement from their faculty mentor as the primary PI. Proposed projects cannot be a stand alone chapter of a students’ thesis or dissertation.


All proposals will be evaluated by an external review committee consisting of representatives from DataLab’s directorate, faculty advisory board, and affiliate community. Priority will be given to projects that the committee deems: (a) have the highest potential for impact; (b) most likely to lead to larger, externally funded research efforts; and (c) most technologically feasible within the scope and resources of the Start-Up program.


Submit the following via email to DataLab with the subject “Start-Up Application 2024” by December 10, 2023:

  1. Narrative proposal of approximately 2-3 pages (but no more than 5 pages) that includes the following details:
  • A description of the basic research question/hypothesis for the proposed project;
  • Brief discussion of what, if any, approaches you have tried and why you need data science support;
  • A description of the dataset(s) to be analyzed, including:
    • any known issues with data access, copyright, or required licensing fees;
    • a statement to the effect of whether you “own” the data (do you have permission to share and distribute the data?);
    • a real or pseudo sample of the data (not counted as part of proposal page limit);
  • A description of how the project fits within your larger research goals and agenda;
  • A discussion of the potential impact of findings on your research domain and which focal area(s) of Grand Challenges it aligns with; and
  • A list of known funding programs and/or sources which would be targeted for funding future follow-up research.

2. One paragraph description of the project and research team suitable for inclusion in the DataLab research blog and outreach. Please also include a few research images to accompany this overview paragraph.

3. CVs of all PIs and primary project participants (2-page biosketch preferred). Include a list with emails of all members of the domain project team who will directly participate in the project (i.e., any postdocs, graduate students, undergraduate students, staff, etc.).


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