Interdisciplinary Research Leaders

2021 Call for Applications

    Release Date: March 3, 2021 | Application Deadline: Wed, 5 May 2021

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is working alongside others to build a Culture of Health that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. We are facing many obstacles that pose challenges to this audacious vision—inequities in life expectancy across communities; high-cost health care but poorer quality of care and health; and more.

That’s why RWJF supports a number of leadership programs that aim to develop a generation of leaders who see that we need new approaches to these pressing problems. These programs support and connect leaders who are caring, curious, collaborative, and committed to taking risks and moving boldly toward real pathways to change—and to achieving greater equity in communities across our country.


Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL) is a three-year national leadership development program that aims to foster and support new interdisciplinary, action-oriented research collaborations. Achieving health equity—especially for communities of color, those in low socioeconomic positions, and Native populations—is a core value of the program. The aim for the 2021 IRL program is to generate high-quality, community-engaged research useful for dismantling structural racism and improving health and health equity. Structural racism is manifested in policies, practices, and programs in ways that segregate populations based on race and ethnicity, and create barriers to social opportunity and upward mobility. There is an urgent need to identify solutions for eliminating and reversing the devastating effects of structural racism.

For the 2021 cohort, we will select up to 15 teams of three midcareer individuals each (two researchers and a community partner) from diverse disciplinary backgrounds or scientific perspectives. The applicant organization will receive up to $125,000 for each team’s specific research project, including $25,000 per year per fellow. After the fellowship begins, funds up to $15,000 per year will be available from the national program center to the community partner’s employer, sponsoring institution, or another community organization directly involved in the research project (generally limited to Section 501(c)(3) public charities and government entities). Training, collaborative opportunities, and travel expenses are also provided independent of this award.

Do you share our vision to help build a Culture of Health—and do you want to take the next step in your leadership journey? We encourage you to review the full call for proposals, explore complete details about the program at the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders website, and register for the informational webinar for prospective applicants.

Eligibility and Selection Criteria

  • Be at least 21 years old as of September 1, 2021.
  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or individual granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the time of application. As federal policy or laws change, we may need to consider adjustments in eligibility and grant terms.

The following individuals are not eligible to apply or be part of an Interdisciplinary Research Leaders team:

  • Federal, state, tribal and local government employees who are considered government officials  under Section 4946 of the Internal Revenue Code.
  • Individual candidates who are related by blood or marriage to any Officer  or Trustee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, or be a descendant of its founder, Robert Wood Johnson.
  • Individuals who are receiving support from other research fellowships/traineeships; this includes NIH K award.

Key Dates

  • Watch the March 18, 2021 informational webinar recording and view the slides (PDF).
  • May 5, 2021 (3 p.m. ET)
    Deadline for receipt of fellowship application.
  • June 29–July 20, 2021
    Semifinalist team interviews (virtual).
  • Late August 2021
    Finalist teams notified of recommendation for fellowship program.
  • September 15, 2021
    Deadline for receipt of finalist supplemental applications.
  • November 1, 2021
    Fellowships begin. Grant funding initiated.
  • Winter 2021–2022 (date TBD)
    Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program meeting (on-site attendance required unless there are public health concerns).
  • April 7, 2022
    Last date for revised research proposals from teams are due.
  • 2022 (date TBD by RWJF)
    RWJF Annual Leadership Institute (in-person attendance required unless there are public health concerns), date and location TBD.
  • April–May 2022
    Research grant funding initiated for teams.

Total Awards

  • Number of fellows in the 2021 cohort: up to 45 fellows (15 teams)
  • Grant funds from RWJF will include: 
    • Stipend: $25,000 per fellow for each year of the three-year program, $75,000 in total. These funds are meant to support time for participation in the IRL program, including completing the program curriculum, national meetings, and dissemination activities, and will be paid to the sponsoring institution(s) as described below. An optional administrative fee of $1,000 per year, $3,000 in total, to cover the sponsoring organization’s administrative costs of managing the grant will be available. No other indirect costs will be allowed.
    • Research project grant: $125,000 for the specific research project that each team will carry out. The team will apply for the research project grant after the fellowship begins and, at that time, will select the organization that will receive and manage the research project grant. We anticipate that the total 24- to 30-month budget, including indirect costs/overhead for the project will be up to $125,000. The research component of IRL will support research activities only; it is not intended to support program development or implementation. Research grant funds can be used to: cover additional effort as needed; purchase data or supplies; cover support staff; collect data; or pay for travel necessary for the project’s execution.
  • Travel expenses for all required program meetings and trainings will be paid directly by the national leadership program center or RWJF.

Additional resources—in the form of training, collaborative opportunities, and travel expenses—are also provided independent of this award.

After the fellowship begins, funds of up to $15,000 per year will be available from the national program center to the community partner’s employer, sponsoring institution, or another community organization directly involved in the research project. This will generally be limited to Section 501(c)(3) public charities and government entities. 

Recognizing that $25,000 may not be sufficient to fully fund a one-day-per-week time commitment to IRL for some fellows, we ask at the finalist stage for the team members’ employers to acknowledge their willingness to allow the fellow to commit the required time to the program.

Application is Now Closed

Application closed as of:
May 05, 2021, 3:00 p.m. ET

Key Contacts

IRL National Program Center
Phone: (844) 210-9072 (toll-free)

Learn More About Our Work

Leadership for Better Health