Call for Pilot Project Proposals​

We want to acknowledge the individuals who have submitted their pilot project proposals – our thanks to all!

Review the list of winners at our Program page.

The Collaboratory on Research Definitions for Reserve and Resilience is seeking applications for studies that will help clarify the operational definitions for concepts used in research. The Executive Committee has settled on working definitions for the concepts of brain maintenance and cognitive reserve*. These are available here.


*Note that we plan to develop and seek consensus on definitions of further relevant concepts in the future. However, the present call for pilot studies is focused on these two.

We are releasing this call for pilot projects to encourage investigators to develop experimental approaches towards operationalizing and testing the proposed definitions for brain maintenance and cognitive reserve. For example, you might want to dissociate two different operational definitions for a single concept, or explore how two concepts can be differentially defined. If you are interested in testing other definitions, or another concept like brain reserve, resistance, resilience, etc., you are welcome to incorporate that concept as long as you focus on how you would differentiate it from the concepts that we have already defined, and you provide a clear working definition of your proposed concept.

Awardees will be invited to the upcoming online Second Annual Workshop on Reserve and Resilience to present their study design.


A central focus of the Second Workshop will be on panel discussions of the study designs, suggested operational definitions and approaches for clarifying or differentiating concepts.

We invited two types of proposals:


Studies that use existing data sets (human or nonhuman) to test the operational definitions of these concepts or related ones; or studies that compare existing data from human with nonhuman animal studies in order to explore whether the same operational definitions, neural or cognitive constructs can be investigated across species;


Studies using existing data sets:

Proposed projects should utilize one or more existing data sets. These can be from human or nonhuman animal studies. Longitudinal studies might be optimal for analyses but are not required. Similarly, studies with functional or neural network level data might be useful. Based on the data sharing policies in each data set, proposed analyses might either be done by the applicant on provided data, or by the data collection site, guided by specifications of the applicant. The data sets to be used by the applicant must be specified. We have prepared some guides for existing larger data sets whose investigators are willing to share or help analyze data but others can be used as well:

New human or nonhuman studies that collect specific data that can address issues relevant to this call for proposals.


New human or nonhuman studies:

We invite studies that will provide clarity on the defined concepts or help differentiate them from other suggested concepts, and can be completed within the budget and timeframe of this pilot program. This may include proposal for nested studies or additional data collection or analyses in the framework of existing data sets – thus effectively leveraging existing data sets and adding value to them.



Review Criteria

Proposals will be judged on the following criteria:

1. A clearly articulated conceptual background defining the construct(s) to be examined or compared – including clear description of how the proposal addresses the proposed definitions for brain maintenance and cognitive reserve.

2. Unambiguous operational definitions of all constructs that will be addressed.

3. Clear hypotheses with predictions based on (1) and (2). Applications where the analyses are geared towards
results that will help us better operationally define or contrast concepts will be preferred.

4. Prespecified analysis to test the primary hypothesis (see reproducibility below).

5. Clear specification of the data set(s) or animal model to be used. Access to the data/model must be demonstrated,
along with articulation of the specific variables to be measured.​

The Executive Committee of the Collaboratory proposes definitions for the concepts of cognitive reserve and brain maintenance. We spent a great deal of time considering the input received from many of you and tried to develop definitions that were not only guided by the literature, but that could facilitate the integration of human and animal research in this arena.

While we recognize that these definitions may evolve over time, we think that it is important to have working definitions of at least two of the central concepts under discussion, in order to provide a framework for the pilot projects and to promote future discussion among the
larger research community.

  • Cognitive reserve is a property of the brain that allows for sustained cognitive performance in the face of age-related changes and brain insult or disease.
  • Property of the brain refers to multiple potential mechanisms including molecular, cellular and network levels
  • Sustained cognitive performance ideally refers to trajectories measured longitudinally, although cross sectional data can also be illuminating
  • These mechanisms can be characterized via biological or cognitive approaches
  • Another potential mechanism through which reserve operates is reorganization of function, sometimes referred to as compensation.

Brain maintenance refers to the relative absence of change in neural resources over time as a determinant of preserved cognition in older age.

Brain maintenance and cognitive reserve are complementary concepts. One refers to relative preservation of the brain while the other refers to sustaining cognition in the face brain changes. Both brain maintenance and cognitive reserve can be influenced by multiple genetic and environmental factors, operating at various points across the lifespan.


To facilitate the reproducibility of results, we require investigators to be as open and transparent as possible. We will require detailed pre-registration/posting of analytic plans on the Collaboratory website. We encourage posting of fully annotated analytic code for the relevant statistical program, either before or after the analysis is complete. Exploratory analyses are also encouraged, but these should be labelled and discussed as such, and differentiated from pre-registered, confirmatory analyses, in the eventual write-up. Finally, to guard against publication bias, we encourage the use of pre-prints, in order that all results (positive, negative, or null) are communicated to the scientific community rapidly and regardless of their level of “interest” at specific journals.


  • We anticipate funding at least 10 studies, depending on the funding level of the grants awarded.
  • Studies must be designed to be completed within one year.
  • Funding will be provided to the applicant. If the analysis is done by the data collection site, funding can be provided for this as well. Funding will range between $10,000 and $30,000, depending on personnel needs, and whether the study uses existing data or requires collection of new data.
  • For US institutions, indirect costs can be awarded at the rate of the investigator’s institution. For non-US institutions, the indirect rate is 8%.




There is no eligibility restriction but postdoctoral fellows and early career investigators are particularly encouraged to apply.


Review and Notification of Grant Awards:

Awardees were notified early August.

For any questions about the application, please email Dr. Kulbir Kaur at

All technical questions relating to the application should be addressed to



Will students in their final year of their PhD program be eligible?
Yes. Please confirm with your institution that you are eligible to receive a grant, or whether you can do so along with your advisor.

Will researchers outside of US be eligible?
Definitely. We strongly encourage applications from all countries.

Application Components

What does the grant cover financially?
Any use of the grant funds that is well justified will be acceptable. This could include salary support for the PI, statistical support, research costs, etc. Just be sure to prepare your budget justification carefully to justify all expenses.

Is it possible to split funding across institutions?
Yes. One example would be if you are using other group’s data, and an analyst in that group will implement your analytic plan.

When should the proposed timeline start?
Create a timeline that describes how you will accomplish your goals within one year.

Do you have a recommended start date?
If needed for administrative purposes you can say that you will start in September 2020

Is this a one-time call?
We hope to have one more round of pilot projects approximately one year from now.

How many proposals will be funded?
While we are committed to funding at least 10 proposals, we will most likely fund at least 15.

Review criteria

What are key criteria for review and ranking?

  • A clear statement of the construct(s) to be examined or compared – including clear description of how the proposal addresses the proposed definitions for brain maintenance and cognitive reserve.
  • Operational definitions of all constructs that will be addressed.
  • Hypotheses with clear predictions based on (1) and (2).
  • Prespecified analysis to test the primary hypothesis.
  • Clear specification of the data set(s) or animal model to be used. Access to the data/model must be demonstrated, along with articulation of the specific variables to be measured.​
  • Clear timeline demonstrating the feasibility that the work can be conducted during the funding period.
  • Evidence of prior experience with the methods to be used.
  • Where relevant, how the results that will help us better operationally define or contrast concepts.

What is the expected sample size for new study proposals?
The details of your proposal are up to you. You need to have adequate power for your proposed analyses.

Data usage

How do I use the human and non-human data sets listed on the Reserve & Resilience website?
Check with the listed contact for details about the data collected and regarding data availability. Clarify whether the source can provide the data to you in a timely manner, or whether there is someone at the site of data collection that could do the analyses for you.

Can existing data set other than those provided on the Reserve & Resilience website be used?
Definitely. Any existing data set can be used.

Can we use more than one data set for the proposal and analysis?
Of course, particularly if it strengthens the study design.

Can only existing data sets be used or can proposals include collecting new data?
You are free to propose a study that collects new human or nonhuman data, but you must establish feasibility. For example, it is unlikely that new imaging data can be collected at this time.

Can I combine existing data analysis and new data collection?

Are you required to have brain imaging data or is it possible to have epidemiological approach without brain imaging? What about longitudinal follow up studies?
All types of data, and all modalities, both human and nonhuman can be used.

Sharing the data plan

Why do I need to post my analytic plan?
We are requiring that all grant recipients post their detailed analytic plan on the Reserve and Resilience website. One important reason for this is to improve reproducibility. In addition, a key focus of the upcoming workshop will be on the description and discussion of proposed analytic plans.

Should I register via Open Science Framework or preregister in a specific journal?
You may do this, but we will require posting of the analytic plan on our website.

Must I commit to share my data?
We are not requiring this.


How do we share databases?
If you would like to share your database for inclusion on the Reserve and Resilience website, please contact Dr. Kulbir Kaur:

Where can I send additional inquiries?
Contact Dr. Kulbir Kaur:

Review the recording of the April 29, 2020 Q&A session with Dr. Yaakov Stern and the Program Committee members.


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