Bikes parked in front of FRI's offices on campus at UC Davis

The New Knowledge Creators

Quick Summary

  • All three National Science Foundation submissions the Feminist Research Institute was involved in this past year received awards. What made the difference? Strategy, staff, and timeliness.

At the Feminist Research Institute, we believe in a future of justice and inclusivity, and in a knowledge base made more impactful by intersectional research. And we think this approach to research is a little bit radical.

Our research strategy is focused less on carving out topical niches, and more on rethinking the research process itself. There are longstanding feminist questions of how knowledge is created—by whom, for whom, and for what ends—and applying them to knowledge creation means thinking through how research happens and how the different gears of research fit together.

How do we train researchers? How do we support their pursuits? Is collaboration between researchers, and between researchers and communities, encouraged? Is research impactful and accessible?

Who counts as a knowledge creator?

In 2019, the FRI team created a strategic five-year research plan in line with our mission “to create more impactful and accurate knowledge by combining a commitment to social and gender justice with contextualized methodologies.” This strategy, combined with the right staff in place, has enabled us to thoughtfully grow our networks and build relationships with collaborators across UC Davis and beyond. Having a clear research vision allows us to recognize opportunities and mobilize our resources quickly, as well as making it clear when a project is not right for us.

During the 2020-2021 academic year, FRI was proud to collaborate on three National Science Foundation proposals for feminist research, and all three were funded. We’re proud, but we’re also intrigued -- these projects could not be more different from one another in some ways, representing different types of research, different fields, and different types of teams. What all of them have in common though is that each one advances FRI’s mission to steward collaborative and change-oriented research that envision better worlds. Our success this past academic year with external funding is indicative that this mission is not ours alone.

Asking Different Questions Research Training

You can frequently find FRI Associate Director Sarah McCullough operating behind the scenes, supervising the team and ensuring that programs and commitments unfold smoothly. But McCullough also upends the traditional faculty-led model of research in her role as Principle Investigator on multiple awards. As McCullough’s role as co-PI on the NSF IGE award that launched the successful Asking Different Questions (ADQ) program nears completion, McCullough can now add an NSF Ethical and Responsible Research award to her list of funding accomplishments.

Building off of the success of the ADQ program, McCullough set out to form a team of researchers to address how to “empower a new generation of climate scientists to be agents of change by centering equity in climate-related work.” The project will offer UCD graduate students interested in climate-related work the opportunity to acquire tools to engage in ethical, equitable knowledge production and problem-solving.  Asking Different Questions in Climate Change Science, Impact, Mitigation and Adaptation brings together an impressive team of UCD faculty, including Amanda Crump (Plant Sciences), Alissa Kendall (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Mark Lubell (Environmental Science and Policy), Kyaw Tha Paw U (Land, Air and Water Resources), Dawn Sumner (Earth and Planetary Sciences), and Kalindi Vora (Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies).

Health Patient and Practitioner Co-Production of Knowledge

After the publication of her last book, then-FRI Director and Gender and Sexuality Studies faculty Kalindi Vora turned her focus towards collaborative projects and invested a great deal of energy in advancing FRI’s research mission.

After a string of team-based research success, including multiple NSFs, Vora was ready to pivot to a new solo research project. The benefit of research development staff is having someone that knows your research interests well, including those ideas that are just starting to percolate, or that had to be put on the backburner because of other commitments, or those that were just waiting for the right time. Vora and I checked in regularly on whether the timing and the project were right to pursue the NSF STS. That background and familiarity with her thought process with the project made it that much easier to move quickly and efficiently when she was ready to move forward with a proposal submission. Vora will begin work on her NSF-funded project Narrating Autoimmunity through Biographies of Illness, Narrative Medicine, and Treatment in 2022.

Big Idea: Navigating the New Arctic

While FRI primarily focuses on the active research agendas of our leadership and affiliates, we also provide proposal management support for other researchers if the project is right. Maria Marco (Food Science and Technology), Jessica Perea (Native American Studies), Aviaja Lyberth Hauptmann (Visiting Carlsberg Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Davis and Assistant Professor at Ilisimatusarfik - University of Greenland) and Stephanie Maroney (Davis Humanities Institute) approached FRI with a compelling vision for the new NSF grant, Navigating the New Artic. Navigating the New Artic is one of NSF’s “Big Ideas,” or areas of research the agency has identified that need targeted support to address urgent issues with widespread impact. The team was on a short timeline and new to the particularities of the NSF submission process and were interested in proposal support. Their project is exactly the kind of research that FRI wants to help make happen. With an interdisciplinary, innovative approach to research on fermented foods and food security in Greenland, the project seeks to center Inuit knowledge and expertise and build lasting research networks with an eye towards informing policy benefitting Artic communities. With FRI’s assistance, the team was able to move the proposal forward and secure funding for this important work. Find out more about the project here.

Time is Everything

FRI’s recent success is a sign that our strategic research plan is on the right track. But it also may be a sign that the research landscape might just be catching up with us. With both federal and private funding agencies increasingly focusing on issues of equity, structural inequality and emphasizing the importance of cross-disciplinary knowledge production, FRI’s research strategy is finding a wider audience.

While FRI’s approach to knowledge creation is purposefully rooted in decades of feminist, queer, and anti-racist thought and activism, it is also one that produces more impactful and accurate knowledge about the world. FRI’s dedication to transformational and collaborative research seems to be in line with what many funding agencies are increasingly looking for and there is a greater openness to novel approaches to pressing issues. Whether it be solving health inequities or climate change, the future of research requires a willingness to question traditional models. The focus cannot just be on how research can solve problems of inequity, we also must ask how the research ecosystem itself produces and maintains these inequities.

Through strategic development of new knowledges in line with our priorities and helping to empower the next generation of researchers, the FRI team is looking forward to this next phase of research and continuing to build collaborations that change how we do research, and the knowledge we produce together.

Interested in collaborating with FRI? Contact us at To stay current on what we are up to, follow us on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.