Discover CALS

See how our current work and research is bringing new thinking and new solutions to some of today's biggest challenges.

Cohort-based faculty hiring

The Grand Challenge

Creating seeds for transformative change with strategic investment is a familiar concept for Cornell CALS. Many CALS individuals and teams have gained new ground by focusing on a seemingly impossible challenge and achieving impactful results – this is what uniquely separates us from our peer institutions.

The academic landscape has been undergoing dramatic changes in recent years, however, with many new tools, techniques, and technologies pushing on the very notion of academic discipline. The growing desire for researchers to seek new approaches as they embark on solving scientific problems is equally accelerating in the modern academic setting. More projects are finding success through multiple disciplinary convergence. Building on conventional academic departments, cross-college and university projects have revealed connective threads that dissolve traditional academic boundaries and branch out to the world around us.

During the 2021-22 academic year, we organized a highly successful collegewide process to hire a new cohort of scientists who focus on interdisciplinary scholarship and translational research to address systemic challenges facing historically and habitually marginalized and disadvantaged communities. This novel hiring process, focusing more on broader areas of research than specific academic disciplines, yielded a record number of applicants, while several of our academic departments also underwent more traditional faculty hiring processes based in academic departments.

Primary Objective

CALS will build on the success of the cohort hiring approach and refresh the way we hire new researchers to complement our existing programs and initiatives. Our departments will continue to pursue academic hiring within their disciplines. Our new transdisciplinary moonshot initiatives will grow across our current disciplinary breadth, prioritizing five key research topics to focus our attention and lay the groundwork for new efforts that push the boundaries of what’s possible.

Moonshot cohorts will be created via a bottom-up, collaborative proposal structure for each area with central support for activities, engagement, and research. This cooperative approach will break down barriers for departments to assemble teams best equipped for each challenge area, bringing detail and creativity to the moonshots. To create future faculty lines under this program, CALS will solicit competitive proposals from faculty with the following general criteria:

  1. Describes a research agenda within one of the moonshot areas that draws on at least three academic units or programs.
  2. Includes areas of inquiry spanning both the natural and social sciences.
  3. Includes consideration of potential unintended consequences and externalities to ensure any solutions are more inclusive, equitable, and positive.
  4. Proposes new academic staff hires charged with nonacademic collaborations and new faculty hires.

Faculty submissions to this initiative were submitted in winter 2022 and finalized in spring 2023.

The five moonshot areas

green leaves surround computer with text

Redesigning 21st Century Agri-Food Systems

Nourishing people and planet as interconnected systems that create opportunities for digital agriculture, circularity, markets and economic development, and impactful local solutions from New York to the world. 

Pioneering Life Science Breakthroughs

From biomolecules, genes, and evolution to human behavior, development and communication, species composition, biodiversity conservation and the biosphere.

Leading in Synthetic Biology

Harnessing the power of science and innovation biology to engineer new material solutions, create sustainable technologies for markets, and understand such advances from a societal perspective.

Accelerating Holistic Climate Solutions

From energy resources, greenhouse gas reductions, carbon capture, and resilience to adaptation, economics, climate justice, and food security.

Strategic “Wild Card”

In addition to the four core areas, we will solicit bottom-up proposals in new areas not currently identified in the moonshots as hiring priorities for the college.

​​​​​​​What is moonshot thinking?

Our definition

Just as most complex problems cannot be solved with the status quo, landing on the moon required a concentrated transdisciplinary approach. We embrace this moonshot thinking concept as the action of solving complex, real-world problems, including those that seem impossible, with big ideas and innovative thinking that spans disciplines as well as new technologies.