(Updated 2/9/16)

UPDATE: For applicants at Stanford, we will be holding optional office hours to help give feedback and prepare applications the last week of February. Please fill out this form to request an appointment. 


David and Helen Gurley Brown believed that magic happens through a unique kind of collaboration — when powerful (yet, untold) stories emerge through the creation of groundbreaking technology. It is in this spirit that the institute bearing their name offers “Magic Grants”  to support small, interdisciplinary teams of graduate students or postgraduates inventing new ways to inform and entertain. Successful projects might continue as ventures outside the university, and the institute has various ways to help teams on that journey.

We are now accepting Magic Grant proposals for the 2016-17 academic year. A successful proposal clearly explains a unique idea or story and outlines a one-year plan for its realization or the development of a prototype. Through a competitive review process, we anticipate funding 2-3 proposals both at Columbia and at Stanford. We will give special preference to “bicoastal” proposals, those having team members from each university. Funded teams are expected to work together at one or both of the Brown locations and participate in Institute events, helping build a multi-disciplinary community of researchers and storytellers.


Stanford University

Teams of two or more graduate or postdoctoral students working in disciplines relevant to media and technology, (e.g., computer science, engineering, statistics, communications, journalism, design, and business) are encouraged to apply. Teams may also include an exceptionally qualified undergraduate student or a visiting student, as long as the other team members are graduate or postdoctoral students. All grant recipients must be matriculated at Stanford during the 2016-17 academic year. Magic Grants can complement fellowships or similar unrestricted funding from other sources. Students who already have partial funding for the proposed project are also encouraged to apply. Applications may be submitted directly by students, with supporting letters from faculty, or, preferably, by a faculty member on behalf of the team.

Columbia University

We seek applications from teams of students, faculty, and alumni working in areas relevant to media and technology (e.g., journalism, communications and the digital humanities, as well as statistics, computer and data science, and engineering). Depending on the needs of the project, teams might also include a member from a journalistic or other institution. Magic Grant recipients, however, must spend time in residence at either Columbia or Stanford during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Encouraging bicoastal teams

The Brown Institute is a unique connection between Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford School of Engineering. As such, we are particularly interested in supporting “bicoastal” Magic Grants proposals, those with teams that have at least one member associated with each university meeting the institutional eligibility requirements listed above.

To seed this kind of project, we have sponsored two special events known as Base Camp. We will also host an event as part of the Brown Institute “All hands” meeting at Columbia University in New York City on February 19-20 to foster conversations between students at each university that will develop into bicoastal proposals.


Benefits and Expectations

Each winning team will receive:

Funding of up to $150,000 for the 2016-17 academic year (with up to $300,000 for bicoastal teams)
Access to the resources of the Brown Institute
Opportunity to work with the Brown Fellows and other Magic Grant recipients

We expect that Magic Grant recipients to carry out their work in residence at the Brown Institute, either at Columbia or at Stanford, and participate in the Institute’s activities, including regular “All hands” review meetings in California and New York. To promote cross-fertilization, we expect that Magic Grant recipients will devote a small percentage of their time to collaborate with others Brown Institute members.

Application Process

Each team must submit an application to be considered for Magic Grant funding. Applications will be evaluated on various criteria -- the novelty of a platform or the quality of a story, the broader impacts of the project, and the strength of the team. 

Submission of applications. Each team must submit the following documents in PDF format.

A signed cover letter, including proposal title and the full name, affiliation, and contact information (postal address, email address, phone) of each team member

A two-page proposal which explains:

The innovative idea(s)
Originality, uniqueness, and relation to other work in the area
Potential for broader impact
Work plan to demonstrate viability of the idea(s) within 12 months
Expected outcomes, results, prototypes, or media products

Two letters of support that assess the importance of the project and its chances of success. At Stanford these should be from faculty members, preferably written by the advisors of the team members. If both team members have the same advisor, one letter suffices. At Columbia, students and alumni can submit letters from their advisor or another faculty member familiar with their work. Letters from non-faculty should identify the recommender’s relationship to the team members.

The résumé of each team member

The transcript of each student on the team 

A budget for 12 months not exceeding a total of $150,000. The budget can include financial support of the team members (e.g. tuition remission and salary in accordance with University guidelines); cost for specialized hardware, software, and materials; travel, services; etc. and should follow the rules of the respective university. Each line item must be justified. Do not include indirect costs/overhead. Students are urged to consult with their faculty advisor(s) and the university administration. Bicoastal teams must submit separate budgets for Columbia and Stanford, under respective rules, each individually not exceeding $150,000. Columbia applicants should use the budget template provided here. Stanford applicants should use the budget template provided here.

Each team should combine their application documents—cover letter, proposal, letters of support, résumés, transcripts, and budget—into a single ZIP file. This should be uploaded via:

Selection of winners.  Judging will take place in a two-step process. First, based on the reviews of the written applications, a small number of teams will be selected as finalists at each university. Finalists will then be invited to give a formal presentation, followed by a Q&A. We encourage any supporting faculty or outside advisors to join us for the presentations and Q&A, though their attendance is not mandatory. Finalist presentations will be organized both at Columbia and Stanford. Bicoastal teams should be prepared to present at both events -- Stanford team members presenting at Stanford, and Columbia team members presenting at Columbia. Magic grant winners will be selected after the finalist presentations.


Proposal submission deadline: March 7, 2016
Announcement of finalists: March 29, 2016
Presentation by Columbia finalists: April 18, 2016
Presentation by Stanford finalists: April 22, 2016
Announcement of winners: April 29, 2016
Projects start: September 2016 (Summer 2016 by special arrangement) 

Brown Institute Fellowships

Note: Fellowships at Stanford are awarded based on faculty recommendations. Please do not submit applications for Stanford Fellowships.

The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism invites Columbia students and postgraduates to apply for a Brown Institute fellowship that will run during the 2016-17 academic year. These positions are open to graduate and Ph.D. students and postgraduates affiliated with any school at the University, not just the Journalism School. 

The Institute was endowed in 2012 by David and Helen Gurley Brown to spur media innovation. The Institute is based both at the Columbia Journalism School as well as the Stanford University School of Engineering, and scholars will be encouraged to work cooperatively with their colleagues on the opposite coast. 

Scholars will be appointed by Prof. Mark Hansen, who is the Columbia Director of the Institute in cooperation with faculty from the Graduate School of Journalism. 

The fellowships are designed for students and postgrads who seek to do research that will help us understand the seismic changes in the media landscape. We are interested in seeing proposals that address the changing ways that content is created, distributed and consumed in the digital era, with particular emphasis on how technology can be leveraged to provide innovation in the media world. 

Applicants are asked to submit: 

A résumé, with all relevant work and educational experience and transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate studies 

Letters of support from two people, preferably one of whom is a faculty member 

A proposal of no more than 1,000 words that details the scope of research the applicant expects to tackle, the relevance of that research to those working in media, and a game plan for how the research will be conducted over the course of the 12 months. 

Postgraduates will be appointed as Postdoctoral Research Scholars, paid an annual base salary of ~mid-$40K's and be eligible for the University benefits package offered to officers of research. Current students may receive a student officer of research appointment, with a salary pro-rated based on the terms of their part-time appointment, and will continue to be entitled to health coverage according to the terms and conditions of the student health plan. They also will be provided guidance in their project by at least one faculty member as well as some support for technical or other needs. 

Columbia University is an equal opportunity employer committed to creating and supporting a community diverse in every way: race, ethnicity, geography, religion, academic and extracurricular interest, family circumstance, sexual orientation, socio-economic background and more.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can the team members be from different departments?
A: Yes, of course. Multidisciplinary teams are especially encouraged.

Q: Can one student on the team be enrolled at Stanford and the other student be enrolled at Columbia?
A: Yes, we particularly encourage bicoastal projects. Please explain in your proposal how you plan to collaborate.

Q: Can a team of one student apply?
A: No. We ask that a team of two or more work together on forming and executing the idea.

Q: Can the same team submit more than one proposal?
A: No. We expect that you devote your undivided efforts to the project, if it is funded.

Q: Can a student be part of two different teams who submit two different proposals?
A: No, for the same reason.

Q: What happens if one or both applicants on a winning team already have financial support?
A: This is great, if this support is compatible with carrying out the proposed project. For example, if a student has a fellowship or a research assistantship from his/her advisor to work on the proposed project, we welcome this as a partial offset of cost.

Q: If one or both members of a winning team already have financial support, should this support be included in the budget?
A: No. Cost that is not funded by the Brown Institute should not be included in the budget. It also does not count against the $150,000 maximum budget. However, you should explain in your budget justification that you already have support and this particular item is therefore not included in the budget. 

Q: Can Magic Grant recipients apply for a project continuation after the first year?
A: Yes, if there are compelling reasons. Proposed projects should be designed to reach their goals within one year. Follow-on proposals will have to compete with new proposals and go through the same application and review process.


Established in 2012, the Institute is a collaboration between Columbia and Stanford Universities. Our mission is simple: Sponsor thinking, building and speculating on how stories are discovered and told in a networked, digitized world.


Brown News