Funding Your Research

At most colleges and universities, your ability to find funding for your research program will be a major measure of your success. You need to be able to find fundable projects, identify possible sources of funding (internal and external), and then convince the people reading your proposal that you are just the person to tackle the research you propose.

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Grant writing: identifying sources of funding and writing proposals

Sources of funding

Successful Proposals written by geoscience faculty members

Tips from Early Career Workshop Alums

On finding sources of funding

  • I've found that the best approach [to finding funding sources] is to simply ask other folks in your field and other youngish faculty what sources they've been successful with. .... In all, I've found to my pleasant surprise that the funding situation is FAR from bleak, and with a little planning and effort, it's relatively easy to obtain modest amounts of funding for research. I think the trick is to be flexible, look at all sorts of funding agencies instead of getting hung up on NSF, and to prepare a meticulously written proposal that gets sent in well ahead of the deadline. I think it's also useful to be somewhat aware of the funding cycle for the agency in question, and get information directly from the program officer on the specific call for proposals
  • Foundation grants often require more input and effort from your university, so your school needs to be supportive of that cause. On the other hand, most of the ones I've come across have little in the way of external reviewers (other than their board members, etc.) so the turnaround time for a decision could be quite good.

On writing grant proposals

  • Focus thinking on asking questions rather than trying to answer them. Good questions equal dollars.
  • Talk to the NSF project directors personally.
  • About grant writing: (1) Ask other people to read and comment on the proposal. (2) Already have something done (if possible published) before writing the proposal so it seems already half done. (3) Be very careful in writing the proposal to avoid upsetting the reviewers - take care to find as many citations as possible and read what they say, give credit where due, and view it as a hypothesis testing' proposal rather than as a 'prove something' proposal.
  • Most helpful advice for grant proposals: Start early; have other people read it before it goes (very important); suggest "benevolent" reviewers (i.e. people who you know or who know you).... [P]eople who know you or have at least heard of you will likely give you the benefit of the doubt, whereas people who might be famous in the field but have never heard of you might not.

Other advice

  • In-kind services (e.g., sample analyses) provided by other schools can sometimes count towards tenure as funding you've obtained.
  • Make friends with the research office at your school. Hint: the way to do this is by not rushing them at the last minute to sign off on your hastily prepared proposal, but to hand things in well ahead of time. If they like you, they'll keep track of calls for proposals for you.