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Show me the money: How academics can secure research funding

As academics, we are rarely at a shortage of ideas for research topics within our disciplines, but having the money to execute the research of those ideas – that’s a different story.

Research funding generally comes from one of three sources: corporations, government, or charitable organizations. According to an article in Science, referencing data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), federal agencies provided for only 44 percent of research funding in 2015 representing a significant decline from over 70 percent less than half a century earlier.

Combine this decline with an award rate (number of awards / applications reviewed) of 17 percent, as reported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2014, and the availability of research funding may look bleak. To better understand the process, we asked three TAA members to provide advice on methods for securing research funding.

Dr. Sara A. Myers, assistant vice chancellor for research and creative activity and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, acknowledged the broad potential for response to this topic and made four recommendations from a general perspective:

  1. Learn what the typical funding streams are in your field
  2. Try to read some examples of successful proposals
  3. Find a mentor who has been successful in receiving funding
  4. A strong idea that fits the purpose of the funding mechanism is always most important

Dr. Alissa Hartig, an assistant professor at Portland State University, suggested looking within your own institution before seeking external funding. Having received a couple of internal grants, Dr. Hartig advises not overlooking such sources as she has “been able to do a lot with internal research funding.”

Dr. Joanna Salapska-Gelleri, an assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, echoed the idea of internal funding, stating that “securing a small grant from your own institution may be a great place to start.” These small grants may come from the Office of Research, if one exists at your institution, or through private donors wishing to support the research efforts at the institution. For the latter, she suggests asking the Foundation Office about availability of funds.

Dr. Myers acknowledges the benefit of internal funding, but as an avenue for leading to external funding that can assist the University financially. She cautions that internal funding sources may not count toward tenure at many institutions while external funding makes you “a valuable contributor to the University because you are bringing additional research, potential students, and publicity to your university”.

If your institution has a support system, like the Office of Research and Sponsored programs available to Dr. Salapska-Gelleri at FGCU, there may be experts on hand to help with locating and applying for outside funding. She notes that “it is becoming increasingly more difficult to navigate the existing funding sources, but identifying new resources takes a bit of effort and stepping out of the usual routes to which we have become accustomed.” As a result, finding accessible assistance can make the process easier.

In addition to grant application assistance, Dr. Salapska-Gelleri also suggests engaging in collaborative and interdisciplinary projects to identify funding sources outside of your area of expertise and to distribute the workload. Having collaborated with her colleague, Dr. Frances Davey, to receive a competitive Small Grant for Preliminary Research last summer, she was able to identify an ACLS Collaborative Fellowship program and apply for a more serious grant to help expand the project.

There’s also benefit in the process of grant writing, even if your application for funding is not approved. As Dr. Salapska-Gelleri notes: “the benefit of writing a grant proposal, even for a small amount of support is multifold.” Specifically, the grant writing process helps clarify the project, its timeline, the budget, and expected deliverables. With a better plan, the potential success of both funding and the research project increase.

TAA offers two forms of grants to assist members and non-members with some of the expenses related to publishing their academic works and textbooks. Learn more.

Eric SchmiederEric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.