Funding can have a real impact on the productivity of scientific research. Whether it is grant writing, funding a research participant program, or obtaining money to begin a high-profile study, looking for and successfully applying for research dollars can be complicated. The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education offers the following resources to help guide you through the intricacies of the scientific funding process.
Four steps to find funding for your research
Step 1: Determine your objectives
- What is the impact?
- Why is it important?
- Who will benefit?
- Why is the research needed?
Step 2: Identify funding sources
- State or federal agencies
- Private foundations
- Professional organizations
Step 3: Submit the proposal
- Examine proposal requirements
- Determine your budget
- Complete the application
- Submit all required documents
Step 4: Start your research!
- Engage with peers and your mentor
- Report your progress
- Write a scientific research paper
Where to search for research funding and why it's important to economic development
Performing scientific research is not free. It takes time, and frequently it requires equipment and supplies. Like it or not, part of being a scientist requires finding the money you need to do research. In fact, the ability to navigate through the funding process and secure funding is crucial to your professional success. Here’s a closer look at how to identify funding resources, how to target specifically allocated dollars, and tips for pursuing government research funds.
Identifying funding sources
The good news is that there is a strong likelihood of available funds for your research. The bad news is that it will take a considerable amount of time and effort to find and secure it. Funding for research isn’t gathered in one big pile, waiting for you to take it. Rather, funding sources may move around from place to place, could suddenly vanish, and oftentimes come with various restrictions. One can wear themselves ragged looking for the right amount, in the right discipline, and for the right purpose. The first step of identifying funding sources is knowing where to look. Money for science most often comes from four main sources:
- Community/professional organizations
- Private foundations
- State or federal agencies
These sources are listed from least to greatest with respect to the amounts of potential funding, the effort required to acquire funds, the complexity of rules and regulations, and the complexity of reporting. The next step is deciding what type of funding is required and how to acquire it. The ease of answering this depends on how well you formulate your research objectives:
- Who/what would be impacted by this research?
- What is the level of funding required?
- Will the result of this research be valuable enough to justify the level of funding needed to do the study?
- What sort of organization(s) might have an interest in this research?·
- What is the result (if any) if the proposed research is not done?
- What projects with similar focus have been funded in the past, and by whom?
When targeting research funds, it is best to think in terms of the size of the research effort needed to address the problem and the size of the research’s resulting impact. For example, a graduate research project that tests the most efficient way to control traffic through an intersection might require a small amount of funding, which might be obtained from a professional engineering organization that supports young civil engineers. However, if we think about this project on a larger, more complex scale, we can possibly identify several other funding sources. Here’s how to think bigger:
- Determine if the topic is novel and timely. Using a citation indexing service will help to identify recent papers focused on a particular subject and the funding sources that paid for those studies. For each prospective funding agency, consider the number of studies funded per year over the past 10 years. This information may help determine if the topic is considered to be a rising star—and will likely continue to receiving funding—or a fading topic—and is less likely to receive future funds.
- Think in scale. Perhaps the intersection in our previous example is on a rural two-lane highway and your research calculates the amount of energy required to stop and start semi-trucks that frequently travel in the area. In such a case, the impact of the study might involve making an economic choice as to which traffic stream should stop and which traffic stream should continue through the intersection. Such a decision could impact the amount of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere and ultimately either improve or damage the environment. Potential health issues also can be studied if, for example, intersection traffic resulted in measurable levels of pollution in homes and offices located nearby.
Pursuing government research funds
It is very likely that the government would be interested in supporting research that addresses these topics. The key, however, is identifying the specific agency and division. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy might be interested studying engine wear-and-tear, but DOE’s Office of Science might be more interested in examining materials science issues or computational requirements. Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development or Office of Air and Radiation might be interested in supporting this research. When thinking about government-sponsored research, think about the divisions within agencies and carefully review their websites. Some will offer information on the kinds of research they support, noting application deadlines and contacts, and provide additional details related to their funding programs.
A word of caution: even excellent proposals submitted at the wrong time, or at the right time but to the wrong funding body, or without complying with proposal requirements, will not be funded. That is why finding a funding source means not only imagining who might be interested, but also knowing how potential funding sources work. Use resources available at your university or laboratory, and tap into the expertise and experience of others who can help.
Now go dream, think hard and get funded!
Billions of dollars in the United States are invested annually in science education and workforce development through programs that are administered by nearly 600 STEM-focused organizations. Across the U.S. Federal Government alone, more than $2.9 billion was spent on STEM education in 2015, an increase of 3.7 percent from the year before. Why invest so heavily in developing the next generation of scientists and engineers? Investing in STEM education and scientific workforce development strengthens our nation’s security, global competitiveness and economic superiority.
The global economy, and the well-being of people everywhere, is affected by research and development (R&D) innovations that transforms areas such as information technology, advanced manufacturing and health care. Every advanced nation has some strategy to build and maintain a scientific workforce because they all depend on science and technology innovations for their continued prosperity and their ability to provide for and defend their citizens. This inherent dependence on R&D highlights and extends the importance of government involvement and support, as well as the need for a steady stream of well-trained scientists and STEM professionals.
Economic growth depends directly on our ability to innovate. Studies show that R&D outcomes can be used as a measure of economic prosperity, mainly by measuring a nation’s number of patents and comparing them to gross domestic product. Other studies suggest linkages between entrepreneurship and economic growth, and that newly created goods generate social ties and common interests in society. New goods as an output of the economy continuously spread American influence all over the world. Moreover, R&D is at the crux of almost every arm of government—it impacts our energy, defense, health and environment. America influences the world not only by developing and exporting the newest cancer treatment or heavy machinery, but also by the technological superiority of our military and by our ability to solve large, complex problems.
The notion that a nation’s research infrastructure and resulting innovation can influence its economic health is not new. It has long been held that the competition between nations to innovate creates often dynamic economic growth because innovations can enter the system at any time and from anywhere, causing hegemonic influence of nations to rise and fall. It is important that the United States remain competitive in this regard because it is likely that nations other than the U.S. will in fact innovate more quickly in proportion with their population. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Institute for Statistics, the U.S. had 4,018 researchers employed in R&D per million people in 2012—the most recent year available for U.S. data.
In terms of global rankings, this places the United States eighth in the world, behind Israel, Finland, South Korea, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Growth in the number of researchers in R&D per million people grew from 2011 to 2012 at a rate of 0.19 percent, which was eclipsed by the growth of R&D in Israel, South Korea, China, and Germany during that same time. This pattern of being outpaced in the number of researchers in R&D has continued since data collection began in 1996. In other words, if the United States does not continuously invest in developing a scientific workforce, we are creating an economic and societal environment in which the United States must rely on the rest of the world in areas such as food security, telecommunications, energy, and defense.
Funding scientific workforce development programs is more than just a mechanism to provide real-world research experiences. It is a crucial economic strategy for ensuring continued global superiority through workforce stability. We have a responsibility to invest in the future of the U.S. scientific workforce so that we can continue to contribute to economic growth and the advancement of society. The cost of this investment pales in comparison to the cost of not investing, which creates the risk of falling global influence, competitiveness, risking our prosperity, security, and general well-being.
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