turning over all the stones

Jul 17 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

When you start our on the tenure-track, one of the first things that you start doing is chasing money. In my MRU you need to get an R01 to get tenure. In this situation, it may seem that the obvious thing to do start sending grants to the NIH ASAP! Now, if you have a project that is ready to go, then I say DO IT! In this situation, it's easy to fixate on federal money from the NIH or NSF. It is what you are probably the most familiar with. But there are a lot of other places to get cash, especially as a new assistant professor. Sure, these grants are NOT the same as an R01. They are not as big and probably don't count as much for tenure. But money is money, and someone is going to take it home. Shouldn't it be you? 100K here, 50K there, another 20K over here and before you know it you can cobble together some reasonable support. Just using these mechanisms, in my first year I have already raised almost 100K from these small grants, and have another 150K for the next year.

I'm not advocating for you to resort to crowd-source funding your science. I'm talking about pilot grants and private foundations.

Pilot grants are great. They are short (usually 1 year) awards that are designed to enable you to get some preliminary data. Often times they have a special soft spot for new investigators. These are generally local, so you will have to search around to find any that might be open to you. But if you find one, apply! The applications are usually short and you don't need much data in hand.

Private foundation awards can be local sponsors, disease-specific associations (American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association, for example) or the more familiar "named fellowships" (Searle, Pew, Burroughs Welcome, Ellison, Damon Runyon, etc.). These grants may require that only one or two applicant from each MRU can be submitted, which means you will have to be selected by a mysterious group at your MRU before you are allowed to submit an application. There may also be other private foundations in your area that will support research relevant to their mission. Don't overlook these options!

It is really important when applying for these grants that you read all the instructions before you start writing. It is really important that you KNOW WHAT THE GRANTING AGENCY IS LOOKING FOR. Read the mission statement, and address how your work will further this mission explicitly in your application. Unlike the NIH and NSF, where you can talk with a program officer before submitting a grant, you may not be able to get much pre-submission feedback (especially for the named fellowships). Try to find out who makes the decisions and see if you can talk to them. If that is not possible, find out what they have funded in the past. If you know someone that has some of their money, call them up to pitch your project. They may be able to give you some feedback about how well your narrative fits with what the agency likes, and perhaps even some tips about what you can do to best sell your work.

These grants may be kinda small or short. But when you are starting out, every little bit helps. There is also a saying: "Money follows money". I don't know if getting these smaller awards will help you land bigger fish in the future. But showing that you can get independent funds and manage grants certainly can't hurt.


h/t to Genomic Repairman who originally proposed the subject for this post


8 responses so far

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    We have found with proposal to private foundations that you have to be painfully explicit how your research integrates with their mission and how your findings will further the goals of the organization.

  • Cashmoney says:

    Dovetails with your post on IDC- There are research institutions that essentially prevent junior from applying to foundations that won't cover their (high) overhead rates. Dismal situation to be in for these new investigators, since NIH success rates are so low.

    • Genomic Repairman says:

      That is true, so you may be out of the hunt for the Southern Aardvark Foundation Fellowship of North Dakota, but some of the ones that Gerty listed have pretty good IDCs.

      And some institutions don't sweat the smaller funding sources because some of these awards are small (<$30k). Basically enough money to cover the cost of reagents for a few experiments or a portion of an existing postdoc's salary.

  • This is definitely one of the areas where I find it interesting to see how different biology can be from engineering. Corporate funding, as well as non-NIH or NSF government funding are par for the course. As an undergrad, I did research supported by a large metal company, and my initial grad project was supported by a corporation as well.

  • One important point about the "beauty contest" scholar awards is that even though every junior faculty should apply for every one of them they are eligible for, the success rates are absurdly low, and not getting any of them must not be perceived as discouraging.

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