Love it or hate it, your long-term research progress usually depends on grant funding. Particularly for new PIs, getting this funding can sometimes seem like a yawning black hole that sucks in early-career researchers who will never be heard from again. But fear not, because we have some info to help you navigate this tricky task. In this post, we provide links to some of the major funding agencies and foundations that may be a good place to start looking for funding options for your pet project. (Coming back to find a specific link? We have a table of the sites linked to in this post at the bottom, for easy reference.)
NIH or NSF? Very often you can pitch very similar projects to either NIH or NSF, depending on how you word the long-term objective. The NIH wants to prevent, diagnose or treat disease, while the NSF wants to study fundamental scientific questions in biology. So, for a specific project, if you want to it to be funded by the NIH, you might say something like: “Understanding the regulation of gene X will lead to new targets for chemotherapy of specific disease.” If you want the NSF to fund it, don’t talk about the medical applications, but instead say something like, “We wish to elucidate a novel mechanism of gene regulation, utilizing gene X as a model system.”
National Science Foundation (NSF): You can search for active funding opportunities based on topics relevant to your research, or you can used the links below the search to browse within different categories of funding. The NSF funds research in all areas of fundamental science and engineering, including education and basic life science — but they’re careful not to overlap with the medical/health research mission of the NIH. If you need to invoke medical or health applications to justify your research, the NSF is probably not your target funding organization. (However, if your project is only indirectly relevant to medicine/health, NSF may consider it.) The NSF is organized into 7 “directorates” covering broad areas of research, and each directorate has several “divisions,” or more specialized topics. It’s important to identify which directorates and divisions are relevant for your research. Susan Finger provides detailed advice on developing and submitting an NSF proposal here.
Spotlight on NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards: This award is a great opportunity because it is limited to early-career faculty, and because it focuses on integrating teaching with research — all to the benefit of new faculty. To be eligible, you must have a PhD AND be untenured in a tenure-track assistant professor-type position at a 2- or 4-year academic institution or a “non-profit, non-degree-granting organization” (like a museum or non-profit) (we summarized a lot of particulars here – be sure to read the specifics on the linked program solicitation). These awards are 5-year awards of minimum $400,000.
National Institutes of Health (NIH): You can search for active funding opportunities or use the links in the left sidebar to browse. The NIH specifically focuses on both basic and applied research that has medical or health relevance. There are a number of different institutes, each with a different focus and usually with different funding programs and guidelines, as well as different levels of extramural funding (that’s funding for people like you who don’t work at NIH). It’s important to identify which institute(s) are most appropriate for your project — it’s a good idea to talk to program officers before you get too far developing your proposal. Since writing NIH grant proposals is often daunting, many institutes have put together resources for NIH grantwriters – provided here.
Spotlight on NIH Career Award Wizard: This is a handy tool that helps you identify which of the NIH career development awards are most appropriate for your career stage and situation. Based on whether you’ve received independent research funding (here, “independent” means not supervised — so, not post-doc) and whether you need more or fewer than 3 more years of mentored research (i.e., post-doc), it suggests research award options and provides links to them. Several that may be appropriate for newly- or about-to-be independent scientists include K99, K22, and R03 grant programs.
Other US Government Agencies: You can search for active funding opportunities offered from any particular government agency www.grants.gov. You can browse funding by category, by agency, and by intended recipient (choose “eligibilities”), or search using a variety of filters. Your research area and relevance will determine which agency/ies might be a good match for funding. Beyond NSF and NIH, Dep’t of Defense, Dep’t of Energy, NASA, and the USDA contribute the most significant federal funding dollars to science research – but there’s a lot of federal opportunity out there. The USC Office of Research has a nice compilation of federal agencies that may offer funding.
Philanthropic Funding and Professional Societies Particularly in the translational life sciences, research is increasingly being supported through funding from philanthropic foundations. The trick is to find a foundation whose mission and funding focus overlaps your project. Examples of such foundations include:
Howard Hughes Medical Insitute (HHMI) – science education and biomedical research
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) – health and health care
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation – education, environment, global development and population
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation – environmental conservation, patient care and science
W.M. Keck Foundation – science, engineering, medical research, and undergraduate education
David and Lucile Packard Foundation – improving the lives of children, science, reproductive health, and conservation
The Kavli Foundation – astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience and theoretical physics
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – global health and development
Rockefeller Foundation – advance health, revalue ecosystems, secure livelihoods, and transform cities
In addition to these, the Rockefeller Foundation has assembled a list of links to other philanthropic sources. Another option for research funding is grants from professional societies. Most professional societies will at least offer travel grants, although a few have training and/or research grant opportunities for real money — but these usually require that you’re a society member. The American Heart Association, for example, offers competitions for training and research grants every summer and winter. You should investigate whether the professional societies in your field offer research funds.
Check with your institution’s office of research In your institution’s research office, they’ll know about other opportunities — like funding avenues only open to people at your institution, or which foundations that are very receptive to proposals from your institution, or state or local funding that often doesn’t have good online presence (which makes it hard to search for on your own). Also, institutions often purchase access to funding opportunity databases that you would not otherwise have access to — this means money with less competition. If your institution doesn’t have such an office (unlikely…), the good news is that many such offices for other institutions provide many of their resources online — search online for “office of research.” (For a different selection, search for “office of research support,” or “office of research development.”)
Talk to people in your professional network Talk to colleagues at your institution and in your science networks (like ASCB!). Institutional colleagues have a good sense of what funders are friendliest to the department, and may provide you with examples of successfully funded proposals to study. Colleagues from professional organizations like ASCB are more likely to have a sense for which funders are most appropriate for your specific research.
Now: Write! Once you find the right funding opportunity, the next step is developing and writing the proposal. [here is a space for your groan of anguish] We’ll be developing more posts to address this and other aspects of the grantwriting process — watch this space!
Quick-reference links from this post Finding Grants, FRED Program, Grants & Opportunities, Grants and Opportunities