Finding Small Grants to Jumpstart your Research, Part 1: Use Your Minutes

Supporting your undergraduate research lab isn’t just about big government grants…its about leveraging smaller funding sources as well. In this first of a series of posts, Dr. Bridget Gourley shares her strategies for collecting smaller sums and using them to support student presentations at meetings. 


ycc-fw-profile-imageIf you have attended a recent CUR National Conference or the most recent American Chemical Society (ACS) CUR-YCC (Younger Chemists Committee) symposium on getting a job at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI) you may have come to one of my workshops.  If so, great, stayed tuned for some reminders and perhaps a few new ideas.  If not, here is a chance to catch what you missed.  In this series of posts, I’ve broken down some of the ideas and added a few new thoughts. Today’s focus is on finding opportunities to help cover travel costs for your students to present at professional meetings.

Finding funding to share the results of your work

We all have them. Those “throw-away” moments. Maybe its 15 minutes after class when you need to wind down, 10 minutes before a meeting (surely, that isn’t enough time to grade the next problem on the exam). These can be your moments to scan the announcements bombarding your Twitter, email, Facebook and other feeds. While the amount of available information probably far exceeds what you can possibly read, these were “throw away” moments after all. And hey? You just might find something! Now, be careful! Social media can certainly be a time sink. And I certainly advocate that you be fully present for your children at their various sporting events and extra-curricular activities. But, I know many an academic parent who utilizes those moments between the many heats of the 100-free at the regional swim meet to scan the mountain of electronic information for a gem or two. You can spare those minutes without ever missing those key moments in the pool.

“…the point is you do have a variety professional organizations that issue forth information incessantly into your email inbox…your Twitter and Facebook feeds. It is worth trolling that information for opportunities, at least once and a while.”

It was just today, in one of those “throw away” moments (or perhaps it might be better characterized as grant writing procrastination…), in an American Chemical Society (ACS) newsletter, I stumbled across two headings for travel grants, one for students and their research mentor from two-year institutions, the other for high school through graduate school students doing work in green chemistry.  Both of these opportunities have fall deadlines – the green chemistry deadline is coming up quickly, October 14.

Perhaps you are thinking…I’m not not at a two-year institution! I don’t do green chemistry! Or maybe you aren’t even a chemist! No problem – the point is you do have a variety professional organizations that issue forth information incessantly into your email inbox…your Twitter and Facebook feeds. It is worth trolling that information for opportunities, at least once and a while. Many organizations cross-list for one another and your home institution and/or department may have a place they post announcements they receive.

Take just a moment and at least mentally list your professional organizations, and don’t forget CUR.

Basic CMYKcur-logoTake just a moment and at least mentally list your professional organizations, and don’t forget CUR.  If you don’t already get some form of a newsletter, make a note to find a link for each organization and bookmark their newsfeed for regularly visits, follow the organization on Twitter and/or find their Facebook page and friend it/like it.  If you do get a newsletter, file it for scanning later.

The green chemistry opportunity above illustrates smaller awards are often sponsored by companies in particular fields.  It can be worth going to the websites of corporations and/or their foundations that might have links to your work and see if they have any programs highlighted.  If you don’t have time in the moment to get to a company’s website, at least start a running list of places to check when you do have time, then in that next 10 minute in-between-moment, troll one website to see what they might support.  Sometimes the trick is to notice that the website lists travel (or other) awardees from a past round of funding and that tips you off to pay attention in the coming year to the announcements related to the meeting attendance company sponsored.  (More on this in a subsequent post.)

Other sources of funding to consider for student travel

Your institution may have a specific program through the undergraduate research office. Your department chair, dean, or provost might have some discretionary funds to help.  There may be scholarship funds to assist students in attending meetings; financial aid or career services might be a resource.  At smaller institutions the advancement/ development office may have a donor they are cultivating that would be interested in a small specific contribution.

Think about your particular student. What affinity groups might they have who would be interested in supporting their success…

percy-julian-stamp-205x310Think about your particular student. What affinity groups might they have who would be interested in supporting their success? Everything from a sorority or fraternity to groups interested in supporting individuals from their hometown.  Is your student a member of an underrepresented group in nopabccelogoscience that might make them eligible for funding from organizations like National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, NOBCChE, or Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, SACNAS.  Get to knowsacnas-logo_0 your students well and help them think about the wide support net around them to help them move forward in their career.

img_1330For the most recent ACS national meeting my student and I were able to reach out to a variety of offices and programs, ultimately putting together four small awards ranging from $50-$600 that covered his costs, San Diego is a long way from Indiana. Did it take time to track down and write in mini-proposals support of funding? Of course. But what my student gained from making a pitch for funds, attending and presenting, and then reporting back to his donors was well worth my supporting efforts.  Also, we got valuable feedback on our work that will improve future experiments and dissemination.  As an aside, I want to share how creative my student was in finding housing – he stayed in the youth hostel downtown and had a great international experience with individuals from around the world who also sought out such housing.

Did it take time to track down and write in mini-proposals support of funding? Of course. But what my student gained..was well worth my supporting efforts

But, it’s the fall semeseter and you are probably thinking, jumpstarting your research means actually having results to share! And you probably need resources for the early stages of your research….not money to get to a meeting…yet.  And that’s why you want to stay tuned and watch for this series of posts over the next few months.  In those posts I’ll cover: 1) how to think about what you need, 2) where to find those resources, 3) the value of resources beyond the cold hard cash, 4) how to make your pitch and that isn’t all!  Support Chem logo_v.1your research and get those results you need to support publication and eventually land those big government grants.  Bookmark the CUR Chem blog, set your Twitter feed to follow @curchem and/or be in touch with the author at bgourley@depauw.edu.  As a favor to your colleagues who are Facebook friends you might also share this post on Facebook, it may remind someone to share with you a small funding opportunity they see that relates to your work.


Chemistry facultyBridget L. Gourley, Ph.D. is the Percy L. Julian Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at DePauw University a private liberal arts undergraduate institution in Greencastle, Indiana.  She has been a CUR Councilor for over 20 years. Currently on sabbatical in Nancy Levinger’s labs at Colorado State University, she and her students use a variety of steady state and time resolved spectroscopies to reverse micelles adding to our understanding of water in confined environments, intermolecular interactions at interfaces and transport across boundaries.  Periodically she has students interested in the theoretical and computational work in her lab on laser-molecule interactions and focuses her attention to those types of questions as well.

3 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s