Finding small grants to jump-start your research: Part 3: Being entrepreneurial

Finding small funding sources to jump-start your research requires a little entrepreneurial thinking. In this post, Dr. Bridget Gourley helps us think about pulling together needs and resources to make creative and targeted asks.

Welcome back to the CUR Chem blog and this series on finding small grants to jump-start your research.  In Part 1, I mentioned using those short moments to troll for resources, particularly for student travel. As I am sure you surmised, you can also apply those ideas to find many of the needs on the list of “Resources Needed” that you created as well.

p5_jj_magnetsIn Part 2 I also had you make a list of “Resources Available”; no doubt you’ve been wondering how that was going to be helpful.  I also asked you to start a list of “Potential Sources” focusing on some key categories.  Now it’s time to put these lists together and develop a plan of where and how to find some resources and get your new research idea started. Now is a great time to pull out those lists from last time and set up a place to write down next steps.

Now it is time to put these lists together and develop a plan of where and how to find some resources and get your new research idea started.


The general plan is to use the list of potential sources to find synergies between resources you already have and resources you need to accomplish your goals.  In doing so you may well be approaching individuals or organization who don’t have an explicit call for proposals. You will need to have information ready to share with a potential donor.

Grab a piece of paper or journal notebook and start sketching in details for your project related to this boiler plate outline:

  • Purpose of the project

    • the intellectual contributions or new knowledge that will be generated
    • the broader impacts including the educational opportunity for your students and service to the community
    • the particular utility of the work to the potential funding source
  • Background information

    • what expertise do you bring to the project?
    • how about that of the students you are engaging?
    • think about how to describe your institution, the educational and perhaps community services it provides
  • Specifically, what are you asking for and why are those resources needed?

    • if you were only thinking money, we might say project budget and justification
  • Assessment of the project

    • what are the deliverables?
    • what defines a successful outcome?
      • be sure and include the educational value added for your students (yes I’m repeating myself – because it may be a strong motivator for small-grant funders)
    • Form of the final reporting be including accounting of how resources were used and spent.

For those of us who are basic scientists articulating the practical application of our work may not be as intuitive as it is for our more applied colleagues. Still it is extremely helpful, particularly with smaller funding sources, so think about those issues as it relates to the purpose of the project or goals.

gty_stock_cash_pile_money_dollar_bills-thg-130726_33x16_1600How you speak to the outline above will depend a bit on which of the individuals, organizations or agencies you are approaching from that third list you created last week.  For example, how I explain my work to fellow physical chemists in industry is different than the approach I might take with a University donor who is largely interested in supporting student educational opportunities or a desire to support science that enhances the public good.  This is why it was handy to have a list of potential sources in mind as you developed your proposal narrative, visualizing your audience will let you target your message.However, one important caveat, if there is an established grant opportunity, read the request for proposals (RFP) carefully and follow the directions, no matter how small the items being requested.

Selling your strengths…

141370875773060025o2gwyaaacSome of you may be wondering, wait a minute, what was the point of that second list, the one of about resources available?  It was twofold. First, to help you realize you probably already have a lot of what you need.  Often it is more energizing to go find the remaining resources you need when you realize you’ve already got a lot going for you.  Second, when you are negotiating with an organization for gifts, whether monetary or “in kind”, support for a particular student, or use of instrumentation…having something to offer in return may help your case.

The list of ‘Resources Available’ gives you talking points to demonstrate you have the other pieces necessary to complete your proposed work when you approach potential sources.

The list of ‘Resources Available’ gives you talking points to demonstrate you have the other pieces necessary to complete your proposed work when you approach potential sources. Don’t forget to acknowledge your expertise and close supervision of your students. Let me provide one example, suppose your institution is in a small town with limited resources, legislation requires the city document the water quality of storm water test-214186_1280run-off.  Your city doesn’t have its own lab to do the work nor the funds to pay for a commercial audit, you however, have an interest in environmental challenges.  You could develop a line in your research program that would also address the city’s data needs. To the city the cost to pay summer stipends for you and your students and cover expendables is manageable.  With the information organized from the outline above you could work with the city and obtain a small grant to support a research initiative.

The resources at your disposal coupled with the research questions that interest might just be the foundation that some other group or individual can enhance in a way that produces beneficial outcomes for all involved. Identifying those opportunities for synergy just takes some reflective thinking on your part. One caution, be sure to obtain appropriate permission before you commit use of department or institutional resources.  What is reasonable will vary widely depending on your situation, this is not a place where you want to be in a position to beg forgiveness later.

Documenting your success

I want you to think about one more thing that will hearken back to your CV.  Small pieces of support add up and demonstrate your ability to secure funding.  Whether we like or not, often one success begets the next, so be sure and document your successes.

“…one success begets the next, so be sure and document your successes.”

Let me provide an illustration.  Suppose you found funding for a ten-week full time summer research experience stipend for one of your students, with FICA that’s probably procedure-20clipart-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-jksptu-clipart$6000.  Perhaps that was even internal funds. If your institution subsidizes the student housing and/or meals one might reasonably argue you found an additional $2000 of support for your student. Now perhaps you secured the equivalent of $500 in project supplies from a local agency and the department budgeted effectively matched that with another $500. Using ideas in this post you were able to secure instrument time amounting to $1000 if it had been direct billed.  After the project was over if you secured travel funds of $800 for your student (see Part 1 of this Blog Post) present the work.   And finally your institutional has a small internal faculty member stipend, $2500, to acknowledge this high impact educational practice.  On your CV you should list your ability to put together over $13,000 for the project in one summer.  Next summer, that adds to your success story and provides an additional track record for the next group considering taking risk on your ability to deliver. It’s inevitable – sometimes you’ll get turned down. Keeping track of your successes helps to motivate you during the dry spells.

In the last installment of this series I’ll summarize key ideas from these first three parts and plant some seeds to help you generate more ideas for your “Potential Sources” list. Bookmark the CUR Chem blog, set your Twitter feed to follow @curchem and or be in touch with the author at so you don’t miss out.  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 own 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 on laser-molecule interactions and focuses her attention to those types of questions as well.


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