Finding small grants to jump-start your research: Part 4- Putting it all together

In this final installment let’s review and build on what you’ve pulled together so far.  You need resources to advance your research, but you aren’t quite ready to submit to the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH). How can you find smaller sources of funding to jump-start your research program?

Use your minutes

Use those wasted moments in your schedule to troll websites of potential sources of funding for opportunities (see Part 1 and Part 3 for a few more details). Keep a running list of opportunities and the timing of those so you are ready to act when the solicitation window opens.

What do you need?

In Part 2, I promised to talk more about the “Potential Sources” list I asked you to begin as part of your active participation while reading this blog.  To think about sources you first had to have identified the project needs, the reason for making some notes about the project, your goals and needs.

Your source list should include both direct sources and indirect sources.  Let’s start thinking about “people” that should be on your list. For an indirect example, through one of your non-scientific hobbies you might have an acquaintance that could put you in contact with someone in their organization who controls resources you need.  Those contacts should be on your list so that the next time you are together, you remember to ask them to introduce you to their colleague.  More directly, hopefully you’ve made a list of individuals or individual positions in nearby organizations who might have access to funds or be able to guide you to their organizations processes for seeking funds.

business-relationshipI had also noted you should list the individuals in your sponsored programs or research programs office, grants office, and advancement/development office.  Depending on your institution there may be only one team, or you may have teams at the departmental, college/division/school, and institutional levels.  If you don’t already have a working relationship with these individuals reach out and ask to meet them, perhaps over coffee.  Let them know the purpose of your proposed meeting, to share a little bit about your work and needs (prepare your elevator speech length talking points) and to learn from them about institutional policy and procedures for dealing with funding sources.

Cultivate these relationships, regularly check in with these individuals to see what has come their way that might be of interest to you and/or might help support your work.  Be sure they know about your on-going interest in demonstrating the ways in which your research agenda is supporting of the institutional mission statement and goals.  If they provide you with leads always follow up with the leads and thank them for helping you make some connections.

Back to the Source

Back to that list of “Potential Sources,” hopefully you managed to think of a few agencies, organizations, foundations or corporations in your area who might serve as potential sources for things you need.  You can use those in web searches to help you find like-minded agencies, etc.  If you are new to the area and not really sure what options exist think about what is important locally, who cares about these issues (i.e. is likely to fund addressing them), and more generally who sponsors activities in your community.  Once you’ve identified some of these local sources you can use the ideas in Part 3 to reach out to these sources and see if you can cultivate a match between their interests and your needs.

1573695You can apply these same ideas to state-wide, regional or even national searches to begin to develop a broader list of sources.  Simple searches such as “<insert your state here> foundations” or “<insert your state here> academy of science” should provide a few ideas to build upon.  Think about scientific societies, national laboratories, museums, etc.  Check out their websites to learn about their on-going programs as well as their leadership to pitch an entrepreneurial idea.

Sometimes equipment that becomes obsolete for a multi million dollar company is still a great workhorse for you.  The company benefits by donating the instrument and you benefit by acquiring the instrument.

Figuring out the business/industry in your area may be a source of summer support or instrumentation.  Sometimes equipment that becomes obsolete for a multi million dollar company is still a great work horse for you.  The company benefits by donating the instrument and you benefit by acquiring the instrument.  Again, doing a web search for “<insert a type of industry or company> <insert your geographic region>’ may bring up ideas that hadn’t previously come to mind.

Most of these searches can be done in those low energy or fractured moments, keep your lists handy so you can add sources as you uncover them. In subsequent moments, you can begin acting on your knowledge to acquire resources you need.

What do you need to remember to be successful?

Apply Yourself

First, think applied science, even if you view yourself as a basic scientist.  Just like with a proposal to NSF or NIH you have to justify why your basic science questions merit study.  Take it one step further and think about what organizations or businesses would benefit from applying the things you and your students will uncover in the course of your research.  This will help you target organizations that might provide you with some resources.

“…think applied science, even if you view yourself as a basic scientist…think about what organizations or businesses would benefit from applying the things you and your students will uncover in the course of your research.”

Educate and train

Second, when your goal is a small grant, think about the educational/training benefit to the students who work on your project may add resources to your list that you would miss if you only consider who funds that type of science.

Target the audience

6849Finally, think about targeted audiences and specialty programs that might be interested in supporting the work or your students.  For example, something like the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation might be able to support science that could be linked to solving challenges related to intestinal health.  Programs interested in developing students from a wide range of backgrounds, everything from underserved populations to individuals from particular home-towns or with particular career goals (not all of which are scientific career paths) may help you support the work of a specific student.  Again, get to know your students well, it helps you be a stronger mentor as well as may provide some opportunities for supporting your research.

The Takeaway…

  • Leverage matching funds

  • No amount of money is too small

  • Identify where research projects related to yours are being done, don’t limit yourself to other academic institutionsrfpimage

  • Identify who is doing research/projects related to yours

  • For established programs – follow directions. Read the proposal  solicitation (or RFP) carefully

  • Be creative

I hope you will join me the next time I talk about this topic at either an ACS meeting or CUR Conference.  At those sessions, I typically share more specific suggestions under each of the categories I’ve outlined in the various lists I asked you to create as part of your active participation while reading this series of blog posts.

Remember you are creative, incredibly talented and entrepreneurial.  As you continue to think beyond of the traditional funding agencies, you’ll find additional ways to sustain your work.

Remember you are creative, incredibly talented and entrepreneurial.

Bookmark the CUR Chem blog, set your Twitter feed to follow @curchem and or be in touch with the author at for helpful suggestions about lots of topics relevant to being an effective undergraduate research mentor and teacher-scholar. 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 apply 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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