Thursday, February 19, 2015

Grant Writing & Funding for Interdisciplinary Research and Scholarship

Scholars Walk

Interdisciplinary Commons Recap: February 6th, 2015

  • Are you having trouble securing funds for your brilliant interdisciplinary research?
  • Do you feel stuck while writing that grant proposal?
  • Are you so overwhelmed that you don't even know where to start looking for funding opportunities?
You're not alone.

About 45 graduate students from a variety of fields attended the Interdisciplinary Commons session on February 6 to make connections with other students, network, and learn from faculty and staff how to write successful grant proposals and find potential funding sources for their interdisciplinary research and scholarship. 

Starting off the session, Research Services and Plant Sciences librarian Amy Neeser and Applied Economics, Ecology, and Horticulture librarian Julie Kelly showed how to utilize search tools and resources to find the latest grant opportunities.  Next, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior head and professor Scott Lanyon gave a presentation on grant proposal writing and what to expect from the review process.  

Below are some tips, advice and highlights from the session's presentations & discussion.

Library resources allow students to easily search for grant opportunities.

To access these tools, go to the University of Minnesota Libraries homepage and sign in. There are links to Pivot and SciVal, two search databases that help you find funding opportunities that cover various disciplines. Pivot's features include searching with specific keywords and viewing researcher profiles. SciVal allows users to save searches. Both databases allow users to combine keywords to yield multidisciplinary results (e.g., food and history). Neeser and Kelly suggest that students try searching on different databases to find a greater number of possible grants.

Knowing how to write a strong grant proposal is crucial.

Not only will good proposals land you a better chance of getting the grant, knowing how to write grant proposals is a critical skill to have on your CV/resume, forces you to focus your ideas, and helps you learn how to communicate your ideas to others. "Not being able to communicate effectively as a writer will limit your research," Lanyon said.

A good proposal lets you accomplish your research goals, appeals to the funders' goals and meets the reviewers' expectations.

Know why you're writing the proposal, instead of writing it to simply get money, Lanyon said, emphasizing that it's important to keep in mind your primary interests and the research you want to accomplish. You have a higher chance of securing funding if your proposal allows you to achieve as many of your goals as possible while meeting the funders' needs and the reviewers' expectations. Understand and clearly address the funders' goals in your proposal, and understand current program guidelines.

Reviewers are key, since they're the gatekeepers to funding.

Be sure to understand their expertise and motivation, since they are your audience and can recommend your proposal for funding. Some proposals may be ranked low because reviewers may have found a weakness -- perhaps the research project lacks innovation or is poorly written.

Give the reviewers a compelling argument.

Convince reviewers that you're capable of doing the research by explicitly stating that ideas are your own and listing relevant experience. Demonstrate that the research project is feasible by being realistic about budget, time, equipment, and permit needs. Justify the reason behind every budget item and get actual estimates, and be conservative about the budget.

Write clearly and concisely, and have others read your drafts.

Follow proposal guidelines, organize your ideas with an outline, check grammar and spelling, and rewrite proposals to fit each specific grant. Invite others to provide input on successive drafts, but have only one or two people who are not familiar with your proposal read your last draft to provide a fresh perspective. Experiment with multiple different introductory paragraphs before editing them.

Use an hourglass writing structure.

Ideally, a proposal should begin by appealing to a broad audience and emphasizing the big picture. The body should then focus on details, such as the project's feasibility, why the methods are appropriate, and that you're capable of doing the research. Conclude by demonstrating again the broad interest and implication of your work. 

Ask others, such as the Director of Graduate Studies, for copies of successful, funded proposals for additional insights.

Lanyon also recommended looking at the sources of funding for academic papers that interest you to find organizations that support such research.

For more guidance on a variety of topics related to interdisciplinary inquiry, attend an Interdisciplinary Commons session. For upcoming session dates and topics, please visit the Interdisciplinary Commons website.

-- Lyra Fontaine