Trying to find funding for scientific research is a challenging and time consuming task–and unfortunately, it’s not always a rewarding one. Even with billions spent on research worldwide, competition for funds is tough. Here in the US, about four in five applications for biomedical research grants are rejected by the National Institutes of Health.
But don’t hang up your lab coat just yet. There are hundreds of sources that offer funding opportunities for the right project, including governmental agencies, private organizations, and charitable foundations. To help you make the most of your chances, you will need to apply for the grants that are a good fit for you and your research. Read on for an overview of funding sources and tips for successfully securing grants for your biomedical research.
1. Consider Your Eligibility
Before spending time and energy drafting a grant proposal, you should verify that you have fulfilled the eligibility criteria. For example, some funding programs may be restricted to applicants residing in a specific state or belonging to a certain demographic. For individual grants, funding agencies can designate funds specifically for young investigators, postdoctoral students, or those pursuing a change in career focus. Funding resources can also be gender- or ethnic-specific in an attempt to address the barriers faced by women or minorities in STEM fields. Understanding the agency grant programs and meeting eligibility requirements important to funders is a crucial first step on the successful path to funding your biomedical research project.
2. Expand your Funding Horizons
Finding the right grant program is sometimes the most challenging part of applying for funding. Scientists are usually aware of major federal funding organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but there can be advantages to looking beyond these big-name funding agencies.
Non-profit organizations with disease-specific interests are often an excellent source for research funding. These organizations play a central role in developing new knowledge and products, particularly in areas that are not sufficiently profitable. Funding from non-profits is minimal (usually less than $200,000) and aims to support preliminary studies that generate data for longer-term support through the NIH. Two of the largest non-profit funders of biomedical research in the U.S. are the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Wellcome Trust.
Private foundations are also an excellent source of funding. You can search through Candid (formerly known as Foundation Center) or the Council on Foundations for a list of potential foundation funding sources. These platforms provide information about grant support from over 2000 organizations, including the funding interests of the organization, the amount of funding offered, grant application processes and forms, and contact information for each organization. You can conduct a limited search on these platforms free of charge, but for a comprehensive listing of funders in a specific area of research, a paid subscription is necessary.
Industry funding might be another viable option for your research project. About one-fourth of biomedical investigators at academic institutions receive research funding from industry investors, mainly from pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. Historically, research in the pharmaceutical sector has predominantly been an in-house activity, but today all Big Pharma companies scout for external innovation.
Large corporations may also occasionally provide contributions in-kind for studies partially funded by other means. Contributions in-kind might mean supplying a drug for a clinical trial, or performing laboratory work, such as determining drug concentrations in tissue samples. These kinds of opportunities usually come about thanks to professional networking, or some other informal ties with a company, like friendships between scientists. Building relationships with others in your industry takes time and energy, but investing in quality friendships with like-minded professionals is always a worthwhile endeavor on many different levels!
It is important to note that while it can be mutually beneficial for industry partners to invest in your research, the scrupulous researcher must be aware of preserving scientific integrity. Having a corporate partner carries potential threats and sources of bias that can affect research at multiple stages. Scientists who find themselves with corporate sponsorship must take great precautions to ensure that appropriate research standards are being met.
3. Look Overseas
International research collaborations can result in funding opportunities from other countries. For example, the Chateaubriand Fellowship Program supports doctoral research of U.S. students in France. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) also supports international academic cooperation by offering mobility programs for higher education students, faculty, and administrators.
More Tips for Funding Success
Success in research funding does not depend only on a good match between the funding agency’s aims and your grant outcomes. Below are ten tips that can increase your chance of securing the funding you need for your biomedical research.
- Make sure the grant outcomes fit the research priorities of the funding body. Design a letter of intent to the funding source and explain why your proposal is consistent with the agency’s goals.
- Start early. Give yourself appropriate time to write the best project you can. That includes giving mentors, colleagues, and your institution’s research office plenty of time to review your proposal.
- Follow guidelines closely and make sure your proposal is formatted correctly. Don’t exceed the page limit, don’t include an appendix if it’s not allowed, and don’t use a tiny font size to squeeze in more text. Most organizations will quickly reject proposals that do not follow the guidelines.
- Read the reviewer guidelines to understand the criteria applied in reviewing each application.
- Be able to articulate the significance of your research. Funders might reject an application if they believe the project is unnecessary, or if they are not convinced that the proposed research will solve a particular problem.
- Demonstrate that your project is well planned. Be clear about your goals, your project design, and methods that will help you to answer your research questions.
- Avoid an overly ambitious proposal and the urge to put in too much; be clear, succinct, and focused.
- Accurately cost your project. Be as realistic as possible, and be sure to include the period of time the project is likely to run.
- Provide evidence of good management as reassurance that your organization is capable of delivering the project.
- If your grant proposals get rejected, don’t give up. Allow a week or so to recover, look for ways to improve, and keep trying.