New! Hey Jane Column: Finding Grants

October 20, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Posted in Funding, Hey Jane Column, Writing | 1 Comment


What’s the best way to find out about available grants?


There is no one way, but many. If you are a grad student, make sure you talk with your mentors (plural!) about funding sources in your areas of interest. Distinguish between fellowships and grants, as the former are usually for you alone whereas the latter often require a faculty PI to sign off on your behalf.  Also, don’t forget to check both private (foundations etc.) and public (government) sources of funding. If you are an international student, you will not be eligible for fellowships/grants from government sources unless you are a permanent resident; private organizations make up their own eligibility rules. Exception to the exception: international students can compete for grant/fellowship competitions internally held at your institution.  But in general, for non-nationals, private foundations become an important lifeline.

Apart from your mentors, check with your graduate school – they often have a website devoted to upcoming competitions, both internal and external. If your grad school doesn’t, check the grad school websites of top-10 schools around the country.  Remember that they often post deadlines way too late for you to tailor your project, get it through the required official channels – including signatures from financial officers (whatever your school calls its “Office of Sponsored Programs” or “Grants Management”) and Human Subjects Approval (sometimes needed at time of application, other times needed at time funding is scheduled to start). So think about funding sources one year before you actually need to apply. Most of these deadlines are recurrent, on an annual basis.

Also, read the acknowledgments often printed on the bottom of the first page of articles, and at the start of books.  It tells you who has supported that research – and thus can give you ideas for who might support yours. And talk to older graduate students, both in your department and outside. Don’t cast yourself too narrowly. Maybe your approach to research makes you eligible for humanities or hard-science based funding opportunities?

If you are already post-dissertation stage, which grants and fellowships you can apply for depends on whether you are in academia, or whether you are working e.g., for a non-profit or research facility.  If you are an academic, the same rules apply.  Key is now to make sure you are applying for grants aimed at your target group (e.g., junior profs, or post-docs).

Finally, keep in mind the NIH for health-related (broadly conceived) work, and the NSF for sociology more generally. NSF funds quantitative, qualitative, and comparative-historical research, and is particularly interested in funding data collection (rather than simply funding data analysis of existing data). Many foundations support sociological research, including SSRC, Russell Sage, Spencer, Sloan, Guggenheim, William T. Grant, and many others. It is worth meeting with the grants/foundations relations people at your university to see if they have ideas about where to look. Seed grant money can also come from the ASA Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline.

What are the components to a grant proposal? Where can I get samples of successful grant applications?

A successful grant proposal should show that it (a) is about an important topic, one with real relevance to the world outside of sociology (even when it is basic research), (b) is being carried out by someone who knows the relevant literature and is likely to produce the research (funding a proposal is taking a gamble; the review panel will try to increase their odds), and (c) has a strong research design, one that is likely to yield useful and important insights.

There are lots of guides available online, and the following essay contains great information:

In addition to following general rules about how to organize a grant proposal, make sure you read, and follow, the funding agency’s actual grant guidelines. For instance, if they request information about the broader impact your research will have or how it relates to the funding agency’s mission, make sure you address this head on.  How to get examples? If you know someone who got a grant/fellowship from an agency where you want to apply (say, NSF, or Ford Foundation), ask them. Many funding agencies will list their most recent grant recipients online.  Even if the proposals are not posted, contact the recipients and ask them to share their recipe for success (or even the grant proposal).  They are your peers – probably just a year or two ahead of you in grad school/tenure track – and you will likely continue to run into each other at conferences down the road.

What are some issues to keep in mind when applying for funding for a quantitative project? For a qualitative project?

Regardless of your methodology, your proposal needs to demonstrate the elusive theory-method-data link. Make sure you understand this part: Most proposals get rejected because that link is broken.  For example, if you propose to study how gender identity shapes people’s conflict resolution strategies, doing interviews may not produce the most accurate picture.  Perhaps an experimental design, or a survey would be better.  If you want to examine how different policy contexts affect educational outcomes, you need to be clear about whether your theory is better designed to explain cross-sectional or longitudinal policy-outcome trends, and use the appropriate data.

Apart from that, good proposals, regardless of methodology, demonstrate that the PI has (or will acquire) the skills to complete this project in the intended timeframe, that the data can actually yield answers to the questions asked, and that the concepts being invoked can be gauged reasonably well with the data available. Providing the funding agency with a table of what your data sources are, what variables you will use to gauge which concepts (if quantitative) or what your coding scheme is likely to look like if collecting your own qualitative data can go a long way to getting approved.

Beware of falling into the trap of thinking that quantitative proposals have a better chance of getting funded.  It’s the theory-method-data link that remains key.  Unfortunately, in my own experience as a reviewer, some proposals simply fail because they come across as what we call “trust me” proposals – in other words, the reviewers get the impression that the PI is on a fishing expedition but fails to verbalize a clear research question, or expectations grounded in one or several (competing or complementary) theories, or seems to engage in haphazard data collection/analysis. Continue Reading New! Hey Jane Column: Finding Grants…

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