The GrantDoctor's Guide to Searching for Funds


Dear GrantDoctor:

I am a postdoctoral researcher interested in studying chronic fatigue syndrome. Funding sources for the study of this condition seem limited. Can you offer any tips/advice on uncovering appropriate funding sources?

Thank you,

CFS (chronic funding searcher)

Dear Chronic Funding Searcher,

You ask a good question: Knowing how to track down grant opportunities is one of the keys to a successful research career. As you know, there is a tremendous amount of information online, but sifting through it all can be daunting and off-putting. What you need is The GrantDoctor's Guide to Searching for Funds--six basic rules that can help you uncover funding opportunities. Although these rules may seem obvious, I'd recommend breaking down your search efforts in the following way:

  • Search the Internet for opportunities.

    I find that search programs that thread your question through a number of independent search engines save a lot of time. Explore some of these resources, find one that suits your needs, and then blast it with different searches. You will probably need to be persistent, and you should try mixing and matching different keywords--for example, funding; research; grants; fellowships; scholarships; awards; opportunities; postdoc; funds; application--to hit appropriate sites. Think imaginatively about your research and come up with other searchable terms: For example, you might want to search for "fibromyalgia" or "immune dysfunction" as well as "chronic fatigue syndrome."

    • Search funding databases.

      Online biomedical and research databases are an excellent source of information regarding funding opportunities. Our own FREE database-- GrantsNet--for example, offers readers a way to specifically search over 700 research programs from associations and funding organizations around the country. Some online resources require paying a subscriber's fee, whereas others only allow partial free access. Check out the Career Development Center's posting of GrantsNet's Funding Databases Around the World for a comprehensive list of what's available.

    • Search federal Web sites.

      The federal funding agencies--most notably the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF)--are other good starting points for investigators seeking funds. (1998 statistics show that the federal government funded almost 60% of academic research in the United States.) You can also get a good idea of which research areas are particularly "hot" by checking out federal awards databases--NIH's CRISP database, for example, or NSF's Awards Database, list grants that have recently been awarded by those agencies. Contact the relevant NIH institutes that could potentially fund your research--the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for example, deals with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS); you might want to contact Dr. David Morens, who handles CFS grants and awards. You could also contact the relevant program officers and ask them which institutes might be interested in funding your project.

    • Search organizations and associations prominent in your field.

      Although the federal government financially supports the majority of academic research, other organizations, trusts, foundations, societies, and associations are also a good source of funding opportunities. Your research may better suit the interests of these types of funding bodies than the larger federal organizations, and you may also improve your chances of winning a grant. Associate vice president for the MacArthur Foundation, John Hurley, recently spoke about how to apply to foundations for funds and outlined his 10 most salient points. Not only may you get funding details from associations, but more often than not their Web sites have links to other online resources and agencies that can be of help. Wind your way through links, bookmark ones you are interested in, and check out the funding opportunities that the sites list. The Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome Association of America Inc., for example, may be able to offer you specific funding advice.

    • Contact colleagues and university departments.

      Your peers and colleagues are another great resource. You can benefit by calling or e-mailing those people--including lab heads--whose work in CFS you have found interesting and asking where you might be able to find funds. However, I suggest that you consider getting approval from your current advisor on this one before you start dialing around; asking potential competitors for funding information may be a sensitive area. Your advisor could suggest people you should be able to talk to without compromising anyone's sensibilities.

    • Contact your grants office or office of sponsored programs.

      Officials at these local organizations aren't just there to sign off on your application or run it around the university. Indeed, chances are that they have just about seen it all when it comes to grants, applications, deadlines, and funding resources. They may be able to steer you toward grant notices or program announcements that are right up your alley. Perhaps they know of a funding alert newsletter or e-mail listserv to which you can add your name. Speak to them about your plans and ask if they have ideas about how to proceed.

    Although I am sure that you will have already thought up a number of different avenues to pursue, I hope the tips in this brief guide will get your quest for funding off to a promising start. ... Happy Searching!

    --The GrantDoctor

    Due to the high volume of questions received, The GrantDoctor cannot answer all queries on an individual basis. Look for an answer to your question published in this column soon! Thank you!

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