Kangaroos and Overachievers


Dear GrantDoctor,

I am a representative of the International Kangaroo Society. Our motto is "promoting conservation of macropods through education, research, rehabilitation, and rescue." We are seeking grants to help with care and housing of the kangaroos and, specifically, research grants that deal with the importance of diet for kangaroos. Other possibilities may be ways that kangaroos can contribute to orthopedic research.

Dear Renee,

I see two main obstacles to finding funding to meet your society's goals. First, funds to support animal husbandry are typically hard to come by, so you might do best to try to raise the cash through fundraising events directly linked to your society, which I assume is a registered charity. Second, the fact that the kangaroo is not native to North America presents a problem when it comes to finding U.S. federal grants for basic research. Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides grants for rhinoceros, tiger, elephant, bird, and ape conservation, there doesn't appear to be a category for macropods.

A few alternatives exist to (U.S.) federal funding. One is the National Geographic Society (NGS), which provides grants for scientific field research and conservation through its Committee for Research and Exploration. NGS typically provides 1-year seed grants of $15,000 to $20,000 for projects in the areas of anthropology, archaeology, astronomy, biology, botany, geography, geology, oceanography, paleontology, and zoology. The principal investigator is expected to have a Ph.D., be well published, and have ties to an educational institution.

Another option is the Morris Animal Foundation. The foundation provides small, peer-reviewed grants for health studies in wildlife and is accepting preproposals until 3 November this year. There's a pretty lengthy review process--approximately 9 months--but it would be particularly suited to nutrition research in macropods.

As for rehabilitation of injured animals, the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) offers research grants of up to $5000 in the field of wildlife rehabilitation. The NWRA deadline is 1 October.

You could extend your search abroad, of course, and what better place to start than Down Under? Next Wave contacted the Steve Irwin Wildlife Fund at Australia Zoo and found out that Irwin (a.k.a. The Crocodile Hunter) recently established the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation, an environmental organisation registered in Australia and the United States. The foundation's goal is to raise awareness and funds to preserve and enhance the natural environment, with a particular focus on preservation of Australia's wildlife. Although the foundation already has a number of priority projects in Australia, one of its objectives is to undertake collaborative projects with other environmental organisations. The Wildlife Fund's fundraising manager, Kylie Jones, suggests that researchers who are interested in setting up collaboration send a brief letter of inquiry to the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation. Contact us at nextwave@aaas.org for the address.

It might also be worth contacting the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, if you haven't done so already, to see if they would be interested in establishing some kind of focus group of professionals interested in management of and preventative medicine for our long-legged friends in captivity.

Good luck!

Lesley McKarney, on call for The GrantDoctor

Dear Readers,

Today's young PUI faculty members are, I believe, an important, underutilized scientific resource, but there are several barriers to enabling serious PUI research. PUI faculty members are likely to have smaller start-up budgets (on the order of $50,000 at a top PUI, in contrast to the $1-million-plus offered by many research institutions), less lab space, and no graduate students. And then there's the teaching load, which can be as heavy as five or six classes per year at undergraduate institutions and rarely drops below four classes per year.

Despite the barriers, I believe that the nation stands poised to benefit from the research efforts of faculty members at small liberal arts colleges. All that's needed is a few institutional changes, by funding agencies and by host institutions, and the recognition by young PIs of the potential their positions provide for doing serious, high-impact research.

By the simple expedient of limiting the number of major research projects to one, both time and space limitations can be overcome. Proposals from PIs at big research universities often promise only 10% to 20% effort on a project. Most PUI faculty members can spare 10% to 20% of their time for research, despite a heavy teaching load. The difference between PUI and big-university faculty members is that instead of having several large projects, PUI faculty would have one, modest project. And because they have fewer, smaller projects, the work can be done in a smaller lab space.

Scientists at PUIs can't rely on graduate students to carry a share of the load (there aren't any), and undergraduates are only around for a year or two, so longer-term help is needed in the laboratory. Every serious undergraduate lab needs a postdoc or a technician. Yet Academic Research Enhancement Awards, NIH's program aimed at (among others) undergraduate institutions, provide only four $25,000 modules spread over a period of up to 3 years. But $33,000 per year will not pay salary and benefits for a technician or postdoc, leaving PUI scientists--who, with their heavy teaching loads, have even less time to spend in the lab than their research-university colleagues--with only undergraduates to do the work.

Many top PUIs are in the habit of channeling resources to those who have the least. This is a laudable impulse, and quite appropriate for underprivileged students, but it is inconsistent with a healthy research culture. Limited institutional resources--money and lab space--must be channeled to scientists who have proven their ability to use them most effectively. From a pedagogical standpoint, the best undergraduate research experience is a real research experience, one that results in publications in high-impact journals.

Many AREA applications are reviewed by the same study sections, at the same meetings, as R01 applications covering the same research area. My reviewer-informants tell me that AREA applications are often among the first to be "streamlined"--cast into the rejected pile unscored--because they are less well conceived than the average R01 application and poorly written (although many of these applications are then rescued by the scientific review administrator, who removes them from the rejected pile and marks them for further consideration). There's no reason that AREA applications should not be held to as high a standard as R01 applications. The standards should be different, certainly, but they should not be lower.

Be Well,

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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