The GrantDoctor – International Funding

Q. Dear GrantDoctor,

I recently returned to my home country (a small European country known mostly as a holiday destination and not for its science) after an excellent postdoc in a top-tier U.S. institution, preceded by Ph.D. training in the United Kingdom. I knew that things would not be easy as a junior faculty member at home--i.e., no start-up funds, no research budget, virtually no government support, no equipment--but I counted on my ability to generate original ideas and write grants (based on previous success in the U.S. and the U.K.), my CV, and my good ties with foreign collaborators and colleagues to get me started.

But now I realize that I am in a black hole of funding. I am either considered “too rich” for some awards or “too established” (due to my faculty appointment of U.S. $1400/month) or not “competitive” enough for big grants (due to lack of facilities). This has been the case for any grants that I have seriously considered or applied for this past year! Even for conference travel grant awards from societies that I am a member of, ... not coming from an Asian, African, ex-Soviet, or Latin American country is a big disadvantage.

I would really appreciate any advice that you may have on international funding opportunities in muscle biology, physiology, or biophysics.

Thank you for your time,

Athena (Not my real name)

A. Dear Athena,

I'm no expert on the European funding scene, but I've got some friends who are, so I asked them for advice. "Surely," said one well-connected European, "she is eligible for every grant other young faculty members from and in Europe are eligible for, so I don’t really understand why she’s trying to apply for grants for developing countries! I get the impression that her problem is more in the fact that she’s not competitive for big grants, due to lack of facilities. The fact that Greece doesn’t offer much to start with is a handicap, especially when you have to compete with other countries, but only up to a certain point, I would say."

Here are some programs my European helper dug up:

* The European Science Foundation holds the EURYI awards. For more information on these awards, see this report. The first competitive step for these awards is a national selection, so for this you will be in the same boat as other people in Greece. Next comes the international step and--yes--they are highly competitive. (No one from Greece won this year, but there was a Greek winner last year.) Some applicants for these awards are still in their postdocs, so with your faculty position you should have a clear advantage! Interestingly, only four people from Greece seem to have applied in the second call.

* With a faculty appointment, you should be eligible for money from the 6th Framework Programme ( Finding a specific funding programme within this framework, I am told, is quite complex, so you should consult with your National Contact Point (NCP). Here is your NCP.

* If your work is interdisciplinary, you should consider the Human Frontiers Science program and the Marie Curie Excellence grants.

Admittedly, all of these programs are very competitive. "My advice," says my European expert, "would be to apply for grants within Greece." These grants are likely to be small and relatively few, but you'll be competing with scientists in the same boat you are in. "This funding," my expert points out, "will help you to compete for international grants." Here is some contact information for the Greek secretariat for research and technology in Athens--although hopefully you're on a first-name basis with these folks by now:

Tel.: +30 210 6911122, +30 210 7752222


Also, the European Commission-funded Greek Researcher's Mobility Portal has a grant-searching facility.

The portal also offers an overview on the Greek research landscape.

While we're on the subject, here's some required reading:

* First, an interesting article about upcoming changes in the research infrastructure and funding in Greece. Might be worth quizzing the secretariat for research and technology about the implications of these changes for your research.

* Finally, here is an excellent guide about opportunities for young scientists in Europe launching their lab.

No matter where you are, finding money to do science is hard. If you're in an underdeveloped (in scientific terms) country or at an institution with limited infrastructure, it's that much harder. But if you are determined and do good work, you will find your way through.

Be Well,

The GrantDoctor

Q. Dear GrantDoctor,

I'm a scientist with a great record, and I'm looking for a postdoctoral fellowship or some other way to support my postdoctoral research in the United States. Unfortunately, I'm not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. What fellowship programs do I qualify for? Thank you very much.


C. King Workabroad

A. Dear Readers,

C. King's question--indeed, C. King himself--is fictional. I made him up to represent dozens of scientists who ask essentially this question every month.

Almost all government fellowship programs are restricted to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or noncitizen nationals, the latter group consisting of people who have full residency status in U.S. territories. So forget about getting a fellowship from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, or other federal organizations.

Yet these organizations do make a very clear distinction between fellowships and other training programs (which are restricted to citizens, permanent residents, and so on) and research grants (which have no such restrictions). And far more postdocs in the United States are supported by research-grant funds than by postdoctoral fellowships; foreign postdocs may compete freely for grant-supported postdoc positions. This is why about half of all U.S. postdocs come from abroad.

There are, however, some postdoc fellowship programs, most of them from private foundations, that foreign scientists may apply for. How can you find them? Visit GrantsNet's graduate and postgraduate funding database search page and check the box that says "limit to awards without U.S. citizenship requirements." When I did such a search (checking the boxes for "initial Ph.D. postdoc" and "advanced Ph.D. postdoc" but leaving all other options blank), 168 programs were returned.

Be Well,

The GrantDoctor

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