How many of us have heard that getting grants is much harder now than it was in the “good old days?” Well, I have only been researching full time since I began my postgraduate research, which was 11 years ago, and I don’t think I see a change. Maybe I am not old enough to really see the difference, but I honestly think getting funding has always been, and will always be, challenging. However, I think most scientists are open to finding alternative sources, and apply for many more grants than previously. The questions I am going to pose everyone are would you be willing to ask for philanthropic funding, and does the uncertainty of funding sources and amounts alter your career direction?
If the idea of philanthropy paying for your research is novel, it may surprise you that it has been going on for some time. Many research hospitals have huge advertising campaigns asking for donations which will be used towards funding research. I currently work for one, and many of my colleagues work for others, but how many actually realize that they are in a unique and potentially fortunate situation? I am not saying that all research on campus is funded by donations. Far from it, but at least some are. While in this economic downturn charity may have shrunk, but not to the same extent as some research funding from more traditional sources. Hopefully, it will be enough to keep everyone ticking over even if we need to be more frugal.
If you are not employed through a non-profit organisation or research institute, there are other options for you to consider. Depending on your research area, there may be multiple charities with grants available. If you have applied for these and been unsuccessful, you could align yourself with a patient advocate and potentially ask for big donations.
An example would be a wealthy individual with a family member suffering from disease A. If you can persuade a patient advocate of disease A to help, you may be able to leverage a donation from them or, if you are particularly persuasive, go it alone. Also, foundations usually have specific causes they fund – the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation as an example funds HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Polio, Tuberculosis and other research topics.
Alternatively you could go through a more business route and ask venture capitalists for support. The down side here is that they may want a cut of the IP which may cause problems with your research institute’s IP rights. Something I learned about recently is “crowd-funding” which is where you raise research money directly from the public. There may be no review process, therefore badly planned research may get funded, but it is possible to raise significant funds via this method. Would it feel strange to ask for funding like this? Almost as if you are beginning a biotech company, but remain working in an academic environment?
Whatever happens I think the days of hoping for government funded grants is over, and that we need to cast our nets far and wide to catch elusive research funds. Good luck everyone. I am interested in knowing your thoughts on these alternative sources of funding. Have you already tried any of them? Were you successful?