In 2020, the US federal government allocated nearly $140 billion to scientific research, but this funding is not evenly distributed among researchers, states or regions. Certain areas, like California’s Silicon Valley and North Carolina’s Research Triangle, as well as certain industries, receive a disproportionate share of federal research dollars. This leaves research institutions wondering how they can capture more funding to grow a research program. Here are ten steps your institution can take to improve your odds of capturing more research funding.
Focus your research specialties
If your research program is small, or you are just beginning to build a research portfolio, one of the smartest moves you can make is to limit your focus to a few specific areas of research. Building core areas of excellence can help you establish a name for your institution while you build the infrastructure needed to support broader research efforts.
Set goals for the near, medium and long-term future
Research institutions don’t grow by accident; they’re the result of consistent planning for the near, mid-term and long-term future. Part of this planning includes setting goals. Establishing time-based funding goals is essential, but must also include recruiting the right Principal Investigators and students to build or expand research programs in your targeted areas.
Build a reputation
Establishing a reputation for conducting successful research also goes back to planning. Identify meaningful research problems that you can address by meeting short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. By stacking up some short-term and mid-term successes, you can establish a reputation as a research operation that can get things done. As part of your reputation strategy, make connections with other researchers or players in the industry space who can act as mentors while you more firmly establish your research teams.
Build a research infrastructure
Building a research infrastructure is critical to the long-term health of your research programs. This takes place at the enterprise level, and will include everything from laboratory space and equipment to administrative support. As your grants become larger and more complex, so will the need for more enterprise-level assistance.
Create or expand a Research Office to support grant seekers
Funding pursuit is one of the most time-consuming (and sometimes frustrating) parts of developing a research program. Many researchers feel enormous pressure to conduct basic research, teach and publish. Then, they also need to engage in what seems like a non-stop pursuit of funding. At some point, growing a research program means establishing or expanding a Research Office to support grant seekers, provide research administration support, and assist with myriad reporting, compliance and accounting issues that accompany every research dollar your program takes in.
Private Research Funder Collaborations
Private research funders don’t always establish meaningful access to basic research providers. In fact, they tend to keep most of their research in-house. But they do outsource about $60B annually in research work. Smart research programs are learning how to take advantage of this growing source of research funding.
Commonly, private research funders distribute funding based on their past experiences. If a funding opportunity worked in the past, they’ve established a clear path to distribute their research funding. While “sticking with what you know” may not be the best or most efficient strategy, it underscores the value of industry relationships. If you’ve focused your research programs on select areas, building relationships with related industry players is a smart move, and one that can reward your program with applied research grants.
Public Research Funder Collaborations
Public research funders include the federal, state and local governments. A portion of your research funding efforts should focus on acquiring grant funding from these sources. As with private industry funders, start with your research focus areas. Resist the temptation to seek funding for sort-of-but-not-quite related research opportunities that could distract your program and interfere with your ability to build your program’s reputation. The advantage of working locally is that public dollars remain local, and that’s a win for both your program and the funders.
Public agencies with specific funding priorities also offer opportunities to snag research grants. As the saying goes, “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.” Consider developing research competencies in areas of significant interest to a funding agency. By tailoring a research program to meet the specific, achievable needs of a funder, you can increase your chances of growing a research program. Small successes here will enable you to grab larger research dollars from future funding opportunities. This is also a great way to build collaborations with researchers at other institutions.
Internal funding is becoming a more important source of research dollars and can help you grow your program. While many research institutions have limited capacity to fund research, internal funding opportunities can help you get started. They can also be a good source of matching funds from external funders. Take the time to learn about internal funding opportunities and practices at your institution. If your institution doesn’t have an internal funding mechanism, consider working with the administration to create one.
Being visible is essential to growing a research program. This includes external visibility, like the kind you get from publishing your research and making conference presentations. Publication of research is a key step in elevating the stature of your research program. The more you publish, the more likely your program is to catch the attention of funders. Publishing and presenting research also establishes your credentials in your research field. This will be indispensable when you are competing against other research institutions for funding.
While you need to be visible to the outside world, you also need to be visible internally. Making yourself and your work more visible to administrators and other parts of your institution can help you garner the support you need for your program. Internal visibility to other investigators can also foster successful internal collaborations. Never miss an opportunity to create allies on the inside.
Select proposal opportunities carefully
The pressure to capture funding is intense, but don’t fall into the trap of accepting dollars for work that falls outside of your research focus. You may have money in hand, but research that isn’t closely related to your focus will actually prevent you from doing the research you are most interested in, building a solid reputation and ultimately growing a research program.
One way to ensure that you have an ongoing source of research funding is to build a research endowment. Endowments are a long-term strategy to create guaranteed funding for the type of research your institution wants to conduct. A robust endowment can also help you attract high-profile researchers by creating a stable funding mechanism for their work. Once you have begun to accumulate some research successes in your chosen focus areas, consider working with your institutional development officers to create a research endowment.
Grow your research program through Streamlyne Research
Streamlyne Research delivers a comprehensive, cloud-based enterprise research administration tool that manages all aspects of the research administration process. This includes everything from pre-award to close-out and compliance. For more information about Streamlyne Research and how it can help your institution grow a research program, please contact us today.