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Research Tips: Seizing Funding Opportunities and Working with University Resources

Based on the October CAR Faculty Lounge

With COVID-19 presenting increased challenges in funding, PGBS faculty gathered with the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs (RSP) and Corporate and Foundation Relations (CFR) to discuss funding resources. Here are a few highlights from our session:

What percentage of successes do we have in general?

On the government funding side, we are hovering around a 50% success rate, with around 35 to 40 plus submissions per year. It is relatively high compared to many institutions of our size, but that reflects our long standing partnerships within the department where people have developed partnerships with funders over the years, and thus are more likely to, year after year, receive successfully. This is an important thing to remember, that these relationships are built up, and the more you produce and demonstrate, the more likely you are to get continued success.

How do we begin working with you and what is that process like?

The greatest challenge we've had is learning what the faculty or the staff member needs funding for. Then we call through all of the foundations, corporations, and go through all of the government funding areas to see if there's a match for that. So if you are interested in funding please call us, email us, we are more than willing to sit down and listen to your ideas and brainstorm. Don't wait for a finished product, let us help from the conception of the idea to the recording of the grant.

What's your or the corporate funder’s expectation for the output of the research if you get funds from them? Who owns the rights for the outcome if you get the funds from the corporate relationship?

From the corporate and foundation relations side, a lot of it depends on what your research is. What is it serving, who is it working with? Then we would cultivate your narrative around what organizations that give in that area are looking for, from a summary of your project to your budget, your specific needs and the research itself. We work from start to finish, and we will actually apply for the grant on your behalf, and keep you updated on its progress. If a project is funded we also help with the maintenance, reporting, everything that goes into making sure the funder knows how the money is being spent and how things are playing out. For ownership and intellectual property rights, it's best to speak with the funder early because we have had occasions where we received funding but later a clause is found that either the university or faculty doesn't like. There is our general counsel at Pepperdine which will review any of these agreements, and we're happy to get you in contact with them to make sure everyone's on the same page, because though the university takes intellectual property seriously and wants to insure it, there are funders who want split ownership or some sort of ownership stake until the grant is repaid.

In my field, it's all about proprietary data, which we have to have a personal relationship to get. But on our side, time is very constrained with teaching and research. So we keep talking about buying out our teaching hours and if that's possible. Can I put that buying out in my budget plan?

With respect to course buyout that's definitely something you can build into your budget, both on the government grant and private funding side. So whatever time you need to complete your research, we can request that as long as your dean and your administration approves.

I’ve found that paying people to take your studies is more than say 75% of your costs, some don't really want to fund that. Have you had projects funded where it's mostly paying people to participate?

I think there wouldn't be an issue if you are able to justify well why whatever you need is integral to your study, your methodology, and then to your outcomes and analyses. One thing to keep in mind is that the response to the pandemic is slowing things down and a lot of funding agencies as well as research are taking longer. So now is a good opportunity if you have the time and the ability to submit proposals. The funders are understanding of changes to your timeline, so don't think of that as a limitation. Right now, as long as they have the appropriations on the federal side they want to give that money out, because they want to demonstrate that they gave out all their funds and they need at least that amount the next year.

Small grants and smaller seed funding can be a means to demonstrate impact before obtaining larger scale funding. But the downside is, even smaller grant proposals require quite a lot of effort. If you know you're commencing a multi-year, perhaps even decade-long series of slowly building projects, is it better to scope the entire series of studies and go for that larger grant or do you recommend a smaller piecemeal approach leading up to the larger grants?

Either approach works; it just depends on your research. There is a lot to be said for building a foundational pyramid to demonstrate not just financial backing, but also intellectual backing, from both internal and external sources. If you're able to access internal funds as seed funding that can be a good way, and if there's a relationship you can build through research with a colleague at a different school within Pepperdine, there are larger amounts of internal money available. Right now a lot of individuals are looking to make safe bets on what they’re funding, so demonstrating previous success is a good strategy, but if you've got your project developed, you have a small amount of data, and you want to go into the meat of the study, then is it really worth waiting? Especially when on the government side there's a 2.1 submission before success ratio (you submit 2.1 times before your proposal is accepted, on average). So you submit that proposal, you get it back with comments on it. You didn't get funded, but you make a statement that says I fixed these things and I'm applying. You might get your funds before you would have even finished up your pilot study. So taking a look at what funders’ turnaround times are can be good factors in decision making. But to also add, if it's something brand new that hasn't been studied yet, you do run into the issue of there being no real strong basis for it. So maybe having a small amount of money to start it off isn't a bad idea.

Which do you think is easier to get funding from, the government side or the corporate side?

The easiest thing is going to be the funding opportunity that's closest to your research. On the government side, you almost never have the opportunity just to say, this is what I want to do, somebody come and fund it. You always are responding to something they're interested in. Federal proposals typically range 15 to 25 pages, so there's always a significant time investment and if you’re looking for the easiest it’s going to be internal funding, but those amounts are going to be the smallest as well. One good thing is the fact that if you write a proposal for either side, you can use that on both the government and corporate funding sides. Grant writing also forces us to make progress on our projects, even though they may not get approved, that work can become a peer-reviewed article for a journal, or text for another proposal to another agency. So the hardest proposal to write is the first one.