The pool of funds available for grants in the US is steadily shrinking given that funding is similar from year to year, and those funds are not keeping up with inflation and labor costs. Also, grant funding has been dramatically reduced in certain federal funding agencies and in others it has fallen by 20-25 percent, meaning that most academics are spending valuable time writing applications that end up being rejected. With this problem in mind, universities have an important role to play in assisting faculty to be successful in their grant applications. Universally, an institution that succeeds in its external funding efforts is one that develops a culture for grant procurement. To develop this culture, institutions should include and encourage this undertaking in its strategic plan, and throughout all areas of the university.
Most US institutions of higher education encourage faculty to apply for external funding, but the assistance they provide varies extensively. Teaching institutions, now more than ever, stress the importance of research. Unfortunately, due to the heavy teaching loads, many provide little if any assistance to faculty, while at the same time expecting them to submit successful grant requests. Among the most well-funded institutions, including R1 Doctoral Universities (very high research activity) and R2 Doctoral Universities (high research activity), assistance given to faculty varies, but all financially support projects that lead to faculty success in procuring external funding.
The following, although not inclusive, are some of the necessary infrastructure support steps an institution needs to take to assure increased funding and faculty support:
- Institutional level: This includes development of an administrative unit, such as a Sponsored Research Office, which will support many grant-related activities such as grant searches, grant compliance with the Requests for Proposals (RFPs), budget development and grant submissions. The university should recruit and pay graduate research assistants and financially and philosophically support departments that encourage and assist faculty in their funding pursuits. Some of these areas might be content reviews, editing, evaluation and statistical services.
- Departmental level: On the departmental level, the key faculty incentives are salary increases and reduced teaching loads. Also, the departmental goals should include funding success in the tenure and promotion criteria. In addition, many departments hire support staff to assist faculty in grant seeking and writing.
- Individual level: Faculty should be encouraged to augment their grant writing skills by attending ongoing extensive workshops sponsored by their department or conducted by external contractors. Another essential activity is creating partnerships and mentorships between the established senior and junior faculty in order for the former to review proposals and recommend changes. Ongoing mock grant review panels, whereby senior faculty review and score junior faculty proposals, are extremely helpful in order for faculty to see how their proposals will be critiqued and scored by the donor agency panels.
Other key aspects are visits by grant program officers, sharing and dissecting of successful proposals, online tutorials, departmental writing retreats, centers of research excellence, and standing committees that can work with faculty on a continuous basis. All of these must be institutionalized and conducted throughout the year. Faculty need to be incentivized and encouraged to attend the training, mentoring and other related activities. Coordination between all areas of the institution is essential. In addition, the orientation for all newly entering faculty should stress the importance of research, grant procurement and the assistance that the university provides in those respects.
From my extensive experience in working with universities throughout the nation, those that implement a culture of grant procurement including as many as possible of the above activities are the institutions with the highest funding success rate.
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