Research Dissemination and the Need for Grants: A Basic Overview of the Funding Process, Part 1

Part 1 of 4: Read each week as we explain the inner-workings of grant funding and how it impacts researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill and the broader scholarly community.

Research nowadays often is dependent upon grant funding, regardless of what field you’re in. For the sciences, grant funding can help researchers afford the chemicals and student labor to make scientific discoveries. For the humanities and social sciences, it can hugely help with human subject research, such as offering cash incentives to human subjects for participating in the study.

Beyond getting the money to be able to afford doing the study, getting grants also offers prestige for the university and for you–big grants show departments that people believe in your research, which means (hopefully!) more grants and tenure. Big grants also show legislators that important research is happening at this university. In 2019, $1.1 billion from taxpayers pays for research at UNC, but this funding, in addition to tuition fees, is not enough. Grants are required to fill in additional research needs.

The problem is that the availability of grants can be very, very limited, and thus cause forced competition and stress for career success, even for tiny grants. The split between the disciplines also makes distinct differences in practices for securing grant funding;  foundation sponsors are the primary source for humanities funding, one reason being that many federal agencies see more directly relevant public policy correlations with STM research funding.

When it comes to getting grant funding, a lot goes into the process–which will be explained in the next few weeks. Let’s first pull out a brief cast of characters here at UNC:

  • The researcher: wants to submit a convincing application and create a budget for how much grant money to request in order to conduct a research study
  • The researcher’s department’s grants “officer”: supports when drafting grant proposals and adhering to an awarded grant; located within the researcher’s department
  • The Office for Research’s “Office for Sponsored Research”: reviews and approves finished grant proposals as UNC’s authorized signatory, and submits it to the funder
  • The funder: reviews submitted grant proposals, awards funds to the Office for Sponsored Research for disbursement, and expects acknowledgement for sponsoring the research
  • And the extras: those offices that may have small pots of internal UNC “research related” funds to allocate. These may include departmental funds or Office of Research Development funds. There are also various offices that offer support events or training workshops to help researchers be more cognizant of what they have to do

In the next few weeks, we’ll break down some steps and rationale of the funding process, as well as offer some sources for you to get support you need here at Carolina.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Indirect Costs: What are they and why must they be in my grant budget?