Budgeting for field research — advice, rules of thumb, or important things I might be overlooking?
January 13, 2011 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Budgeting for field research — advice, rules of thumb, or important things I might be overlooking?

I'm drawing up a budget for two summers' worth of linguistic fieldwork. This is the first time I've ever put together a budget more complicated than "Hey guys, don't forget rent is due next week."

I'd appreciate any advice you've got on going about this in an intelligent way — where "this" could be "planning linguistic research" or "budgeting for travel in general." What important points might I be overlooking? What do you wish you'd known the first time you did something like this?
posted by nebulawindphone to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is the budget for grant applications or for your own financial planning? The answers are very different for each.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 12:46 PM on January 13, 2011

Also more information about where you're going would help. For instance, I have some advice for remote situations in developed countries but I don't know if that would help you. Are you planning on camping, renting an apartment, staying with friends/relatives? Are meals included? What are the possible most horrible things that could happen (bears or civil wars for example)? Are you doing it by yourself or will you have an assistant?
posted by hydrobatidae at 1:17 PM on January 13, 2011

Response by poster: It's for a grant application. (FWIW though I feel like the grant-writing side of things is under control. I'm just worried about the budget itself being sensible.) I'll be in a town in rural Guatemala, renting a room or a small apartment, working on my own. I guess a civil war isn't out of the question, but they've been doing well on that front lately. More likely sources of danger: landslides, germs, petty crime (especially while on the road), wild dogs, violent drunks.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:44 PM on January 13, 2011

Ah, okay. I'm currently living off a grant while I do fieldwork, although I'm working within the U.S. so things are a bit different for me. Here are my general suggestions:

-First, read the budget guidelines for the grant application(s) carefully. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are frequently esoteric rules that take multiple readings to get, and different granting agencies will have different rules about what they can cover. Some grants, for example, can cover health insurance premiums, whereas others cannot. Some grants have a limit to how much you can spend on field equipment without having to donate the equipment to a charity when you're done with it.

-Second, look over examples of successful budgets that other people have created. My department keeps a file of successful grant applications that other students can look through; if your department doesn't do this, ask more advanced students in your department if you can take a look at theirs. This will not only give you ideas about how to structure your budget and what costs it's reasonable to expect -- perhaps more importantly, it will remind you of various everyday expenses that hadn't occurred to you (for example, it costs money to do laundry!).

-Third, don't worry about asking for too much. This is something that has been hammered into my head over and over. If the grant committee likes your project, they're not going to reject you for being "greedy"; if they think your budget is too high, they'll just give you less money than you asked for. This is, of course, assuming that your expenses are within a reasonable range. Once you get to the field you'll discover that some things are more expensive than you budgeted for and some things are less expensive; it's good to have some wiggle room so that you can reconfigure your budget accordingly (says the person who only budgeted $170/month for all food and personal expenses).

-Fourth, and this is particularly important for linguistic research, do your research about equipment. Don't just write "digital recorder - $300". Specify a model if you can, and if it's high-end, explain why you need a high-end recorder. Need an external mic? Need archival-quality CDs, or perhaps an external HD, for archiving your recordings? If you're specific, it will show the committee that you know your stuff and are prepared for the technical side of the project.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 3:04 PM on January 13, 2011

Oh, and:

-Fifth, and this is kind of an offshoot of number four, the more detailed you can be, the better. Better for the granting committee, which will see that you've put a lot of thought into your plan and will appreciate knowing where every dollar in your total figure is going, and better for you, because you're less likely to overlook something or make a math error if every expense is itemized (rather than just dividing your budget into, say, "rent" and "living expenses" and "travel expenses" as three catch-all categories).
posted by enlarged to show texture at 3:10 PM on January 13, 2011

I'm happy to send you a copy of my budgets for recent linguistic fieldwork and grant applications relating to this. Memail me if you'd like.

The first time I did it I totally forgot to include the cost of immunisations and research permits.

I know someone who forgot to include the cost of related conference attendance (depends on the grant as to whether that is permitted.)

Recently I put together a budget for fieldwork in PNG, and it actually turned out paying someone to build me a house in the village was cheaper than paying for accommodation at a nearby guesthouse. That's something I wouldn't have known without talking to other people who had been there.

Moral: find linguists or anthropologists who have been where you are going and ask them. Base your budget on their figures, then increase it slightly.
posted by lollusc at 4:03 PM on January 13, 2011

Also, don't forget to include travel insurance if your university doesn't automatically provide it. And even if they do, look into what it covers and check if you need any sort of top up. Ours doesn't cover use of your own vehicle, for example, so if you take your car, you need to insure it separately. That probably won't be an issue for you, but think laterally :)

Include more money than you think you will need for "communications from the field". My last fieldwork site, phone calls back to Australia cost $8 a minute, and email was $3 for every 2 minutes of access to the world's slowest satellite connection.
posted by lollusc at 4:06 PM on January 13, 2011

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