I work hard for the money
August 9, 2008 4:18 AM   Subscribe

Just started a PhD in cognitive neuroscience/imaging genetics and looking for some way to fund my research.

I'm doing a PhD at a major Australian research university and need quite a bit of money in terms of research funding to pay for the experiments that I want to run (fMRI is quite pricey, about $450 per subject for the cheaper scanner and $650 for the stronger scanner).

I get about $5000 in research funding every year and can use some money from my supervisor's grant, but all up the funding is only enough to run one good fMRI study. I'd love to be able to run more than one.

Are there any grants/funding sources I can apply to get my mitts on some more research funding, or should I give up and focus on doing my research? Also, I have a scholarship that covers my living costs (barely), so I'm not looking to increase that.
posted by doctor.dan to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have to admit that I have never heard of a PhD student at an Australian university having to find funding for their own research (Biochemist from Melbourne here).

Why isn't your supervisor supportive of the experiments you want to do? Do you have his blessing for this? Because even though you do the work, this is essentially 'his' research. And, with respect, as a first-year PhD student you are probably not in a position to be making such decisions.

But anyway, if you really want to pursue this I would recommend scanning through the JASON database. Even though its say its a database of scholarship opportunities, it means this in the very loosest sense of the term. You will often find one-off grants for equipment and experiments you want to do. I am not too sure whether it covers your area - but ASBMB are also very supportive of young scientists with grants and awards

But again, I really think you need to talk your supervisor about this. If it really is a good idea to do this work, then he should fund it himself or at least help you find some money. If you can't convince him, then I would wager it would be hard to convince a funding panel.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 4:37 AM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

ChabonJabon, doing a PhD is a job. It's not rare for a grad student in the life sciences field to be working 60-70 hour weeks. The OP's question is about finding funding for his research - you don't just go out and get a cafe job and use that money for your lab supplies. We're talking what can be up to several thousand dollars a year simply on consumables!

I'm not sure how similar Australian funding is to NZ, but you could look up local and regional foundations which focus on your field. For example, in NZ there's the Neurological Foundation. In my field, there's the Genesis Oncology Trust and other trusts which focus on particular types of cancer. There's also general funding bodies like the Auckland Medical Research Society. Organisations like these typically give out grants for small and large scale research projects, as well as scholarships, post doc fellow ships, and travel grants. There are also national bodies like the Marsden Fund, but typically those are for big scale projects.

It's really the job of your supervisor/PI to secure funding for projects, particularly when applying for large scale grants. The Other Guy made a lot of very salient points with regards to their expected role in your research. That's not to say you shouldn't be doing any of the legwork (it does look good on the CV after all), but this is something that should really be their responsibility.
posted by minus zero at 5:45 AM on August 9, 2008

Agreed - it's your advisor's job to secure the funding. It's your job to do the experiments. Grad students should not be writing major scientific grants.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 9:18 AM on August 9, 2008

If you get $5,000 of research every year, and will be doing the program for 5 years, thats about $25K! Why not just do the work you are instructed to do during the first 3 years, and use the $25K to use on your research for your dissertation during the final 2 years.

Just a note to hal_c_on and others that the circumstances of Australian PhD students are somewhat different to elsewhere, so some of your assumptions may be incorrect. For a start, there's huge pressure to bring in a PhD in 3 and 1/2 years. Also, while supervision styles can vary greatly, Australian PhD students are treated as capable independent workers more quickly than (say) the US. Some supervisors take an entirely hands-off approach. We may have a case of that here.

Still, it would be useful to know more of doctor.dan's project. I'm guessing he's unhappy with the sample size - about 30 subjects max - which he describes as only enough to run one good fMRI study. My first bit of advice would be to beware of over-ambition. That is to say, ambition is great, but your first objective with a PhD is just completing the damn thing. It doesn't have to change the world. For the moment, worry about getting that first study done and written up. Second, get as much out of that one set of data as you can. It's your data, it's unique, see what you can exploit about it.

Finally, while you're doing that first study, maybe then you can keep an eye open for other funding sources. minus zero & TheOtherGuy's advice about looking for small funding sources is a good idea: medical societies, charities etc. They're a more likely source than the NHMRC or ARC.
posted by outlier at 11:08 AM on August 9, 2008

As a fellow biomedical PhD student, one of the things we encourage our first years to do is to choose a mentor that has solid levels of funding. No funding = no research. No research = no publications. No publications = no PhD.

Since you just started, I would encourage you to find another mentor with adequate funding. It's not unreasonable to ask you you contribute to grants or to write fellowship applications, but being forced to independently find your own money seems over the line.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:56 PM on August 9, 2008

Response by poster: I think I may have confused you all. I have funding for one fMRI study (about $15,000 given to me by the institute I'm in, and $5000 coming from my supervisor to cover scans, plus another $5000 from my supervisor to cover equipment and subject costs). The plan so far is to run the fMRI study, aiming for a nature publishing group journal (Nature Neuroscience, Neuropsychopharmacology, etc). Because one study does not a PhD make, we plan to pad out the rest with behavioural studies, all of which will be funded by my supervisor's grants.

Now I would love to run a second fMRI study. The problem though is that because we are looking at genetics, you can't run a small one, you need at least a sample of 30 subjects (at $650 each for the scanner time alone, this is pricey).

Just to clarify, I have enough funding to cover what I *need* for my thesis. What I would ideally want to do would require a bit more cash. I haven't been asked to search for outside funding, this is just something I thought I could do while running experiments, waiting for data to analyse, and as a productive way of procrastinating.

@TheOtherGuy. The research that I am doing is more my own than my supervisor's. His main focus of research is ADHD, whereas I run screaming from anything involving special populations (the general population is screwed up enough, thank you). That being said, he's wanted to investigate what I'm doing now for a while, he just hasn't had the free labour that comes with a PhD student to be able to run the experiments. He has been busy applying for competitive grants that would cover my research as well as his own, which is great, but I thought having both of us working on it might be better than just him alone. And it is something that I will need in the future :)

I've been keeping track of JASON's RSS feed, but haven't seen much that is really that relevant (I already have two scholarships to cover living expenses thanks to my supervisor and don't need another one, which seems to be JASON's focus). I'll add ASBMB to my list.

@minus zero. Thanks for the tips. I'll keep an eye on the NIMH, NIH and ARC for relevant grants.

@hal_c_on. I wasn't asked to fund my own research, I'd just prefer to be able to run a second very expensive study on top of what I am planning to do anyway (that is, if I have the time, if not, the money can fund my behavioural studies).

I have already negotiated first author creds on all of the studies that will be part of my PhD, even though the IP goes back to the institute.

The $5K I get is paid for the first three years only, which is actually provided by the institute, and not from the funding they get from the government (other parts of the university give as little as $500 in research funding per year).

@outlier. Thanks, you are very right about ambition, I need to keep it reigned in. The good thing with my supervisory team is that I get the independence to design what I want and have final say in things, but they keep me in check. I will basically blow all my research funding ($15K) in the first experiment, and my supervisor has said he's more than happy to pay for the other behavioural studies. The main problem with everything I want to do is that it either involves samples with a specific genotype breakdown (expensive) or fMRI (as expensive as it gets in cog neuro), or both (my first experiment).

There is one other experiment we were talking about in the beginning which has been put on the backburner because of a lack of funding for the fMRI component (we were planning to piggyback on another researcher's fMRI time which would have made my data virtually free, but this isn't likely to happen since this researcher has his own PhD student now who is hoping to do the same).

@chrisamiller. He hasn't been without a competitive grant in the last five years so its not that he can't pull them, its just that I want to run more expensive studies than we *need* for the thesis. Yeah, I'm being ambitious, but might as well try.

@everyone, thanks for great advice, keep it coming.
posted by doctor.dan at 12:52 AM on August 10, 2008

Community of Science

Those should keep you busy for a while.
posted by lalochezia at 8:13 PM on August 11, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks lalochezia, I'll keep an eye on those.
posted by doctor.dan at 5:19 AM on August 12, 2008

I just wanted to note one thing which jumped out at me:

"I'd just prefer to be able to run a second very expensive study on top of what I am planning to do anyway (that is, if I have the time, if not, the money can fund my behavioural studies)."

Usually a grant application explicitly sets out goals and the techniques you'll use. You might have to get creative to get money that can be spent in either of the two studies.

Although I guess you're only looking for $20K(?) Maybe you're thinking more student-geared grants you could get without committing to one set of experiments.
posted by joemax at 3:59 PM on August 13, 2008

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