ISSR's Grants Development Panel Explores Diverse Pathways of Research Funding

Jennifer Lundquist
In early March, ISSR held its first grants development panel entitled “Grants and Your Research Trajectory,” moderated by Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Development, Jennifer Lundquist and featuring panelists Mari Castañeda, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication and Larry King, a new Professor in the Department of Economics. The panel explored a range of grantmaking experiences across the social and behavioral sciences. Faculty and audience participants shared their experiences and strategies for including grant making and project stewardship in their career trajectories. This panel was designed to raise awareness of new capabilities within ISSR to assist faculty in building successful research proposals strategizing interdisciplinary grants and identifying prospective funders.

The discussion began with Lundquist offering the prompt to explain the history of applying for and managing external funding. Both panelists had very different stories to relate. Castañeda applied with three co-PIs pre-tenure for a Community Outreach Partnership Center out of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during pretunure. The team had already spent time in Holyoke doing research, taking students there for teaching, and doing service outreach. The group did not initially believe they would be awarded this a highly competitive grant; however, they won the award on their first try. The team received $400k for three years to conduct highly intensive community-based research in the city of Holyoke, a project designed to promote economic development, creative entrepreneurship, housing, and support diverse cultural production. Despite the intense nature of the work, Castañeda confided that getting the grant bonded her to important colleagues and cemented her role at UMass over the long term.

King is a new faculty member at UMass Amherst, however, his career as an academic spans over two decades. He currently manages multiple large grants, many from the European Commission. King related that the hardest grants to obtain were the early ones. The first $80K grant he took great pains to craft, along with a highly refined survey instrument, while a young faculty member at Yale was not funded. Then, after having published a high-profile and controversial article in the Lancet on privatization and mortality of firms across 10 countries, he drew the attention of Professor Sir Michael Marmot Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College, London, father of Whitehall studies on civil service hierarchies and morbidity. Though their connection as collaborators was new, the high-profile Marmot invited King to collaborate on a bid to capture funds for a large interdisciplinary five year data collection project funded through the European Social Research Council scheme. King took two years to perfect the proposal and they were successful. With the large level of sustained funding, King found himself managing teams of faculty, graduate students and consultants much as a natural scientist would in her lab.

Both panelists acknowledged the challenges of managing grants once they have been awarded. Castañeda remarked that traditional Departmental structures are not staffed to manage the day to day of external grant awards and to support reporting. As current Chair of Communications, Castañeda is working to shift cultural practices of her department to attract and retain new faculty as well as to strengthen the profile of grants as an ingredient in promotion and tenure. For King, on particularly large grants, it hits home that the PI is ultimately accountable and must handle any legal or personnel issues while navigating the ongoing research workload. While both acknowledged these difficulties, each relayed that the presence of grants in their research portfolios has changed the way they work and has influenced the new research they propose going forward.