Social Science Faculty Share Advice on Finding, Applying For, and Managing Small Grants

On Monday November 14, four BU faculty members within the social sciences shared their advice and experiences at a lively and informative workshop on “Small Grants for Social Scientists.” Associate Dean Chernock (CAS History) served as moderator, and  Brooke Blower (CAS History), Deborah Carr (CAS Sociology), Spencer Piston (CAS Political Science), and Merav Shohet (CAS Anthropology) offered their insight and perspectives on the process of securing small grants. 

The panelists, each of whom has obtained small grants (i.e., less than $20,000) from foundations, underscored the importance of external funding for scholars of all stages – from graduate students to senior faculty members. Small grants can be essential to launching a new research project, hiring student research assistants, and doing the pilot work necessary for larger grants. Many foundations are eager to receive applications from social scientists doing cutting edge research. 

Some of the insightful tips offered at the workshop include:

  • Stay organized! Keep a document for yourself of grants you find and want to apply for in the future.
  • Check the “acknowledgements” section of existing work. Here, you may find ideas of where to seek out discipline-specific funding. 
  • Try to envision the application process as a useful intellectual exercise. Applying for grants is an opportunity to re-envision the work you’re doing and strengthen your intellectual framework. It can act as a roadmap for where you can go next.
  • Adopt the mindset of the selection committee. The committee is looking for easy ways to narrow down their pool of applicants, as applications far outnumber the number of grants available. If you haven’t convinced them within the first paragraph that your study is important and innovative, they will likely move on.
  • Make sure you’ve considered “fit.” Ensure that your work is consistent with the aims of the funding organization or particular Call. Keep in mind what type of work the organization has funded in the past and confirm you can provide what they’re asking for.
  • Take a step back. You know why your work matters to YOU, but why should it matter to someone else? Make this obvious in your application.
  • Precision matters. If you are seeking funding for an empirical project, it is critical that you clearly describe precisely what you are doing, and that you demonstrate that the method or approach you propose is feasible for studying your research question.
  • Sing out your strengths. What evidence can you provide that you are ideally suited to carry out the proposed project? What substantive or methodological expertise do you bring to the project? While many funding organizations focus on the project, most also focus on the person and their qualifications.
  • Consider the pros and cons of receiving grant funds. Often, grants come with a lot of strings attached. Make sure you know what you’re getting into (read the contract!) and that it’s worth the effort.
  • Small pots of money add up. Not only do grants allow you to expand your research, but every line you add to your CV makes you more fundable in the future. 
  • Rejection happens; it’s a part of the process. For every grant someone receives, there are five they’ve been rejected from. Don’t let it be a point of discouragement. 

Check out the Center’s external opportunities webpage,  Foundation Relations’ funding opportunities page, or the Office of Research website (including the Pivot Database) to learn of other small (and large) grant opportunities.