How exactly does research get funded?

Ever wondered how research funding works? Raghavendra U breaks down the entire process in this resource

Raghavendra U's avatar
28 May 2024
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Filing cabinet with files labelled "funding" and "grants"
image credit: iStock/Olivier Le Moal.

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Research funding plays a crucial role in fuelling discipline-specific exploration by providing essential financial support to researchers. A variety of organisations including government agencies, private foundations, corporations and universities fund research. 

Funding opportunities for researchers are highly competitive. The journey of securing funding begins with identifying various funding agencies that match the researcher’s interests and objectives. You can discover such opportunities via a range of channels/sources including grant databases, funding agency websites and professional networks. 

In India, where my institution is based, research funding encompasses a wide range of contributors working together to advance scientific knowledge, foster innovation and tackle the country's developmental hurdles. A significant portion of the government’s budget is dedicated to developing and supporting research activities across various fields. The important government entities for research here include:

•    The Department of Science and Technology (DST)
•    The Department of Biotechnology (DBT)
•    The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)
•    The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
•    The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)
•    The Department of Space (DOS)
•    The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY)
•    The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES)
•    The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

The above agencies offer a variety of grant programmes to researchers and institutions that support a wide range of research activities, including basic and applied research, technology development and innovation. Researchers can submit proposals to these agencies detailing their research goals, methodologies and budgetary needs. 

Funding possibilities may emerge from bilateral agreements, multilateral partnerships or international funding agencies such as the United Nations, the World Bank and various research councils. Universities, research institutions and academic consortia also play a crucial role in research funding in India. They receive grants from government agencies, private foundations and industry partners to support faculty research, infrastructure development and collaborative projects. 

In addition, private foundations, philanthropic organisations and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives also provide support for research funding. These entities typically offer grants, fellowships and scholarships aimed at addressing societal issues or driving development in specific areas. India has one of the most vibrant start-up and innovation ecosystems which has led to the rise of incubators, accelerators and venture capital funds that provide funding and support to early stage research and technology-driven enterprises. 

Preparing grant proposals is another challenge for early career researchers. Upon identifying a suitable funding opportunity, researchers must draft a detailed grant proposal that articulates their research objectives, methodologies, anticipated outcomes and budgetary requirements systematically. Researchers must revise these proposals multiple times before submitting them to ensure they adhere to strict formatting and submission requirements. 

The submitted proposal then goes through a thorough review process where experts in the relevant field/s evaluate them on criteria such as scientific merit, feasibility, innovation and potential impact. Evaluations by the experts make a significant impact in deciding the outcome of each proposal, helping funding organisations make informed decisions in light of budgetary limitations. Upon approval, successful applicants are notified and establish funding agreements that outline the terms and conditions governing the use of funds.

Once they secure funding, researchers must balance their academic responsibilities while carrying out their proposed research projects according to the timelines and milestones outlined in their grant proposals. They are typically required to provide regular progress reports to the funding agencies to demonstrate accountability and compliance with grant requirements. With funding secured, researchers execute their proposed projects, adhering to timelines and milestones outlined in their grant proposals. Throughout this phase, researchers have to provide regular progress reports to funding agencies, ensuring transparency, accountability and compliance with grant requirements. These reports include tracking expenses, submitting financial reports and complying with any auditing requirements.

As research projects progress, researchers must undertake activities to disseminate knowledge, sharing their findings with the scientific community and wider society. This could involve publishing results in peer-reviewed journals, presenting findings at conferences and other knowledge translation activities. By doing this, researchers enhance the impact of their work, encouraging collaboration and stimulating additional innovation.

Generally, funding agencies undertake assessments to evaluate the impact and outcomes of the research they have supported. These assessments typically involve measuring the scientific contributions, societal benefits and economic returns generated by the funded projects. However, the process of securing research funding is intricate and highly competitive in the higher education sector, yet it serves as a vital mechanism for advancing scientific understanding, nurturing innovation and tackling pressing societal issues.

Raghavendra U is a deputy registrar (administration) at Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), India.

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