June 27, 2012

From Inside Higher Ed: How To Ask

This article was originally published by Inside Higher Ed June 6, 2012, written by Elizabeth H. Simmons.

Suppose you have a great idea for improving a course, starting a research project, undertaking public outreach, or helping students explore alternative career paths. To launch this idea, you need some key resource: a research assistant, working space, a teaching fellow, supplies, a website, or support to attend a workshop. Perhaps you’ve even recently seen an invitation from a foundation, a federal agency, an on-campus institute, or your department chair to apply for support.

How can you acquire what you need to start the project? That depends what you need and from whom you need it.

Formal calls for proposals from external funding agencies are straightforward to pursue. They usually come with specific directions about what kinds of activities are supported, how much to request and what documentation to submit.

Seeking funds within your institution can seem more murky. If you are contacting your department chair in response to a brief announcement at a faculty meeting, it may be hard to know where to start. This article discusses how to ask for resources effectively, whether or not an official call for proposals has been issued.

Getting started:
If you are responding to an existing written invitation for proposals, whether within your university or from an external foundation or governmental agency, approach it the way you ask your students to approach course assignments: Read and follow the directions. Meet the stated deadline. Provide all required information. Ask for clarification as necessary. Explain your reasoning (i.e., how your project matches the stated purpose of the invitation). 

Be aware that many campuses have central offices that act as the gateway for external proposals. An "office of sponsored research" may handle proposals to state and federal agencies, while applications aimed at philanthropic foundations might need to be funneled through the “development office.” These offices often impose extra requirements, such as an earlier “internal” deadline allowing them to screen your proposal (especially its budget) before submitting it to the external funder or forms that help the university track your proposal and any funds that are ultimately awarded. 

If you are, instead, starting your search for support from scratch, consider who might be able to guide you toward resources. Perhaps a more senior colleague has previously obtained support of the kind you seek; perhaps your department chair or dean will have some discretionary funds on hand; perhaps your institution’s research or development office will know of an agency or foundation that supports the activities you have in mind. Do not be shy about initiating these conversations: all you are initially asking for is free advice. 

Read the Full Article at Inside Higher Ed: http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2012/06/06/how-ask-what-you-need-get-your-idea-ground-essay

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