Strategies for Funding Your Research

04/04/22 | 6 MIN READ

Learn about strategies for identifying and analyzing funding opportunities, understanding funding agencies, and creating a funding plan.

Before You Start Searching 

Before you begin to search for funding, you will need to develop your research plan. This requires asking a few key questions to yourself:

  • What research topics will you pursue over the next 1-5 years?
  • What do you need in order to be successful?

Answering these questions can help generate keywords for your research plan, and will eventually give you insight on what types of grants you need to focus on.

Understanding your interests helps you find potential collaborators, and your research plan can also help you understand if you want to work on a team or individually. If you do want to work on a team, you will want to understand what roles are feasible for you on that team. There are many types of collaboration in the research world!

Check out the Research Development Unit at UCI if you want to learn more about resources for UCI faculty looking for funding.

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Research B 2 2021 Compressed

Starting a Funding Search

After you begin your search with a general research plan, you can begin to formulate your problem statement. A problem statement is a clear and precise account of the problem you are attempting to solve with your research, and how that problem can potentially be solved. 

You can start with these guiding questions:

  • What is the problem you are addressing?
  • Who will benefit from your project?
  • What barriers exist that have prevented current programs or technology from solving the problem that your project will address?
  • If considering a development or technology transfer grant, what is the current technology and why is yours better?
  • How long will it take to fully develop the project?

Answering these questions will take thought and planning. Despite the time commitment, ensuring that you know the answers to these important questions is essential for developing your research plan and ensuring that your research will be worthwhile.

It is also important to be clear and exact with your answers to these questions. For example, when defining who your target market would be, include demographic information such as age, geography, and gender if applicable. Doing this will help you avoid overstating the problem you intend to solve; there are very few projects that benefit everyone!

One of the hardest questions to answer above is how long you think it will take to develop the project. It is essential to convey to the grant reviewers that you have a handle on your research and the accompanying time commitment. 

What Types of Funding Are There?

Before you decide to apply for funding opportunities, you should know the advantages and disadvantages of different resources. Governmental funding in the medical research sector usually comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), or the Department of Defense (DOD). Check out the chart below for some of the advantages and disadvantages of governmental funding.

Pros and Cons of Government Funding

Foundations are smaller organizations and are more often focused on a particular issue, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. See the chart below to learn about the pros and cons of foundational funding.

Pros and Cons of Foundational Funding

Both options are great resources for funding, but picking one that better suits your company is important. Industry partners are also a major source of funding for medical/biotechnology research.

Pivot is a great tool to help researchers find funding for their projects. Pivot provides up to date information on governmental and private funding sources, and can help you narrow down your search for funding. Learn more about it here. Oftentimes if you are associated with a university they will have an account that would allow you to gain access to Pivot for free. 

Another interesting resource to check out is the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). PCORI funds research that is different from traditional NIH or government sponsored research. Through PCORI, you may be working alongside doctors, patients, and even their families. PCORI focuses on improving patient outcomes in their personal lives, in addition to healing their bodies.

What is the NIH? What Do They Do?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a government institution that consists of 27 smaller institutions/centers (ICs). Examples of these smaller institutions include the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA). The graphic below provides a brief overview of the grant process at the NIH, which can be loosely applied to other foundations as well. 

NIH Application Process

When you apply to the NIH, you suggest a specific study section to review your application. This is done in order to have reviewers that are likely to understand your research read your application. However, not every application is matched to the study section suggested to the NIH; ultimately it is the responsibility of the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) to match study sections. 

If your application is approved by the study section it will carry on to the IC, which will award the grant. If the study section does not approve the application, they will send it back with feedback. Second and third submissions (after revisions) still have a chance of gaining funding from the NIH, so don’t give up!

If you are looking to become a physician scientist, the NIH can help with that as well. The NIH grants awards to individuals who have been through medical school and residency, who now want to become researchers. These awards are called K-Awards, which are individual career development awards. These are the 4 main K-Awards:

  • K01: Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award
  • K08: Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award
  • K23: Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award
  • K99/R00: Pathway to Independence Award


Writing an Effective Application

Now that you have an idea of how to find funding opportunities and the various opportunities available, you can start to think about writing your application. Below are some of the basic first steps you need to complete when writing your application.

  1. Start Early
  2. Develop a Strategy
  3. Plan Your Application
  4. Understand Application Requirements
  5. Review Criteria

Staying organized and creating a checklist while writing is very important. You can keep track of where you keep your letters of support, what you need to include in your application, other collaborators, etc. Below we will dive deeper into each of these steps.

🔬 Read: 9 Successful Tips for Writing Grant Proposals for Nonprofits

Starting Early

If you are writing an application for the NIH, you will want to start at least 6 months prior to the application due date. This will give you time to set up all of your accounts, like the NIH Commons account and your ORCHID ID. Starting early also gives you time to notify your colleagues to ask for a letter of reference or letters of support. 

Developing a Strategy

The first thing you need to decide is whether or not you really need/want to apply for a particular award. Is it giving you something of value that you need to further your research?

If so, you might want to schedule a phone call with an NIH program officer to discuss and confirm that your research area, training, and needs fit with the particular award. This will ensure that you do not waste your time writing an application for an award you are not a good fit for. Once you know that you are a good fit, you can work on completing these steps:

  1. Identify mentors and collaborators
  2. Discuss with them you plans and needs early to make sure you are aligned
  3. Consider your personal strengths and areas for growth
  4. Identify essential resources and support needed, and ensure you will be able to get them (or some) with this award

A great tool to use when planning out your strategy is the NIH Matchmaker Tool. This allows you to enter abstracts or other scientific text to find potential Program Officials, ICs, and review panels for your research. Here you can find your competition, or even potential future collaborators. 

Plan Your Application

While you’re writing make sure to keep these basic writing tips in mind:

  • Write clearly and concisely
  • Label all components clearly
  • Make sure figures and legends are readable
  • Avoid TMI - use figures where you can
  • Edit and proofread
  • Write for both experts and non-experts in your field

Remember, these reviewers are reading hundreds of applications, don’t let yours be thrown out for poor grammar or hard-to-follow writing.

🔬 Read: Understanding the SBIR Review Process

Major Application Requirements

Make sure that your proposal has at least these 5 things, or some variation of each:

  1. Specific aims
  2. Research strategy
  3. Candidate qualifications, career goals, and objectives
  4. Mentors, collaborators, and consultants
  5. Institution's environment and commitment to the candidate

One of the most important parts is the Specific Aims page, because many reviewers will look at that section first. Ensuring that yours is clear, concise, and based in research will motivate the reviewer to keep reading on.


Beginning the journey to write your first grant application can be daunting. Knowing where you want to apply to is the first step. Researching online and making calls to program officers can help with this. Then, you can work on gathering your ideas and start to write your proposal. While writing, make sure to keep in mind what reviewers want to see in your application, specifically your Specific Aims. 

Other Helpful Articles

This content comes from a webinar, Funding your Research with Dr. Mary Frances Ypma-Wong, PhD, Office of Research, UCI School of Medicine in partnership with the CHOC Research Institute.

📽️ Watch the full webinar here.

Dr. Ypma-Wong manages the Research Development Unit (RDU) in the School of Medicine. The RDU provides funding opportunity support, helping faculty to develop a strategic approach and find funding opportunities. The unit also provides grant proposal support, including grant editing services and resources to increase the efficiency of proposal development; they support a range of programs designed to enhance the quality and competitiveness of UCISOM research grant proposals.

Be sure to subscribe to the ULP YouTube Channel to never miss another webinar, and connect with us on LinkedIn to stay in the loop!


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