Coastal research grants: Prepare a budget and additional materials

Author: Zofia Knorek

Greetings, y’all- this is the fifth blog in the six-post #CoastalResearchGrants series, in which we’re walking through the steps of preparing a proposal for a coastal research grant using the North Carolina Coastal Research Fellowship application as a specific case study. If you’re following along chronologically, you will have a version of your research statement articulated on paper, which we discussed drafting last week. This week, we’re discussing a few of the additional components of the application:

  1. Budget 
  2. Other Sponsored Support to be Received
  3. Outreach and Dissemination Plan
  4. Data Management Plan

It’s okay to develop these components in conjunction with the research statement--there’s no singular correct order. Because the research statement is the bulk of the application, we recommend starting it earliest so you have ample time to make edits and polish it. But if you want to switch between working on components that comprise the research statement (i.e., Description, Materials and Methods, Tasks and Timeline) and Budget, or perhaps knock out a low-hanging fruit like the Data Management Plan to keep morale high, that’s a reasonable option, too. 

1) Budget

The most important thing to consider when developing a budget is what is appropriate for the work I am proposing to do? Depending on your situation, appropriateness may include a consideration of other sources of funding or support you or your lab has already secured. Talk to your advisor in the early stages of your budget development so you both are on the same page as to what support you will need to complete your project. This fellowship award is for $10,000, and you should plan on budgeting for/requesting the full amount. Realistically, what can that get you? Reference the two applications we have from 2019 fellow Sarah Donaher and applicant Zofia Knorek as examples (this advice applies to all four sections covered today). You’ll notice that they both allocated the $10,000 across funds for hiring an undergraduate research technician for a field season, some miscellaneous field supplies, and boat and truck use fees. When budgeting for materials, you should list specific costs; whether that value is acquired from the online store you’d purchase the item from or a quote from a supply company, it’s important that you find as specific of a number as possible. 

Hiring a research technician is not a requirement, but because the Request For Proposals (RFP) states “research projects that include undergraduate participation are encouraged”, you should consider it. That said, your research may require you to send samples out for analysis at an external lab, which will eat through a modest budget quickly. So you may not have the funds to hire a technician, and that’s okay--not involving an undergraduate won’t count against your proposal, which is why it’s encouraged and not required. 

Hint: try to incorporate as many components that are “encouraged” in the RFP as are relevant to your project proposal. Funders are encouraging it for a reason, and that reason is usually that it relates to the overarching mission of their agency, so they’re looking to fund it. That said, don’t slap things onto a proposal even if it isn’t relevant to your project just because you think it’s what the agency wants to hear. Overcommitting to things that aren’t realistic for you to accomplish will only undermine the strength of your application. 

Other things to know about the budget for this proposal specifically:

  • Overhead charges (also called indirect charges) are not allowed. Read more about indirect charges here. You’ll probably encounter them eventually, so it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with them now. 
  • You aren’t allowed to pay your advisor with this fellowship money. (Many faculty are salaried on an academic, or nine-month, schedule. They can write the other three months of their salaries into grants, including those that their graduate students may write--but not this one!)
  • Your budget doesn’t count toward the page limit.
  • Your budget needs to have an institutional signature from someone who works in the business office or office of sponsored research at your institution. If you don’t know whose signature you need, ask your advisor; they should be able to direct you to the correct person. Get to know and develop a working relationship with the people in your organization’s business office--they are likely able to help you navigate what can be a confusing bureaucratic maze.

2) Other Sponsored Support to be Received

This is the section where you can declare the other resources and support that you’ve already secured for this project. Organizationally, it makes sense for this section to be combined with the Budget. Examples of items you can include in Other Sponsored Support are fellowships that support your graduate student stipend and fringe benefits, access to expensive equipment, the commitment of a specific number of hours of technician time that has been covered by a separate grant, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you have a lot of previously secured support. It won’t sink your proposal; that said, having some of your ducks in a row prior to applying shows the funding agency that you are organized, you have a well-developed idea that you are serious about pursuing, and you have the competencies to carry out the proposed work.

3) Outreach & Dissemination Plan

The Outreach & Dissemination Plan is specific to this application, but you can think of this section as being akin to the “Broader Impacts” component of National Science Foundation applications. Your plan should detail how you will externally share and communicate your experiences, results, and/or lessons with peers and others in the community. Again, you should consider what is reasonable provided the scale of this project. It’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver. And no one is expecting you to solve all diversity and equity disparities with a one-year fellowship! 

4) Data Management Plan

While it may seem technical and complicated, the Data Management Plan (DMP) is one of the most prescribed components of the application. If you follow the detailed directions in the RFP and reference the DMPs from the example applications, your DMP will come together quickly. Also, ask your advisor if they have a recent DMP from a NOAA application that they would be willing to share. The point is, don’t reinvent the wheel here. It’s okay to reuse big chunks of past plans--you want the management of data to be relatively consistent from project to project. This is another point in the application process where if you are unsure about whether or not your ideas are sufficient, you can reach out to the agency directly for feedback.

Closing thoughts: 

If you are planning on having an undergraduate help with data collection or processing, you should do everything in your power to make sure they are compensated financially for their labor. Even if you can’t pay them from this particular funding source, you can help facilitate the security of their own support through alternative resources, including via their institution’s office of undergraduate research. Unpaid internships and research opportunities are inherently exploitative and have demonstrated negative impacts on graduate employment outcomes
We hope you found this helpful and look forward to discussing more next week. For reference, the topics for this series are:
  1. Before you write
  2. Solicit early feedback
  3. Draft an outline
  4. Write the research statement
  5. Prepare a budget and additional materials (this post)
  6. Assemble and polish the application package; intangibles 

Don’t forget the Coastal Research Fellowship is due March 17 at 5 pm!

Questions? Requests for content to cover in future posts? Have a resource you think everyone should know about? Join the discussion with the #CoastalResearchGrants hashtag.

Zofia Knorek (@zofiaknorek, she/her) is a 3rd-year PhD student in ecology at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences and Coastal Training Program grant writing intern with the North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve. 

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