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Funding programs & grants for independent scientists

  1. Dec 13, 2011 #1


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    My question is directed to those of you who actually have some experience in the area or who can provide detailed information rather than general/theoretical guidance.

    I would like to ask you about funding sources available for an independent scientist on the U.S. or international research "market". First of all: are there any? In other words: are there well-established places where individuals conducting non-experimental research within fields such as physics, (quantum)biology or mathematics could apply for some sort of financial support, given that:

    - research in question is already ongoing and the author is able to provide partial results
    - external financing is actually needed for the research to be concluded by the author

    I put aside details such as specific characteristics/background of the author or possible paradigm-shifting nature of the research. If there is a partially completed theoretical framework ready to stand for itself, are there also places prepared to give their support so the author would be able to continue working on it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 13, 2011 #2
    What kind of area are you doing research in?? What is the research about?? Lots depends of the specifics.
  4. Dec 13, 2011 #3


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    As far as I'm aware, many of the funding agencies are open to applications from people who aren't affiliated with an institution.

    Whether or not said people ever get funding is another matter entirely.
  5. Dec 13, 2011 #4
  6. Dec 13, 2011 #5


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    It is a research on theoretical framework for controlled encoding of information into carbon-based compounds; exchanging this information between classical and non-classical systems using two different mediums; replicating this information.

    If I were to tag such framework by areas of study, it would be: quantum physics, organic chemistry, mathematics.

    Thank you, although such statements simply overlap with what I already know from googling the Internet. I struggle to find any specifics though.

    Sadly, I was condemned to be a male form of my species.
  7. Dec 13, 2011 #6
    In principle, there is nothing that keeps you from applying from the same grant sources that professional scientists use, as there is no explicit rule that keeps you from applying for those grants.

    In practice:

    1) without an institution you aren't going to be able to do basic things like bookkeeping and grant administration. Grants require a lot of accountants. Grants require a lot of accountants, administrators, and the lawyer or two. This is one reason why universities exist. If you have a university with 30,000 students and several thousand faculty, it's not a big deal to hire a dozen accountants. If you are on your own, it's not going to happen. Also hiring a lot of accountants is essential because grant writers want to make sure that the money isn't getting siphoned off to the Cayman Islands, but the amount of bureaucracy to make that happen can be unreal. Your typical grant application has about a dozen pages of small legal print in which you have to sign in ten places that you are in compliance with this or that rule.

    2) you are against tough competition. To write a basic grant takes months of work, and it's a skill that takes years of practice. Also for most grants, the grant providers are looking for publication records and professional reputation, and if it's between you and a Nobel prize winner, you aren't going to get the money. I remember that there was one major grant that took about a dozen people, six months to write. Also most grant writers like grants with large numbers of co-authors since that means that the money is going to be distributed among a lot of people.

    There are special grants for "new researchers" that gets around problem 2), but then you still have problem 1).

    One other thing that may surprise you is how small most grants are. People spend months competing for something that gets them a few tens of thousand of dollars.

    Yes. It's called a graduate school or post-doc application. (Seriously.)

    One problem that you are going to run into is that there isn't enough money to fund people with "traditional" credentials, so that there is no real push to fund people non-traditionally.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2011
  8. Dec 13, 2011 #7
    Also one advice that I have for people that want to be independent scientists is don't try to be an independent scientist. As with many other things, science is all about networking. If there is a nearby university, it's a good idea for you to attend seminars, meet people, etc. etc.
  9. Dec 14, 2011 #8


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    Thank you twofish-quant. But I must say, all of what you've written is pretty obvious for me. This is the thing I tried to emphasize in my first post - please don't make any assumptions (but rather ask) nor try to suggest alternative paths. I have a specific challenge to ask you about. In fact, let me put it all back again so there are no misunderstandings, and also add some details:

    - there is an independent scientist doing some specific research on his own. What the research is about I've already talked about in my 2nd post. But it does carry a significant importance, generally speaking.
    - his current independence aside, he does have a doctoral degree in both theoretical physics and astronomy
    - external funding source is in fact the only way his research could be continued

    Now: are you familiar with specific places he could go to? And by places I mean public/private institutions, foundations or even individuals known to support independent research in the past. If you aren't, it's okay. If you are, could you please provide me with some specifics? As I've already mentioned, this is really a question for somebody who has had some actual experience in this area.

    I do appreciate all of your responses and I'm very grateful for them. I would just love to get some specifics, as I am somewhat unable to find them on my own. Of course, there is always an option that I actually can't do anything more on my own - if so, please also let me know.
  10. Dec 14, 2011 #9
    If I knew of anything then I'd be in the queue myself. :-) :-) :-)

    I have lots of experience in this area, but unfortunately it's mostly negative. I've given up looking for an infrastructure for independent researchers, and instead trying to think of a way of setting up this sort of infrastructure.

    For example, for grants administration. It's not impossible to imagine a world in which grants administration is done the same way that payroll and accounting is done for small businesses. You hire a grants administrator that handles a lot of other small businesses. For government grants, the NSF and the major funders could do a lot to make the grants process more friendly.

    But then you hit with the problem of motivation..... There is a "glut" of researchers now, and if you make it easy, then you increase this "glut" and fixing that involves changing the whole socio-economic structure of the United States. Not that it shouldn't be done.

    One thing that I've found is that the problem is more time than money. I have more than enough money that I need to do independent research. The problem is time.

    That could be fixed with a speech from the President. If the President created a "National Science Reserve Corp" in which people from industry with science backgrounds could work on projects in the national interest, that would work nicely. You don't even have to pay me. You just set things up so that I don't get fired when I go back to work.

    (Note here that I didn't mention and I don't much care, the President of which country.)
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