The Harsh Reality of Research Funding

When people think of research, they often think of the stereotypical chemist who works in a lab and uses fancy tools while wearing a white coat – but when you look behind the scenes of research, it becomes very clear that this, the “fun” part of research, is only a small component in many researcher’s work.

Being a researcher isn’t just about doing research. 

A 2016 Sciago market survey revealed that researchers have to juggle multiple tasks while attempting to do their research, such as hunting for collaborators; organizing meetings, events, and seminars; participating in various organizations, groups, clubs, associations; and so on.  But, another very important component disclosed in our survey results is that one of the most important needs of a researcher is funding.


In today’s piece, Sciago explores the hardships of a researcher in search of funding by speaking with Claire Doussard, a researcher of 3 years who also happens to be the CEO of Sciago. In this interview piece, Claire talks to us about her personal experience with this messy process.

I started off by asking Claire if she could share her funding journey with me and to tell me a bit about what the current system looks like. To my surprise, this was a much more complicated question than one would expect and what I discovered was an entire world revolving around what is only one (time-consuming) component in the long process of accomplishing a PhD and in doing academic research.

Claire starts by taking us through a basic overview of the steps involved in the painstaking process of finding funding. “First, I search on google, Google is your friend,” she says.

Already I was a bit surprised. Was she saying that, considering the breadth of existing online tools and technologies today, Google is a researcher’s go to…?  After quickly searching for myself how to find funding online, I found that she was right. Google search engine showed up as number 6 on a long list of credible sites for finding financial resources, and apparently she’s not the only one who using it. Who knew?

Next comes choosing which grants to apply for. Claire explains that her tactic was to weed through endless grants to find those that would require the least amount of work for the most money. “But,’ she explains, “researchers don’t have the luxury to be picky, so you generally apply to as many as you can.”

Carrying on, she explains that, after searching for and choosing funding opportunities, you begin applying.  Claire tells me that every application calls for different steps and different criteria depending on the type of funding and its applicability to different aspects of your research. So, it’s not easy to explain in a 1-2-3-fashion some standardized process. This factor can become extremely time consuming for researchers as they have to personalize the format, content as well as their financial needs depending on which application they are filling out.

As she hesitates to describe the next steps, she briefly says, “There is usually a step where you write a grant and fill out paperwork.  After you send the grant application and letter, it is common that your advisor will have to sign the approval of this grant.”

“Sometimes, some advisors don’t help so much,” Claire recounts with regret in her voice. “My advisor forgot to sign a paper and I failed to get funding for three years because of him.”  According to Claire, your advisor/s are supposed to act as an important source for funding opportunities but, among other things, this unfortunately wasn’t the case for her – and I’m sure other researchers find themselves in similar positions too.


So, instead, she was forced to turn to resources such as the internet, friends in labs, mailing lists, so

cial media, as well as organizations in order to find her funding opportunities.

Claire goes on to explain how many times she had to apply for funding. She starts by counting out loud one

by one the number of funding opportunities she applied for while going through old grant applications on her laptop, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,10,11,12,13…. yep, 13 organizations. And some of them I applied to more than once. And, out of the 13 I applied for, I got four.”

“You also have to keep in mind that there are grant cycles. Generally you apply once a year, in the spring for fall grants and vice versa, and you always apply for your grants at the same time. You really don’t have the luxury to miss deadlines so, on top of my research, I was preparing all of these applications at once.”

I could hear her voice shifting from calm to disturbed, perhaps reliving that moment once again. “I was just very frustrated,” she says in a bitter tone. “And it was a very long process.”  Feeling some of her pain, I inquire as to how long exactly.  Claire states that, “For me, each grant can take anywhere from three hours to three days to write the letter and complete any accompanying paperwork.” But for many researchers this process could be much longer.

“Then,” she says, “you have to wait.”

I find out that this part can take up to three months!  It goes without saying that, for thirteen grant applications, the hours of work required for her to complete this process must have been extremely time consuming.  Clare’s experience speaks to that of so many other researchers, who spend way too much time struggling to get by and trying to support their work rather than being able to focus on what’s important, their research.

Claire’s story on this complex and messy journey to funding research was revealing. With billions of dollars of research money available every year, you would think that someone would have created a more standardized system for this important aspect of research… I was beginning to understand why researchers turn to sites like this one – which give step by step instructions on how to find funding – to help them apply.

I closed the interview by asking her where she thought the future of the funding application process was headed.

Pure and simply she states, “I think the future is going to be all digital, all online, and collaborative.”  “One day I hope to see just a few websites where you can find all your funding opportunities and be able to apply all at the same time, in a standardized form, directly via application forms available on those sites.”


Claire’s funding nightmare led her to develop a business that will do exactly this. Sciago is an online platform which provides researchers with a variety of tools that will facilitate their work. While the comprehensive funding database on Sciago’s site remains an important aspect of the platform, it’s not the only tool that will make researchers lives easier. The site also provides networking tools, an open source database as well as job opportunities – what more could you want as a researcher?

With her team at Sciago, Claire’s goal is to bring hope to all of this funding darkness and become part of the solution she wants to see in the future of research. She closes the interview with a simple, yet powerful statement:

“I want to help researchers around the world stay focused on the important stuff, their research.”

Article by April Lipatan, co-founder of
Share with us and your fellow researchers your funding stories in the comments below.

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