What is a Seed Grant Good For

What does “seed grant” mean?

SEED GRANTS are: competitive awards that are focused on the feasibility of a concept, assembly of compelling, qualified interdisciplinary investigator teams, identification of appropriate extramural funding targets, the quality of a proposal development plan and concrete activities and milestones that have high likelihood to result in advancing research, scholarship, and creative activity*.

* we suggest using the language around research, scholarship, and creative activity in order to include disciplines that traditionally do not think of their work as “research”

Typically this means…  A modest investment that is generally funded through internal sources to help develop a project to the point where external funding can be obtained.

What is a seed grant program good for?

Return On Investment

  • Opportunities
    • Traditional ROI: additional external funding, stimulated by seed grant activities 
    • Tracking, amounts, follow-through, 
    • There is some published and anecdotal evidence that seed grants do…
      • Increase the likelihood that the grantees will submit an additional request for external sponsorship on the seed grant topic
      • Increase the success rate of those application, compared to similar faculty who do not receive a seed grant
  • Explanations for success
    • Accountability
    • Timing/preparation
    • Reciprocity
  • Risks/Concerns
    • Self-selection bias: traditional normative approach that systemically advantages the majority
    • Most analyses explicitly acknowledge that financial metrics do not fully capture the benefit of seed grants… So…

Bridge Funding

“Institutional support for a researcher or research team in between externally-funded research periods”

  • Opportunities
    • Retain productive researchers
    • Encourage researchers to take risks
    • May be paradoxically critical during times of macro-economic financial stress 
  • Risks/Concerns
    • Unproductively extend a career, deplete internal resources
    • Bridge funding programs are particularly vulnerable to reinforcing existing systems that exclude researchers
    • Many use Cost-Benefit Analyses to allocate funds (Benefit side of the ledger can reinforce existing systemic bias)
  • Potential Mitigation
    • May include fairness, social justice and contribution or alignment with other strategic objectives of the institution

Mentored Seed Grants

  • Opportunities
    • Incentivize mentorship (Professors Helping Professors)
    • Pre-Submission review by an external scholar (mini-version of external mentorship)
    • Network extension
  • Risks/Concerns
    • Nested resources may be vital
    • Accountability can be high or low
    • Considerations about external mentoring 
      • May create conflict a potential outside letter writing for Promotion and Tenure
      • Mitigate promotion and tenure conflict of interest

Topic Switch

  • Opportunities
    • Facilitate topic, focus, or funder switch
    • Acknowledged by federal agencies as valuable: NSF (Mid Career Advancement https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2021/nsf21516/nsf21516.htm) and NIH (K24) 
    • Responsive to trends in the field
    • It can allow faculty to remain intellectually engaged
  • Risks/Concerns
    • Are women faculty less likely to switch topics or pursue new directions? 
    • How is risk aversion distributed by demographics among faculty?
    • Do URM faculty join **NEW** teams?

Facilitate Leadership Training

  • Opportunities
    • Pre-submission training
    • Team Science training prior to team Seed Grant comps (required?)
  • Risks/Concerns
    • Is the goal of “Leadership Training” an inclusive one?
  • Potential Mitigation
    • Carefully drafted solicitation to ensure inclusivity

Incentivize external research partnerships, relationships

  • Opportunities
    • Initiate new or strengthen existing partnerships
    • Develop Community Engaged Scholarship 
    • Expand diverse collaborative research teams 
  • Risks/Concerns
    • Without long term commitment, CES relationships can suffer damage
  • Potential Mitigation
    • Set clear expectations

Additional Resources

What is a Seed Grant Good For Slides