Seeking Funding for Research

Seeking Funding for Research

Seeking funding for research is important both for the researcher and for the profession. Well-designed studies can be expensive. As the rigor and complexity of the study design increase, the cost tends to increase. By obtaining funding, the researcher can conduct a complex, well-designed study. Funding indicates that others have reviewed the study and recognize its scientific and social merit. The scientific credibility of the profession is related to the quality of studies conducted by its researchers. Thus, scientific credibility and funding for research are interrelated.

The nursing profession has invested a great deal of energy in increasing the sources of funding and amount of money available for nursing research. Each award of funding enhances the status of the researcher and increases the possibilities of greater funding for later studies. In addition, funding provides practical advantages. For example, funding may reimburse part or all of the researcher’s salary and release the researcher from other responsibilities, allowing the researcher to devote time to conducting the study. Funding provides you with the resources to hire research assistants and study coordinators to facilitate data collection and enhance your productivity. Thus, skills in seeking funding for research are as important as skills in the conduct of research.

Building a Program of Research

As a novice researcher, you may have had the dream of writing a grant proposal to the federal government or a national foundation for your first study and receiving a large grant that covers your salary, the salaries of research assistants and secretarial support, equipment, computers, and payments to subjects for their time and effort. In reality, this scenario seldom occurs for an inexperienced researcher. A new researcher is usually caught in the difficult position of needing experience to get funded and needing funding to get the release time to conduct research and gain the needed experience. One way of resolving this dilemma is to design initial studies that can realistically be done without release time and with little or no funding. This approach requires a commitment to put in extra hours of work, which is often unrewarded monetarily or socially. However, when well carried out and published, these types of studies provide the credibility one needs to begin the process toward major grant funding. Guidelines for proposals for federal funding usually include a section of the proposal in which researchers are expected to describe their own research studies that serves as evidence of their ability to conceptualize, implement, and complete a study, including disseminating the findings. Funders want assurance that if they fund a proposal, their money will not be wasted and that the findings of the study will be published.

An aspiring career researcher needs to initiate a program of research in a specific area of study and seek funding in this area. A program of research consists of the studies that a researcher conducts, starting with small, simple studies and moving to larger, complex studies over time. For example, if your research interest is to promote health in rural areas, you need to plan a series of studies that focus on promoting rural health. Early studies may be small with each single successive study building on the findings of the previous study. Finckeissen (2008) described this approach as having a meta-model of research with alternative solutions to a research problem. The findings of each study suggest new solutions or provide evidence that another solution is ineffective. Dr. Jean McSweeney, PhD, RN, FAHA, FAAN, Professor at the College of Nursing, University of Arkansas of Medical Sciences, is an example of a nurse researcher who has built a program of research. Dr. McSweeney’s area of clinical practice was critical care, and she became very interested in cardiac patients. To complete her PhD, she conducted a qualitative study with patients and their significant others to explore behavior changes after a myocardial infarction. Her first post-dissertation study was a qualitative study of women’s motivations to change their behavior after a myocardial infarction. She continued by conducting a series of quantitative studies that built on the findings of the previous studies. Table 29-1 lists publications by Dr. McSweeney that indicate the trajectory of her research program. Publication of the studies increased the credibility of the researcher and provided the foundation for future funding.

TABLE 29-1

Publications Reflecting a Program of Research: Exemplar of McSweeney’s Program of Research in Cardiovascular Health of Women

Citations from Oldest to Most Recent

McSweeney, J. C. (1993). Explanatory models of a myocardial event: Linkages between perceived causes and modifiable health behaviors. Rehabilitation Nursing Research, 2(1), 39–49.

McSweeney, J. C. & Crane, P. B. (2001). An act of courage: Women’s decision-making processes regarding outpatient cardiac rehabilitation attendance. Rehabilitation Nursing, 26(4), 132–140.

Crane, P. B. & McSweeney, J. C. (2003). Exploring older women’s lifestyle changes after myocardial infarction. Medsurg Nursing, 12(3), 170–076.

McSweeney, J. C., Cody, M., O’Sullivan, P., Elberson, D., Moser, D. K., & Gavin, B. J. (2003). Women’s early warning symptoms of acute myocardial infarction. Circulation, 108(21), 2619–2623.

McSweeney, J. C., O’Sullivan, P., Cody, M., Crane, P. B. (2004). Development of the McSweeney Acute and Prodromal Myocardial Infarction Symptom Survey. Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, 19(1), 58–67.

McSweeney, J. C. & Coon, S. (2004). Women’s inhibitors and facilitators associated with making behavioral changes after myocardial infarction. Medsurg Nursing, 13(1), 49–56.

McSweeney, J. C., Lefler, L. L., & Crowder, B. F. (2005). What’s wrong with me? Women’s coronary heart disease diagnostic experiences. Progress in Cardiovascular Nursing, 20(2), 48–57.

McSweeney, J. C., Lefler, L. L., Fischer, E. P., Naylor, A. J., & Evans, L. K. (2007). Women’s prehospital delay associated with myocardial infarction: Does race really matter? The Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, 22(4), 279–285.

McSweeney, J. C., Pettey, C. M., Fischer, E. P., & Spellman (2009). Going the distance. Research in Gerontological Nursing, 2(4), 256–264.

McSweeney, J. C., Cleves, J. A., Zhao, W., Lefler, L. L., & Yang, S. (2010). Cluster analysis of women’s prodromal and acute myocardial infarction by race and other characteristics. The Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, 25(4), 104–110.

McSweeney, J. C., O’Sullivan, P., Cleves, M. A., Lefler, L. L., Cody, M., et al. (2010). Racial differences in women’s prodromal and acute symptoms of myocardial infarction. American Journal of Critical Care, 19(1), 63–73.

Beck, C., McSweeney, J. C., Richards, K. C., Roberson, P. K., Tsai, P.-F., & Souder, E. (2010). Challenges in tailored intervention research. Nursing Outlook, 58(2), 104–110.

McSweeney, J. C., Pettey, C. M., Souder, E., & Rhoads, S. (2011). Disparities in women’s cardiovascular health. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 40(3), 362–371.

How do you decide on the focus of your program of research? The ideal focus of a program of research is the intersection of a potential contribution to science, your capacity, and the capital that you can assemble. Figure 29-1 shows the ideal study as overlapping circles of contribution, capacity, and capital.


Contribution refers to the gap in knowledge that your research will address. This gap will be identified by reviewing the literature and finding a significant gap in knowledge. Maybe this knowledge is needed to solve a health problem, or it is the evidence needed to advance nursing science. The research focus is broader than a single study. For example, a program of research could be developed related to adherence to antihypertensive medications. The first study might be a qualitative study of the reasons patients give for not taking their antihypertensive medications. Building on that knowledge, the next study might be a descriptive quantitative study of differences in attitudes of men and women toward antihypertensive medications. A later study might measure the outcomes of antihypertensive patients who received an adherence intervention compared with a group of patients who did not receive an intervention. Another consideration related to the research focus is your capacity to study the problem.


Capacity consists of the internal resources you possess, such as your intellect, emotional maturity, knowledge, and skills. Because a program of research develops over several years, perseverance and commitment are necessary elements of your capacity. Which areas of nursing and health stimulate your curiosity and sustain your interest? Think about the topics or areas of nursing practice in which you are the most interested. Which patients or clinical areas stimulate your curiosity? Maybe you have a personal connection to a particular area, such as a nurse researcher who is studying autism because she is the mother of a son with autism. Maybe a family member died at a young age from undiagnosed cardiac disease, and now you are passionate to understand the decision-making process related to diagnosis of cardiac disease. Your research focus may evolve over time, but, ideally, your passion for a specific topic or group of patients would provide the basis for a long research career.

Knowledge related to your research area is another element of your capacity related to a specific research topic. This knowledge may come from educational programs, personal study, and clinical experience. If you are interested in genomic research, what is your knowledge of genes and interactions among them and the environment? Have you had a course in genetics or learned the laboratory skills to gather and analyze cellular level data? If you are interested in the effects of positioning on the hemodynamics of unstable, acute patients, have you ever worked in a critical care unit? One aspect of building a research career is to continue to expand your capacity in your focus area, but in the beginning, selecting an area in which you have baseline knowledge is helpful. Your capacity also includes grantsmanship, the knowledge and skill you have related to securing and managing grants.

Getting Started

Level of Commitment

Developing your capacity as a researcher in a specific area takes a great deal of time and effort. Writing proposals for funding is hard work. Before you begin, reflect on whether your motivation is external or internal. If your motivation is external, you are committed to seeking funding because of the potential to receive rewards from your employer, to earn the high regard of your peers, or to be eligible for a promotion. If your motivation is internal, you are convinced that more knowledge is needed to benefit your patients. Both external and internal motivations are valid reasons to be committed to a program of research; however, an internally motivated researcher will conduct studies with limited funding and continue to seek additional funding even in the absence of external rewards. As an element of capacity, your level of commitment will determine your ability to persevere and develop a program of research.

Support of Other People

Even the most internally motivated person may experience times of discouragement and need the support of peers. Peers who share common values, ways of thinking, and activities can be a reference group for a novice researcher. This occurs when you identify with the group, take on group values and behavior, and evaluate your own values and behavior in relation to those of the group. A new researcher moving into grantsmanship may need to switch from a reference group that views research and grant writing to be either over their heads or not worth their time to a group that values this activity. From this group, you may receive support and feedback necessary to develop grant-writing skills and enact a program of research. In addition, you will have the opportunity to provide similar support and feedback to your peers.

Networking is a process of developing channels of communication among people with common interests who may not work for the same employer or may be geographically scattered. Contacts may be made through social media, computer networks, mail, telephone, or arrangements to meet at a conference (Adegbola, 2011). Strong networks are based on reciprocal relationships. A professional network can provide opportunities for brainstorming, sharing ideas and problems, and discussing grant-writing opportunities. In some cases, networking may lead to the members of a professional network writing a grant that will be a multisite study with data collected in each member’s home institution. When a proposal is being developed, the network, which may become a reference group, can provide feedback at various stages of development of the proposal. Adegbola (2011) provides practical tips on how to develop and maintain a professional network.

Through networking, nurses interested in a particular area of study can find peers, content experts, and mentors. A content expert may be a clinician or researcher who is known for his or her work in the area in which you are also interested. Through your review of the literature, you identify a researcher who has developed an instrument to measure a variable that you have decided must be included in your proposed study. For example, you want to measure a biological marker of stress and you have read several studies in which an experienced researcher measured the variable using a specific piece of equipment. You can also search the Virginia Henderson International Nursing Library to find funded and unfunded researchers on different topics ( Contact the researcher through email to make a telephone appointment to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this particular measurement, or you may arrange to meet at an upcoming conference.

A mentor is a person who is more experienced professionally and willing to work with a less experienced professional to achieve his or her goals. Because funded nursing researchers are few, the need for mentoring is greater than the number of available mentors (Maas, Conn, Buckwalter, Herr, & Tripp-Reimer, 2009). Finding a mentor may take time and require significant effort. Much of the information needed is transmitted verbally, requires actual participation in grant-writing activities, and is best learned in a mentor relationship. This type of relationship requires a willingness by both professionals to invest time and energy. A mentor relationship has characteristics of both a teacher-learner relationship and a close friendship. Each individual must have an affinity for the other, from which a close working relationship can be developed. The relationship usually continues for a long period.

Feb 17, 2017 | Posted by in NURSING | Comments Off on Seeking Funding for Research

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