Securing Small Grants: Strategies and Benefits

Success in Grant Writing Series Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first installment of our Success in Grant Writing series, which will feature guest blog posts written by Rutgers graduate student winners of prestigious fellowships and grants. If you would like to share your experience with successful grant writing, please contact us through our website,

The author radio tracking in the forest.

The author radio tracking in the forest.

As this is my first blog with GradFund, I thought I’d take the opportunity to introduce myself and my research. I am a fifth year Ph.D. candidate in the Ecology and Evolution currently conducting field research in Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. I have received funding from the Fulbright Institute of International Education, the Critical Language Enhancement Award, the Riverbanks Conservation Support Fund, and the Cleveland Zoological Society and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Fund.

My research investigates the health effects of the rehabilitation and release process on orangutans, specifically protein recycling, stress, muscle mass variation, immuno-responsiveness, and gastrointestinal parasites. I collect urine and fecal samples non-invasively from orangutans in various stages of rehabilitation pre-release, and follow them to the forest to collect samples post-release. I aim to identify patterns of physiological changes and parasitic infections, enhance rehabilitation protocols, and determine ways to improve overall pre- and post- release health and survival. I anticipate that the results will be used to better inform future government initiatives such as Indonesia’s Strategy and Action Plan for National Conservation of Orangutans.

While this project sounds complex, and believe me it is, it may surprise you to discover that the majority of my funding has come from small grants. So, I’d like to focus on the strategies and benefits of small grants for this blog.

Small grants can seem like a lot of work for a small reward, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed and even annoyed: “they want ALL this information for ‘just’ $1,500??!!” But they can be highly beneficial and I advise everyone to apply. While writing a small grant I would suggest applicants give a brief but clear explanation of their overall research and then focus the majority of the proposal on the section(s) for which you will request funding.

For example, one of the grants I was awarded covers only laboratory chemicals, supplies, and analysis kits. Thus, I focused the body of the proposal on the importance of those health parameters and subsequent methods. Be sure as you do this that the portion(s) of your research you choose to focus on aligns with the foundations mission. Some grants are more interested in education while others will only supply funds for field or laboratory equipment.

Orangutan mother and daughter approximately 30 minutes after being released.

Orangutan mother and daughter approximately 30 minutes after being released.

Perhaps the most rewarding experience I’ve had as the recipient of a small grant was with the Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA). In order to apply for this grant you must also apply for the  U.S. Fulbright Student Research Scholarship, but you have the option of not applying for the CLEA…and that would be a mistake. I conduct research in Indonesia, thus my CLEA posted me at Wisma Bahasa, an Indonesian language school in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The CLEA provided me with a generous living stipend and covered all course costs. The three months I spent studying under the CLEA enabled me to become fluent in a foreign language through intense language study (4 hours a day, 5 days a week with daily homework and bi-weekly exams) and without this language training, completing my research would have been near impossible.

However, equally important are the experiences I had during and as a result of the CLEA. Those three months gave me time to adjust to living in a foreign country, housed me with other foreigners and CLEA recipients, and enabled me to converse with locals on the street, learning more of their culture while showing my respect for theirs through my language efforts. As a result, I formed a strong support network (and you will need one if you conduct field work in a foreign country), new collaborations and side projects, and life long friendships.

So while it may seem like less effort to apply for one or two large grants that will cover all your expenses outright, consider a “small grant strategy”: breaking your project into several small components and applying for many small grants that will cover each part individually. You will increase your likelihood of getting funded while improving your writing skills and learning more background on your topic as you go. The benefits of applying for funding after being awarded are substantial.

About Liz Ballare

I am a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Currently I am conducting my field research; the physiological health effects of the rehabilitation and release process on the endangered orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii) in Indonesia.
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1 Response to Securing Small Grants: Strategies and Benefits

  1. Pingback: Fulbright, Greece, and GradFund | GradFund Conversations

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