Identifying sources of research funding is a core task for every surgeon-scientist. However, none of us are ever systematically taught about ways to achieve this critical goal. The blog post will provide a general outline of funding sources for surgeons in the early stage of their academic career and a few core pearls learned from experience. Broadly funders can be categorized as “intramural” or “extramural”. It is important to know that both are important in establishing one’s funding track record with the “intramural” grants serving as a key source of startup support and often more easily obtainable funds, which can in turn be converted to successful “extramural” applications.
Intramural funds are available through one’s division, section, department, center, or other organizational units within the home academic institution. There are several places where information regarding intramural funds may exist. A good place to start are one’s mentors. A good mentor should have a sense of what startup and more easily obtainable competitive funds exist for junior faculty at each institution. Many departments also have an internal Office of Research or grant specialist teams, which often have collated lists of intra- and extramural sources of funding that prior faculty successfully obtained. For institution-wide competitive intramural funds one may also reach out to the university Office of Research or Sponsored Projects (name will vary based on each institution, but one will invariably exist). These offices often coordinate institution-wide competitions for funds or will at least know, where such funds exist. Specific schools (Medicine, Public Health, etc.) will also have their own school-specific funds for junior faculty that will be accessible this way. The degree to which these efforts and competitions are organized varies university by university. It is important to know, where and what funds of this kind exist as they often form some of the earliest research support that junior faculty can successfully obtain.
Extramural grants form the primary source of funds for research programs once they become more established. Ability to compete for these funds is often used as one of the primary metrics for promotion in academic institutions. Four broad categories of funders exist in this space. The first are surgical and specialty-specific academic societies. Vast majority provide research support for every step of one’s academic surgery journey from medical school through residency and fellowship to all stages of faculty development. Second category consists of private foundations and donors. These are typically focused on a specific disease or core problem in medicine with funding aimed at developing target-specific projects and solutions. Examples of these include the V Foundation, Damon Runyon Foundation, Doris Duke Foundation, American Cancer Society, and others. The third and fourth categories are the primary large-scale funders of long-term research programs and originate from the government and industry. These include the NIH, NSF, Department of Defense, Energy, Agriculture, FDA, and many others. These are also the primary sources of funding for clinical trials and the later steps of translational research and development, which tend to be very resource intensive. To find relevant funds among all of these options again requires the knowledge of your mentors and some ability to gather and collate the necessary information about each funder. In larger academic institutions, some of this effort may fall under the purview of the departmental Office of Research or the institutional Office of Sponsored Projects. Relevant information that has to be obtained includes eligibility criteria for application (especially key for junior faculty awards), relevant application deadlines (every funder will have their own schedule for grant submission), and the list of necessary components for each submission (most funders will have detailed submission instructions available with the grant application). Most grants will also require letters of support, collaboration, or attestation to the quality of the applicant and their work. It is important to identify and recruit appropriate mentors and departmental leadership support for these early.
In summary, there is a huge variety of funds available for surgical faculty to perform the full breadth of research in academia and industry. Identification and successful competition for these requires organization, dedicated effort and time, and most importantly support from one’s mentors and leaders. Successful research career stemming from these efforts is one of the most rewarding aspects of academic surgery.