Grant Season Journal, Part 4: Preparing your Budget

Post #4 from Leslie, this time tackling the issue of writing a budget for your grant proposal.

Over the past few weeks, I have been giving tips on how to write a competitive Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork or Post-Ph.D. Research Grant application. Today’s topic is Preparing your budget:  what is fundable and what isn’t.

We realize that it is not possible to estimate to the penny what the cost of your research might be – particularly since most applicants will be going into the field almost a year after they write their Wenner-Gren application. A lot can change during that time including the price of airfares, the cost of living, exchange rates, etc.

What we expect is that applicants do their best to accurately cost out their research at the time of application. We look at the budget closely to make sure that the request will cover the cost of the research and is not excessive. If your application is successful, we will work with you to insure that the amount awarded (within the grant maximum) will cover the costs of the proposed research. If you are in the fortunate position to receive grants from other institutions as well, we will also work with you to spread the costs of the research across your funding sources. It always looks good on your CV to be able to say that your work was funded by more than one agency – we will not force you to reject another funding offer to accept ours!

Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that the amount you request will not help or hinder your chances of funding — we do not prioritize applicants who request less money. We also do not arbitrarily cut the amount that you request. Our concern is that you have the resources to carry out your work and we rely on you to be the best judge of what you need.

Constructing a budget

The first thing that you should do in preparing your budget is read our budget guidelines and look at the sample budget that we provide.

The budget should be presented as a table and where relevant be sure to specify the daily or monthly cost of, for example, subsistence, transportation or research assistance – e.g. for per diem this might be $500/month x 2 months = $1,000.  Also, don’t mix up your justifications in the body of the table – this makes the budget difficult to read and understand. Justifications are necessary, but should appear as footnotes to the budget table.

The easiest way to construct the budget is to do it in Excel, use the SUM function to add up the budget (a good way to avoid errors), and then simply copy and paste the Excel table into the application form. You will lose some of the table formatting, but this is easy to fix — you can put the columns back in order with the preset tab function in the application form (Press Ctrl key + Tab).

The Foundation will provide funds for most expenses that are directly associated with field work/research, but it is important to be aware of the expenses we DON’T support. These include salary for yourself, overheads for your university, expenses for family members who might accompany you into the field, or expenses incurred at home while you are carrying out your research (such as rent or mortgage, storage fees, etc.). It is also important to realize that we do not fund travel to and/or attendance at meetings during the course of the fieldwork or return trips home to consult with a supervisor or colleagues.

There are two main issues that commonly arise in relation to the budget. The first is how much to ask for lodging/subsistence. Where possible, this should be based on direct knowledge of costs at your field/research site/s. Some applicants simply use the US State Department per diems for non-US destinations (http://aoprals.state.gov/web920/per_diem.asp) or the US General Service Administration for US per diems (http://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/21287). This is normally not a good idea.

The per diems given on both of these web sites are maximum per diems for individuals traveling on US government business. To give an example, the per diem (in 2012) for London is $499/day which would be almost $15,000 for a month’s research. Per diems at this level do not reflect realistic costs of doing academic research in London (or any other large city) and are an indication that the applicant has not done the appropriate prior research into costs to cover their work – these per diems cover staying at relatively expensive hotels and eating all of your meals out at rather good restaurants. Take a little bit of extra time and provide realistic cost estimates.

While on the topic of US government cost estimates, many applicants also use the IRS (US Internal Revenue Service) allowance for mileage when they are planning to drive their own car (http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=250882,00.html) . For 2012 the allowance is 55.5 cents per mile for business miles driven and 23 cents per mile driven for moving purposes. You should note that this covers ALL costs in relation to running a car, including insurance, maintenance, etc. – and not just gas/petrol. These estimates are also based on US costs and are not necessarily applicable to other countries.

 

Research Assistance

The second budget issue relates to research assistance and/or transcription assistance. The Foundation will cover the costs of both of these items, but you must provide very strong justifications for each of them. (Please note that simply “getting the work done faster” is not a compelling justification.)

If you are requesting research assistance it is absolutely essential to justify why you cannot carry out the research without an assistant/s. You need to be clear about what you will do and what the assistant/s will do and also address any ethical issues involved with having local people acting in this role. Some of the most compelling justifications for sociocultural anthropologists are research safety or gender issues where there might be cultural prohibitions in relation to carrying out research with members of the opposite sex, etc. For archaeological projects we are happy to fund excavation assistance. Funds are rarely provided for assistants brought from your home country, but if this is essential, you need to justify it in the strongest possible terms. We are more inclined to provide funds for local assistance on the grounds that it is one way that people from the research community can benefit from the work.

Word-for-word transcription can be very expensive. We will normally only fund transcription if it is absolutely essential to your methodology (e.g. discourse analysis or other forms of linguistic analysis). Simply wanting to use programs such as NVivo or Atlas.ti is not a compelling reason for this expense and in some instances suggests that you have not clearly thought through how you will realistically analyze your data. We also expect applicants to be fully involved in all aspects of their research, including transcription. You should be very clear in relation to how much of the work will be done by the assistant and how much by you.

One last thing about the budget is equipment. We will fund equipment that is appropriate to the research, whether it is expensive or not – but again it is up to you to justify the need. This is particularly important if you are requesting high-end equipment such as $3000 laptops or $4000 camcorders. For example, we frequently get requests for high-end MacBook Pros to take field notes on. This is not a strong justification when machines costing a quarter of the amount will do the job equally well. Be realistic in what you request and what you will need for your research.

You should note also, that the Foundation has an equipment policy whereby equipment costing in excess of $750 must be either donated to an appropriate institution at the end of the funded period of research or the resale value of the equipment must be returned to the Foundation.

This is probably enough in relation to the budget – the basic message is to be realistic in relation to the costs of your research and don’t inflate your budget to reach the grant maximum. You might be surprised at how many applicants ask for $19,995!

One last point is how to present research that does cost in excess of the Wenner-Gren grant maximum. You should be up-front about how much the research will cost and provide a feasibility assessment – clearly indicating where the extra money will come from or how the overall project will be effected if other funds are not forthcoming and the work needs to be completed with Wenner-Gren funds alone.

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