Member Article

Advice to Social Psychology Grant Writers

By now, all social psychologists know that our access to basic research funding at the National Institute of Mental Health has been dramatically curtailed. Many parties are working for viable long-term solutions: the American Psychological Society, the American Psychological Association, and the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences all are lobbying on our behalf. A combined (Society for Experimental Social Psychology/Society for Personality and Social Psychology) advocacy task force has launched important projects to sell the relevance of our field to society. At every institution, senior faculty need to inform chairs and deans that junior faculty may not necessarily be expected in the short run to have research grants in social psychology.

Some vital information — useful both in the short term and in the long term — comes from a recent report of a working group of the Advisory Council to the Director of the National Institutes of Health. Members of the working group familiar to social psychologists include Robert Levenson, Laura Carstensen, James Jackson, Bruce McEwen, and me. This draft report has some information useful now for social psychologists attempting to get funded. You also will find a summary of the report and of the whole NIMH controversy in several stories in the February Observer.

Here’s the scoop: NIH has more than two dozen institutes. NIMH is only one of them. Half a dozen or more of them fund people like us, according to the working group report and an article in the January 2005 Observer.

One route for grant-writing social psychologists is to go to the Web sites of these institutes. Look at their mission statements, specific divisions, and programs, see whether any of your work fits their interests, develop some ideas, and, most important, contact the relevant program officer. I recently heard an estimate that only 10 to 20 percent of our proposal writers contact program staff. It is really useful to talk to these people and forge a connection between their interests and yours. They can then watch for your proposal and make sure it gets to the right program.

Here are six promising leads: NIDA, NCI, NICHD, NIA, NIAAA, and NHLBI (that’s respectively, drugs, cancer, children, aging, alcohol, and heart). In fact, we know that some of these institutes are even going out of their way to attract basic investigators who no longer may fit NIMH guidelines. That certainly is worth a phone call about whether you fit that category. Other institutes might be open to proposals, but these are ones with a history, and as we all know, past behavior best predicts future behavior. NIMH is also still considering some proposals with specific — especially clinical — mental health relevance. Talk to their program officers, too.

Note: Your work almost invariably will get scientific review from people like us, basic researchers in social and personality psychology. These reviewers now know that we have to link our basic research to specific health-related outcomes. This does not mean that you necessarily have to do clinical research, but you do have to make it abundantly clear how relevant it is. The program officer is the primary person who can vet your ideas for how to do this. But the scientific review will come from people whose standards are familiar.

In the long term, many of us are hoping for a dedicated NIH home for basic behavioral and social science research. This would be a place for investigator-initiated basic research grants with relevance that is not confined to a particular disease or life stage. Until that time, check out those Web sites.

Internet Resources

The following Web sites offer additional information:

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