Research Development Services pairs faculty with funders

Nicole Giuliani studies self-regulation, or how we control our feelings, thoughts and behaviors, and how the process applies to human health, but in September she found herself investigating how research funding works at the federal level.

An assistant professor in the school psychology program in the College of Education, Giuliani traveled to Washington, D.C., as a participant in the Early Career Faculty Travel Grant Program organized by the UO’s Research Development Services, a unit within the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation. She’s one of many UO faculty members who have turned to the unit for help identifying funding opportunities to support her research. 

“Research Development Services has informed me about grant opportunities I didn’t know about,” Giuliani said. “Not just when it comes to finding grants that may be useful targets of our applications, but way before that stage as well.”

The Early Career Faculty Travel Grant Program is just one of the many services the newly expanded service unit provides. Since welcoming Kate Petcosky-Kulkarni as director of strategic research initiatives in October 2018, the unit has been revamped by offering new resources to faculty members and developing new, innovative ways to launch projects.

Petcosky-Kulkarni describes it as the university engine dedicated to helping faculty members grow their research program, whether they are early career investigators trying to strategize how to acquire pilot funding opportunities or senior faculty members considering a major center or institutional training grant. The unit helps coordinate overall proposal development management for those new to the UO’s research enterprise and provides deeper guidance for those pursuing complex, multisite projects with many outside partners.

“The world of grantors and funding is incredibly complicated and specific,” Petcosky-Kulkarni said. “Knowing how to navigate it is a specialized skill set of its own. Our goal is to use our knowledge to help faculty successfully secure funding and support research.”

During her trip to Washington, D.C., Giuliani and a cohort of early career faculty members from the UO spent three days meeting with federal funding agencies. Petcosky-Kulkarni helped facilitate individual and group meetings with sponsor agencies for the nine members in the group. For many, including Giuliani, it was their first visit to Capitol Hill, and the trip offered a rare firsthand glimpse of how funding works at the federal level.

“I was surprised at how much I learned about the application process from my meeting with a program officer at the National Science Foundation,” Giuliani said. “I expected to meet about the content of my grant, but I learned an enormous amount about how the whole process works. And we got to meet (U.S. Senator) Jeff Merkley.”

Beyond her trip to Washington, Giuliani has found other means of support from the unit, which

offers expertise about grants at all stages of proposal development, including support identifying, developing and writing compelling proposals. It offers funding for honorariums to review external subject matter and provides support with visualization and graphic design.

This year, the unit is also offering workshops on a variety of topics including sessions about navigating National Institutes of Health submissions, building relationships with industry and developing fellowship proposals in the humanities and creative arts. Workshops will be offered throughout the year and are free to attend.

The unit can also provide customized training on request on any topic related to locating or applying for funding. A full list of workshops and contact information for customized training can be viewed on the Research Development Services website.

The goal of the research development team, Petcosky-Kulkarni said, is to help find the most strategic funding opportunities, provide support and help connect them with colleagues and peers when there is a clear potential for innovative collaboration. The unit can also provide reviewing and editing services for all research proposals.

These services are especially helpful when a faculty member’s area of expertise is highly specialized.

Diana Garvin, for example, is an assistant professor of romance languages at the UO who turned to the unit to help connect with funding sources specific to her body of knowledge. Her work zeroes in on Italian café culture from roughly 1922-43. Garvin has affectionately dubbed Petcosky-Kulkarni “the matchmaker” for her ability to identify funders that fit Garvin’s work.

“I can tell you a story of caffeinated imperial aggression and resistance,” Garvin said. “What I can’t do is tell you that story across five platforms for five different funders.”

Whether it’s through trainings or help finding grants or visiting with funding agencies in our nation’s capital, Petcosky-Kulkarni stresses the message that the service unit is here and ready to help.

“We always encourage faculty to reach out,” Petcosky-Kulkarni said. “We want to learn about their work and help them secure external funding to support their important work.”

—By Denise Silfee, Research and Innovation