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Monday, December 12, 2011

Funding Field Work

One question that I often get asked by tourists in the park here is how our project is funded. They are often surprised to learn that each grad student is responsible for our own funding - Thore and Jacinta (the project advisors from University of Michigan) pay for the general field site upkeep and data collection, but we are each in charge of supporting ourselves out here. That means writing a ton of grants and keeping our fingers crossed!

Grant writing has been a mixed bag for me. I spent most of last year writing and rewriting and submitting grants, and consistently getting rejected. That was really hard and frustrating, but I learned a lot about grant writing and definitely improved my project in the process. I had a ton of help from my advisers both in Princeton and in Ann Arbor, and felt pretty good about the last set of grants I submitted during the summer. However, when I left for the field in late August, I had received a total of $1500 (from the International Society of Primatologists) - enough to cover one round-trip plane flight from New York to Addis Ababa. Since my total project is estimated to cost about $35,000, I have definitely been worried about my financial situation! Luckily, between emptying my savings account and having Jacinta graciously offer to cover the cost of my hormone supplies until I got funding, I was able to get everything I needed for this year and head out to the field with my fingers and toes and everything else I could cross crossed for funding to come through. It has been awkward though - every time a curious tourist asks me where MY funding comes through, I have to admit that I don't quite know yet.

In October, I had my first email of good news - $1500 from the American Society of Primatologists! I had forgotten that I had even applied to them, so getting the acceptance email was a huge, happy surprise. I started to breathe a little easier. Then, this week I got two BIG acceptances - $17,500 from the National Science Foundation's Biological Anthropology subdivision, and $13,000 from the Louis Leakey Foundation! In the space of just a few days, I went from wondering how I was going to pay for the rest of my field season without burning through all my savings to having my entire project funded! What a HUGE relief! Such a funny process too, since I can only check my Princeton email about once a week. My Leakey and NSF acceptances were sitting in my inbox for days without my knowing! What a strange situation, and so unlike the way things would be if I were in America right now.

There are still a lot of things to do before the money starts coming through - contracts to sign, abstracts and budgets to revise and submit, documentation from Princeton to acquire - but just knowing that I won't have to come up with $35,000 out of pocket takes a huge weight off my shoulders. Even better, in less than a week, Sam and Ruth and my family will all be here to celebrate with me! Data collection is going superbly (we got all 102 focals we needed last week, and only have 7 more to finish tomorrow to reach our goal this week), the weather is beautiful, a hornbill has been calling outside our front door, and I have funding for my project. :) What an amazing set of early Christmas gifts! Now, when tourists ask me how I'm paying for all my research, I will have a good answer ready. :)


  1. Congrats on the funding Caitlin! That's great news! Keep up the good work. So sad that I'm back in Princeton now but you're not here. Take care!