Crystal Lee (she/她)

What can you ask for in a grant?

Similar to my previous post on job negotiation requests, it can sometimes be difficult to know what you can ask for when setting up a grant proposal for a new project. (Though ideally you're only writing a grant so that you can find money for something you already know you need, but sometimes there are all sorts of costs that may not have occurred to you.) Here's a list of line items that you can add to grant budgets with some estimates, as budgets that have wildly over (and under)-estimated costs can make the project seem infeasible. These numbers are estimates that you should absolutely take with a big grain of salt, as they may be outright wrong for your project! I think it's useful to somewhat norm around things that you can find online (e.g., looking up flight or hotel costs for places you're thinking of going).

Many grant requests for proposals limit what you can and can't write in the budget justification, but this at least gets you to writing a budget that reflects the things you need to succeed. I've added some minor guidelines for some of these larger-ticket items, but with many of these you'll simply have to estimate with some entrepreneurial Googling. Indirect costs aren't included here, as they're usually standardized within an institution. (Here's a short explainer on what indirect costs are, along with some other good resources.)

If you have any suggestions as to what to add, please let me know at crystall [at] mit [dot] edu! I love putting resources like this online because a rising tide lifts all boats -- if you've benefited from this, please pay it forward. 😀

Research costs

  • Research equipment: laptop ($2,000+), monitor, camera, recording equipment, transcription pedal, memory cards / solid state drives, etc.

  • Software licenses: zero knowledge cloud storage, qualitative analysis software, etc (around $100–300)

  • Travel: airfare, accommodation, per diem (use the US General Services Administration rates)

  • Participation: Amazon gift cards for interviewees, expert consultants, user study participants (premium for particular skills, like experience using a screenreader, ~$50), honoraria (can be difficult for international payment; $200–1,000+ depending on task and scope of work)

  • Document purchase and photocopying: this is especially important for working in archives; these archival fees can start to add up ($400–500)

  • Interview transcription: this can come in the form of an automated transcription service or one completed by a human. Expect to pay a premium for specialty vocabulary; $1.5/audio minute for most transcriptions with an added premium of 50–100% based on number of speakers, technical vocabulary, quality of audio, turnaround, etc.

  • Moving expenses for fieldwork: rent, shipping baggage, setting up field site, etc -- varies based on location.

Broader impact

  • Conference travel: airfare, accommodation, conference registration.

  • Workshop organization: one way to create a broader impact is to create a scholarly community of practice around the project; this would require travel funds, honoraria, meals, administrative assistance, and other materials to host a conference ($10–30,000 depending on size; see conference travel above)

  • Open access fees: costs related to open access publication and image permissions for research outputs

Personnel costs

  • Total / summer salary with fringe benefits, usually expressed as a percent (depends on current salary; I'd look to public salary databases like the one for the University of California system.)

  • Postdoctoral and graduate researchers: annual salary plus percent fringe benefit rate (for grad students, include tuition, grad student fees, non-resident tuition, etc).

  • Research assistance: stipends or hourly rates over the course of the summer or a semester (universities usually set these, but check the MIT Living Wage Calculator for more specific numbers)

  • Consulting: there are lots of different kinds of consulting that might be helpful for a project, like finding someone to help with curriculum development, coordinate stakeholders, develop project strategy, or to conduct monitoring and evaluation studies.