You reap what you sow? The importance of seed-corn funding

Obtaining ‘seed-corn’ funding to get a new research idea off the ground can be crucial in developing your work, especially for early-career researchers. Whilst the initial ‘seed’ may be a relatively small amount of money, if spent wisely then watch it grow! This is particularly relevant at the moment due to the internal funding opportunities currently open for BU academics.

To show how seed-corn money could work for you, here’s an example of where it helped me. Back in 2009, the then School ofConservation Sciences (CS) ran an internal research funding scheme where the maximum amount awarded per project was £3000 and priority was given to applications with match funding. So I firstly had to formulate my research question and obtain some match-funding. After much reading and thinking I finally settled on my question (in a relatively new area for me but related to my other research) and successfully approached the Environment Agency for a modest amount of match-funding. The subsequent application to the CS scheme was successful.

Given the limited amount of money available, it had to be spent very carefully. A part-time researcher was used to complete the data collection and as the work progressed, further seed-corn funds were secured from external sources. These enabled us to expand the work and resulted in the subsequent publication of several journal articles. These were important in underpinning further funding applications as we could now show the work was relevant and we were competent in doing it! Inevitably, a number of these funding applications failed but through perseverance and refining the ideas (reading, discussions with colleagues etc), we have recently been awarded two separate PhD studentships by external funders. This includes a NERC CASE studentship, where the industrial partner is the same Environment Agency collaborator I first approached in 2009. Looking ahead, as these PhDs deliver their research then this should enable the development of more ambitious projects ideas that enable larger grant applications to be submitted.

So – hopefully- this example of showing how seed-corn funds can quite literally grow has motivated you to take advantage of those open internal funding schemes. Remember, the process of then turning seed-corn funds into something more substantial and long-term may not be easy: I have not mentioned the long hours spent putting together the funding applications that were turned down. But as a collaborator put it when I recently asked him how he managed to increase his NERC standard grant application success rate from 0 to 40 %:

‘…….the more I practised, the luckier I got’.