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I am an independent researcher working outside of academia with no past track record so far. Is it still possible to apply for research grants anyway, and how should I go about doing so?

I do have a very good research plan, but the catch is, I need some funding before I can carry them out. How can I convince grant agencies to give me a chance?

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Can you edit your Q and expand on what "...no past track record..." means (relevant degree, publications, affiliation etc), since that is essential to answer your question? What field are you in? –  fileunderwater Jan 13 at 16:17
    
In the US, to apply for NSF grants, you need to have an account on their FastLane website, which in turn can only be created through an established institution with an office of sponsored research or whatever it might be called. –  StasK Jan 13 at 20:54

3 Answers 3

Ok, this is going to sting a bit, but, practically, this is not going to happen, no matter how brilliant your research idea and plan is. In practice, the scientific credentials of the proposal author / proposed principal investigator are very important to project / grant acceptance. Having no affiliation with a well-reputed research institution is already a strike against you, but not having a track record is a knockout criterion for each funding agency I am aware of. To give you one concrete example, the Austrian Science Foundation (FWF) will, according to their published rules, not even scientifically review a proposal with an insufficiently experienced principal investigator. From what I have heard, other agencies have similar formal rules. In short: you will need a co-proposer with sufficient standing in your field, otherwise you are essentially wasting your time preparing the proposal.

Maybe this seems unfair to you, but try to see it from the point of view of the funding agency. While you may have strong confidence in you and your project, you are a huge risk factor to the agency. You have no demonstrated experience in leading a project, maybe not even in participating in one, you are not embedded into on of the traditional research environments, you do not necessarily have the resources to even conduct the research project, and, from a legal point of view, if you just take the provided grants and run away, there is no organisation that the funding agency can sue to get their money back.

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There's an enormous range of different types of grants. Some are from large government agencies that are correspondingly bureaucratic; others are from private foundations that may take an idiosyncratic approach to deciding who to fund. So the answer may depend on what sort of funding you are looking for. To a first approximation, it will be difficult to get government funding as a truly independent researcher (without some affiliation with a university, non-profit agency, think tank, industrial lab, etc.). That would be the first place I'd start, by trying to get an affiliation that would allow you to apply for grants through an established institution. If you can't convince anyone to let you do this, then your grant application is probably hopeless anyway, and if you can, then it will be a big help.

A second issue is how literally you mean you have "no track record". If you have a minor track record (e.g., a degree and some publications in related areas), then it might be possible. If you literally have no track record at all (no relevant degree, no history of related work, no relevant prior accomplishments, nothing), then it will probably be impossible to get a grant. Even if you have a great idea, there would be no evidence that you are actually capable of carrying it out. Maybe it's not strictly impossible - theoretically you could present an idea so obviously great that merely coming up with the idea would itself be strong evidence of competence - but it's highly unlikely to be worth the effort of applying if you have no track record at all.

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I interpreted as literally no track record (hence my more negative answer below), but maybe that was not correct. –  xLeitix Jan 13 at 15:27

Again, depending on what you mean by "No Past Track Record", this is going to be hard if not impossible.

Many granting agencies, in their grant reviews, have a section on the environment/institution/etc. Essentially, this is asking "Are you in a place that can get this research done". And it often extends to more than just practical questions - do you have institutional support? Is there a sufficient mentorship scheme for new investigators, etc.

For most of these, many grant reviewers will look at an entirely independent scientist and say "No." Or score you rather poorly, which in today's funding environment is essentially the same as saying No.

Depending on how much you need, there are however a number of Kickstarter-esq crowd funding platforms for science. These might be a place to make your case directly, if the amount of money you need is modest.

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