Follow up question to How does research funding work in determining academic promotions? since it was too broad.

Based on this answer, one needs to get funding to be promoted. Does the source of the funding make a difference, e.g. will it matter whether the money comes from a governmental funding agency versus a private foundation or a rich philanthropist or even one's own pocket?

  • It should be pointed out that the answer you linked to starts with "All of this is going to be very field- and country-specific." Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 16:03
  • 1
    For example, in my department (in a field less reliant on grants than some others), the promotion guidelines state, "Funding by external agencies is not a requirement at any level. However, such funding is considered a measure of stature, especially if the funding agency utilizes a peer review system for the evaluation of proposals." Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 16:15
  • @MarkMeckes is the document that details the promotion procedure publicly available? If so, can you link it? I tried searching for it based on the information given in your profile, but couldn't find it.
    – Allure
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 21:13
  • Sorry, that document is only posted in a password-protected part of my department's web site. But it's of course important to remember that that document is specifically for my department. It doesn't necessarily apply either for math departments at other universities, or for other departments at my university. All those departments should have carefully written promotion guidelines of their own. Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 13:39

2 Answers 2


The point of assessing funding is not to ask, "Is this person funded today?" Rather, it's to ask, "Will this person be funded in five, ten, and fifteen years?"

And the point of asking about funding is two-fold. Over that time period, will this person be performing high quality work that makes our department and university look better? And will this person be bringing in money that can be shared among other workers through indirect costs?

If you think about that, the various sources of funding do have different levels of attractiveness to the university/department. Someone who is independently wealthy and pays $500,000 per year to support their lab, is less attractive than someone who has an NIH grant that pays $500,000 to their lab, because the latter also pays overhead to the department and helps keep the lights on (literally).

Moreover, the independently wealthy person may lose all their money, or may simply unilaterally decide not to use it that way after three years. Same applies to a rich philanthropist (or the philanthropist may turn out to be a terrible person that the department doesn't want to be associated with).

On the other hand, a researcher who has demonstrated that they can get money from the NIH, or the NSF or another long-established government agency, this year, probably has a decent chance of getting more money from them in five and ten years.

So a source of funding that comes from a stable organization, with predictable and open funding plans, that covers overhead, would be more attractive than sources that are less stable, less open, and less predictable, and that cover less overhead.

Such stable organizations tend to be government-run (at least in North America, and I think in most of the Western world), but there are certainly private foundations that are just about as good, as far as promotion is concerned.

I don't know of an objective source that could rank the attractiveness of funding, though.

  • 5
    Funding from government agencies is also a strong indicator of someone's reputation in the research community, since those research proposals are typically reviewed by peers in that community. Funding the lab yourself only indicates that you're rich; convincing NIH or NSF to fund your lab indicates that a random sample of your expert colleagues think the money will be well spent.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 12:52

If the question is will it matter, then that is up to those making the judgements and no one else. If the question is can it matter, then yes, it can, but again, just as in the answer you cite it depends on many things. Probably too many for a general answer here.

Tenure is granted based on a general evaluation of the future prospects of a faculty member. In some institutions that rests primarily on research potential, but not in all. If research is the most important thing and the institution also wants its researchers to be self funded with grants that contribute to the overall mission of the place then the source of the grants is probably going to be a factor. But it won't be the only factor. Government grants and a few other may be preferred if they are renewable and if they support students and if no one complains about the "overhead" charged against the grant. But it is probably those factors, not the source per se that is most important.

A philanthropist is looking for something in return, even if it is just prestige. But they won't be as reliable over the long term as government grants. Self funding probably doesn't count for much except in very rare cases.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .