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I am a Masters degree holder in Computer Science. Where I live, the most popular way of receiving research grants is from the government. There are two problems with that.

First, You have to be enrolled in a Masters or doctorate degree program at the time of applying for funding.

Secondly, the researcher only gets a small amount of pay from the grant(Like about 2 or 3 percent). About 10 to 15 percent is for research supervisor. And remaining is equipment and other costs.

So is there any way of applying for research funding as an independent researcher? I am currently enrolled in a Masters program and am very close to getting a grant for my research. But I would like to continue work as a researcher after completing my Masters and would like to apply for funding independently.

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    I don't believe that it is common to do academic research as a freelancer. – Paul Hiemstra Apr 24 '13 at 11:42
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    What grant program (and in which country) are you applying to? Rules will strongly depend on the funding institution… – F'x Apr 24 '13 at 12:40
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    My belief is If I am doing all the work and putting in all my hours without help from anyone,then I should be getting all the grant. — That's just not how grants work. (Or research, for that matter.) – JeffE Apr 24 '13 at 15:32
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    @PaulHiemstra Which, IMHO, is very sad, but it's how the system works. – Piotr Migdal Apr 24 '13 at 17:51
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    While I agree with others that a Ph.D. is the best way to go for highly independent research, I know those with B.S. degrees that are highly capable and have a certain degree of flexibility in their work, and are well compensated, at a top 15 university. A slightly related note; you may want to check out ronininstitute.org – bbarker Apr 4 '15 at 17:32
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Having only a MSc (and not doing a PhD) it might be hard to get an official research funding (although, there are many different programs and maybe there is one for someone with your status; especially if in some way you are still affiliated with an university of institute).

Sadly, (as Paul Hiemstra pointed out) there no such thing as a scientific freelancer. Science market is very far from an unregulated, free market (and the supply is higher than demands, so it is not a place for freelancer jobs).

However, there are two options which may make sense to you:

  • doing a part-time PhD, or some PhD where you are not expected to be at the univ. all the time; effectively, it may work for you (though, then it will need to be rather at a low-rank univ.; most likely the most important thing is to find a univ. with no to low teaching load + an advisor who does not care (sic!) or one who understands your situation and is willing to participate in such relationship),
  • considering crowdfunding - i.e. describing you project on a website and gathering from all interested people (like on Kickstarter); here is a list of sites for crowdfunding in science (then it is not from government).
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  • Sadly, (as Paul Hiemstra pointed out) there no such thing as a scientific freelancer — That's an exaggeration. Freelancers are rare, but they do exist. – JeffE Jul 1 '13 at 6:01
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    @JeffE Examples? Or better: how I (still a PhD student) can become a scientific freelancer? – Piotr Migdal Jul 1 '13 at 21:04
  • The part-time PhD option is probably your best go, if you don't want to jump into the full PhD experience -- unfortunately, the lack of a PhD is going to be your biggest handicap here, as it is the accepted way of accrediting (at least in academia) that someone is able to carry research on their own. – finitud Nov 6 '13 at 17:36
  • What is precicely meant by "part time PhD"? – Kare Jul 17 '14 at 9:25
  • What is "open science" (mentioned in your "a list of sites for crowdfunding in science" link)? – Geremia May 17 '16 at 18:06
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The biggest obstacle is that you haven't been through a Ph.D. program. Not (just) because of formal qualifications, but also because a Ph.D. program is where one learns how to manage an independent research program. The reason Ph.D. programs are a de facto requirement for research positions is that very few people learn how to do this in a bachelor's or master's program. It's not impossible, but it's certainly rare. (It's already difficult for recent Ph.D.s to get research grants in competition against much more experienced researchers.)

Aside from appropriate research experience, what you need is a formal affiliation with a university. In the U.S., it's called a "soft-money position." This is a position paid for entirely by research grants, without salary or funding from the university. (Soft money is money that depends on outside grants, while hard money is budgeted from the university itself.) If you can get the grants in the first place, it's much easier to get a soft-money position than a regular job, since there's no risk for the university: as long as your grants continue, they can collect overhead to pay for office space, computer and library access, etc., but if your grants end then so does your job. Of course nobody will give you a soft-money position unless they are impressed with your work and think you would be valuable to have around (and would not hurt the department's reputation), but this is a much lower bar than convincing them to spend their own money on you.

A soft-money position is the closest thing I'm aware of to applying for funding as an independent researcher. (It's not completely independent, but about as close as you are likely to come to independence.) However, in the U.S. it would be nearly impossible to get such a position with just a master's degree.

Whether this path is feasible at all depends on your research area, and of course your funding agency's policies. In the U.S. it's pretty common in medical research, but almost unheard of in mathematics (where there is much less funding available). In computer science it's somewhere in between, depending on the specific subfield.

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It can be very difficult to get government financing depending on where you reside. For instance, here in Germany, only qualified workers affiliated with a "recognized" institution, such as a university or a government research organization, can apply for grants. Moreover, only PhD-level staff can act as a principal investigator.

So, the basic upshot is that you need to see what the official rules are in the country where you are working. In general, you cannot work around the qualification rules for such programs!

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  • Aren't there any international research grant programs? – zzzzz Apr 24 '13 at 13:21
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    There are international programs, but again, these are only open to people who hold a doctoral degree. If you don't have that, you will not normally be able to be the principal investigator. You could be a researcher attached to the project, but somebody else would have to submit it on your behalf. – aeismail Apr 24 '13 at 15:30
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    Likewise in the US. With a few exceptions (like graduate fellowships and some postdoctoral fellowships), individual researchers cannot apply for NSF funding; officially, institutions apply for NSF funding on behalf of their researchers. – JeffE Apr 24 '13 at 15:31
  • It should be noted that we don't have to have the institution submit on our behalf over here. However, you can't be an "independent contractor" or work for a for-profit company. – aeismail Apr 24 '13 at 15:32
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If you are in the US, what you are requesting is highly unlikely. There is no peer-review that is institutionalized enough to keep control of research quality and avoid people taking advantage.

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There are two obstacles:

  1. The funding body - sometimes their rules specifies you must work for a university or research organisation or worse a registered research organisation (if it doesn't say registered, then invent a business name or found a consultancy/company; if it does say registered, then try to get your research organisation registered). Sometimes the rules will also specify a proportion of the "marks" for rating the researcher/team and the institution/infrastructure. If you register a commercial entity, you however now have access to commercialisation funds and programs which often have more money that is easier to obtain (government funding programs, angels and VCs). About half my funds comes from non-traditional funding sources, often with matching private and public funding.

  2. The referees - the referees will in general know nothing about your work, will know a little about the general area but will have specialist expertise in some other area, they will not understand every point of the grant application, they will have some part of their rating based on who you are which will be judged from CV-type information, including your publications, grants and affiliations. They will take into account your lack of a research record one way or another, often negatively when there is no evidence to support you can do the work, often positively when you have done well with the little you have for the stage in your career.

Some funding programs (or referees/committees) will explicitly make allowance for early career researchers, or even actively encourage and support them, which mitigates against the disadvantage. The idea is that the success rate of ECRs should be commensurate with the overall success rate (where other things being equal it could be less due to the lack of runs on the board). Many grant processes (and referees/committees) specifically operate on the basis that assessment of the research team should be on the basis of "opportunity" - and so no special ECR category is needed.

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