Feature

Compensation for 30 participants for a study on pain and the motivation to smoke: $900.

Several dozen bags of ice: $70.

A thermometer for measuring the bone-jarring temperature of an ice-filled cold pressor: $30.

Receiving $1,000 from an APA dissertation research grant: invaluable.

That's according to University of South Florida clinical psychology doctoral student Joseph Ditre, who applied for and received a $1,000 APA dissertation research grant. Without those funds, he might not have been able to complete his research on whether smokers who were taught pain-coping skills felt less motivation to smoke.

Meanwhile, at the University of Arizona, Leisha Smith is using $2,800 in APA dissertation research support to study decision-making processes at different times of the day and night. This year, Smith is recruiting as many as 150 participants, paying them to come in for a decision-making test and a test assessing risk-taking behavior, either a few hours after they've woken up or close to when they usually hit the sack.

Ditre's and Smith's abilities to secure dissertation funding will pay off by showing that they know how to bring in outside dollars, an attractive quality in these tough financial times. For students, the good news is that while getting dissertation funding is not easy, it's certainly possible.

"That's a skill that more and more, they want to see coming right out of graduate school," says Marcy Boynton, who is finishing a doctorate in social psychology at the University of Connecticut this year.

Experts familiar with the process urge students to start looking for funding as soon as they've identified their main research interest, and advise you to:

• Start locally. Begin your dissertation fund search within your own department and university, says Todd Kashdan, PhD, a George Mason University clinical psychology professor. The money available might be in smaller amounts, but it is usually easier to compete for, he says. Search for all the information you can find online on your university's Web site. In addition, be sure to contact the administrative support staff within your psychology department.

"The administrative staff is the gatekeeper to all the knowledge," he says. Also, universities have full-time staffers in their research or special programs offices who are well-versed in the complexities of grant applications. And don't forget that one of your best sources might be your adviser, particularly if he or she is supervising a large research grant and there's money available for related research, says Glenn Good, PhD, of the University of Missouri.

That's the case at the University of Michigan, where John Jonides, PhD, runs the Cognitive Neuroimaging Lab.

Jonides, who studies working memory, funds his lab's research with grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.

"I have my students work with me putting together grant proposals seeking funds, and that funding foots the bill for their dissertation research, because their dissertation research is almost always connected to one of the projects I'm funded to work on," Jonides says.

Typically, research for a dissertation involving behavioral measures and fMRI time costs around $50,000 he says. For less expensive research at Michigan, students can seek internal funding from the psychology department, the graduate school and the Office of the Vice President for Research, Jonides says.

• Look for a foundation. If your dissertation touches on an issue of concern to a philanthropic foundation, search through online databases for grants available for research, recommends Susan Ogletree, director of the Education Research Bureau at Georgia State University. The Foundation Center, for example, maintains an online directory of foundation research funding available, where students can search for their research topic. E-mail your library, or talk to the staffers at your university's research office to see if they subscribe to the database at fconline.fdncenter.org.

• Go to APA. In a typical year, the APA Science Directorate receives almost 200 applications for dissertation research funding and awards 30 to 40 grants, from $1,000 to $5,000 each. Successful proposals have clear and concise descriptions of the research, show a good understanding of the state of the science, and follow directions exactly, says Virginia Holt, of APA's Science Directorate.

"We look to fund proposals that will demonstrate excellence in science, show promising research careers for the graduate student proposal writers, and use resources effectively and efficiently," she says.

For a list of APA dissertation grants is available online.

• Tap other psychology groups. Another source is the American Psychological Foundation/Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology Graduate Research Scholarships in Psychology, administered by APA's Science Directorate. The program offers 13 grants from $1,000 to $5,000 each. More information is available online.

• Investigate federal funding sources. For most students, it might seem like a long shot, but your dissertation research might be a good fit to the research interests of an institute of the National Institutes of Health, which offers two grant programs for students. One is the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellows, known informally as F31s or NRSAs. The other is the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research. The grants provide partial tuition and fees, a stipend for living expenses and an allowance for books and travel.

Another possible source of funding is through the National Science Foundation's SBE Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants.

Information on the NIH grants is available online. Information on NSF funding is available online. Marcy Boynton received funding from both federal sources, including $62,000 in NRSA money over two years, and a $7,993 dissertation research improvement grant for her work examining the interplay of acculturation and sexual risk behavior among Latinos.

Boynton says the rigorous application process compelled her to focus her research ideas.

Talking to graduate students who had successfully applied for an NRSA and reading through funded applications also helped her, Boynton says.

"In retrospect, the hardest part is that first grant you put together," she says.

• Check out state associations and APA divisions. Many APA state associations and APA divisions support dissertation research funding. For example, Div. 15 (Educational) offers two $1,000 dissertation research awards for students who have an approved proposal from their dissertation committee, but haven't started collecting data yet, says awards committee co-chair Michele Gregoire Gill, PhD.

Students who are Div. 15 members and are pursuing a question related to educational psychology are eligible, Gill says.

More information about APA division awards is available online.

• Follow directions and proofread. When you apply for dissertation funding, read the directions for putting together a proposal several times before you start, says L. Shane Blasko, PhD, an assistant professor with Argosy University in Atlanta, and a former employee of Georgia State University's Educational Research Bureau, which helps faculty members seek research funds.

Follow every instruction and ask your adviser to double-check your application, Blasko says. "Adherence to detail is super important," she says. Students commonly make such mistakes as not including information requested, not following word or page limits and not putting information in the right order, she says.

"If there's anything that doesn't follow their directions to a 'T' they won't read it," she says. Got a question about something on the application? Ask the contact person listed, Blasko says.

• Keep your receipts. Most funds come with strings attached, so if you're lucky enough to get a dissertation grant, be sure to keep a record of how you spend it. Many grants require you to report all expenses and provide a summary of your findings to your funding source.