How Do Psychology Researchers Find Funding?

psychology research grants

Posted November 2019 by Clifton Stamp, B.S. Psychology; M.A. Rehabilitation Counseling, M.A. English; 10 updates since. Reading time: 6 min. Reading level: Grade 9+. Questions on how psychology researchers find funding? Email Toni at:

Finding funding for psychological research is a time-consuming and complex process, but it comes with significant rewards. Funding can be provided for psychology graduate students, student researchers, research teams and even institutions. A reliable, steady source of funding allows for in-depth project planning, the hiring of talented and dedicated staff, and institutional support for months, sometimes years. Every year tens of billions of dollars are awarded to research programs. The funds are out there. The task researchers face is connecting with the organizations that want to fund their work.

Even though finding funding for research in psychology is a challenge, it is a task everyone researching in the sciences works through. Securing funding sources for psychology research can be a chore for professionals well-experienced in the often arcane procedures, but for graduate students and others new to advanced research,  it can seem overwhelming. It’s also an essential task, given that a student’s involvement in research is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting into doctoral and postdoctoral programs. Grantseekers who are already part of a university have access to a wider pool of potential funding sources. The majority of research in psychology is carried about by researchers within educational institutions

As with just about everything else in the 21st century, a great deal of the legwork on tracking down funding can be accomplished on the web. Internet resources point out what organizations are offering funds, how to make contact with them, and how to go about qualifying and applying for research dollars.

Finding Funding For Psychology Research Projects: Types of Funding

Psychology researchers rely on funding from a wide variety of sources, but there is some commonality. Understanding how researchers talk about funding can help understand the process of getting funding for research projects in psychology. The most common sources of grants and other funds for psychology research come from federal and state sources, educational resources, and philanthropic organizations.

  • General Research Grants. Grants are the most commonly sought type of funding. Unlike loans, a grant doesn’t have to be repaid. The American Psychological Foundation (APF) maintains an updated list of grant providers for a variety of areas and subdisciplines within psychology. The APF has specific grants for psychologists early in their career, for mid to senior level psychologists, and for psychology teachers.
  • Seed Funding. Seed funding provides a researcher with just enough funds to get started. Seed funding helps researchers demonstrate the merits of their ideas, and if those ideas look fruitful, more rounds of seed funding may follow, or research sponsors may fun a full course of research. Seed funded grants don’t have to be paid back and are short-term, usually for 6 to 12 months worth of research.
  • Scholarships and fellowships. Scholarships and fellowships are only given to individuals, not research groups. Typically, scholarships are awarded to students; fellowships go to research staff, although they may also be granted to doctoral students.
  • Project funding. Project funding is the sort of funding that most people think about when imagining research funding. It is the standard terminology for grants that fund a team of people to work on a particular project for an extended period (3 to 5 years). Project funding may or may not be a result of a round of successful seed funding, but that’s one possible way in which full project funding can be acquired.
  • Psychology Research Grants for Graduate Students. Graduate study in psychology, whether clinical or research psychology, is expensive. No one becomes a research psychologist looking for big paydays, either. However, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provides a generous fellowship for graduate students in research psychology, as well as other fields.

Funding Sources for Psychological Research

These are just a few of the larger sources among hundreds of grantmaking organizations.

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a comprehensive source for about twenty percent of all funded science research. The NSF lists its requirements, processes and procedures on its website, along with contact information for specific sub-disciplinary awards.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is the world’s leading source of funding for research into psychological disorders. NIMH offers many opportunities for funding research into mental illness.
  • The American Psychological Association (APA) offers extensive listings of federal programs for specific research lines. The list is updated monthly. The APA also provides extensive databases of grant funding for undergraduate student researchers. Students who perform research in their university undergraduate education demonstrate a deep interest in psychology that can lead to publishing research work. Publications are weighed favorably by graduate school admission committees.
  • Academic institutions often fund research. For example, Harvard offers the prestigious Sackler Fellowship for studies related to psychobiological research.
  • The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation awards funding to researchers investigating psychological and mental disorders.
  • The National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) offers many funding opportunities in the psychobiological study of substance addiction.

Seeking Funding for Psychological Research

Learning how to get funding for research projects is part of every researcher’s professional development. Although grantwriting is a complex process with many steps, it can be learned. Getting funding for psychological research requires careful planning. Timeframes must be planned out months, sometimes years in advance. After considering a grantmaking organization’s request for applications, it’s critical to make certain that one’s research scope, methods and aims are completely congruent with the grantmaking body. All organizations that provide funds for research have their own unique criteria for considering proposals.  Ensuring that one’s research aims meet the needs and requirements of the grantmaking organization is such an important step that researchers who fail to do so are typically eliminated from consideration at the first stage of the review process.

The next step is either writing a letter of inquiry or submitting a complete grant proposal. This is a researcher’s opportunity to let a funder know all about your research, your goals, planned methods and what makes you a good match for their needs.

During the grant review process, the grantmaker considers all submitted proposals and decides which proposal or proposals to fund. The time taken by the review process varies widely among organizations, but government agencies publish their timelines.

Getting funding for research projects is an indispensable task in psychological sciences. With practice, psychology students can learn the best ways to make sure they get the funding their own research needs to thrive.

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