Even if your postdoc project already has funding, securing your own funding is a key step in your academic development. As a postdoc, you are training to become an independent researcher. One major way to start demonstrating your independence as a researcher is by getting your own funding. Grants, awards, and individual fellowships also give you leverage in your current position, free up money in the lab’s budget, and will help you get other, larger grants later in your career.
Individual Research Grants, Awards, and Fellowships
These funds are awarded to a researcher (rather than a lab or organization) to work on a proposed project for a designated period of time. This funding is intended to cover the researcher’s salary, relocation costs, travel costs, and research expenses.
Research councils are a major source of individual postdoc funding. Each country has its own research councils that award sizable grants to researchers who are either from or working in the country. For example, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research offers Veni, Vidi, Vici research grants for researchers at different stages of their careers. The Veni grants are for those who just earned their PhD and funds three years of independent research in any field.
Research councils are not the only source of individual funding. There are several foundations, trusts, and academic societies that offer funding for exceptional postdocs. As an example, the African Postdoctoral Training Initiative offers young African scientists a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in global health at the National Institute of Health. They will receive training in a health research area that is a priority in their home country. They are then supported for an additional two years when they return to their home country.
There are several major organizations that offer grants and fellowships specifically designed to promote postdoctoral researcher mobility among postdocs. Doing a postdoc abroad is a great way to enlarge your network and explore new research domains. The Fulbright Program is a well-known example of a mobility grant. Funded by the US Department of State, a Fulbright offsets the cost of tuition, travel, and living expenses for US citizens conducting research at a host institution abroad. The Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions offers individual European or Global Fellowships for researchers with four years of post-PhD research experience. These fellowships cover up to three years of living, mobility, and family costs. They are aimed at researchers who are coming to Europe, moving within Europe, or will be working outside of Europe before coming back to Europe. The Newton International Fellowship and Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellowship are other large mobility schemes.
These fellowships are similar to mobility grants in that they provide funds for a researcher to travel to and work in another country. The major difference is that the destination country is the focus of the researcher’s work and it is essential that they travel to the country to carry out their research. A travel fellowship often allows the researcher to work and live at a local academy or institute for the duration of their stay. The American Academy in Rome’s Rome Prize is an example of this type of fellowship. It offers Americans scholars working in the arts and humanities the opportunity to live in Rome and research in the city for 11 months. Similarly, the Oriental Institute of Beirut Postdoc Fellowship brings postdocs to Beirut for up to 12 months to work on projects related to the institute’s research programs.
Funding to Start a Lab or Research Group
Senior postdocs (i.e. those with at least two years of postdoc experience) are often eligible to apply for large grants to start their own lab or research group. These grants are longer than most other postdoc grants and come with significantly more money. For example, a Starting Grant from the European Research Council is intended for early-career researchers who show potential to be research leaders. Successful applicants are awarded up to €1.5 million to cover their research costs for five years. Likewise, Germany’s Emmy Noether Programme gives exceptional senior postdocs and junior professors the chance to qualify for a professorship by leading their own junior research group for six years.