Why crowdfunding is a good option for my research

By Eloise Mikkonen

About the author: Eloise specialises in utilising immunohistochemical, genotyping techniques and statistics to identify associative risks for Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology from a large population-based brain cohort. Eloise crowdfunded her research on Crowd.Science

Product vs Knowledge

Last month I attended a seminar for researchers in Finland to find new sources of funding. One thing that struck me as worrying is that the majority of the options heavily suggested you should have a product, or a service to offer, as a means to an end for justifying your research goal. Now I didn’t become a scientist to make money, or for fame and glory, I did it because it’s something I love, and I have a passion for trying to understand how life works around us.

To attend a Researchers seminar and be told that we need to offer a service or product as part of our initial goal in research is a bit bonkers in my opinion! I mean, I would love to one day be able to cure Alzheimer’s disease, but in reality I’d just be happy to be part of the bigger picture that leads to understanding the disease. Given these options, I was a bit disillusioned about my future funding prospects, and have spent many moments over the past year thinking about changing my methods in acquiring funding.

Grant Writing Takes Time

As I’ve already mentioned, grant writing takes up a lot of time. Funding agencies tend to give out a few pots of really big amounts, which has left a rather skewed system for the average researcher. Not only do you have to know exactly how to sum up your research in a precise way specific for a given funding organisation, you have to think about things like are your collaborators impressive enough, what techniques do you use, are they modern enough? Is your boss high enough in the field that you will get support no matter what crap you write? Your research may very well be an important stepping stone in its field, but if you can’t tick all these additional target boxes, you may as well forget about your career/research. And without feedback, you can’t possibly know where it is you’re going wrong. I published two papers last year – one as a first author, which usually means you did most of the work, and one as last author, which generally suggests you were the main director of the research. I got no funding from that. Let me just clarify, writing papers is a lot of work! Now of course there are issues of impact factor and article metrics (which I’ll need another blog post to discuss in detail), but wouldn’t it be more logical to reduce the amounts given to researchers, and share it between more individuals?

Research doesn’t have to be expensive

Some research is expensive, but most of what I currently do is manageable on just my monthly salary or funding. I believe it could be much more logical to provide standard salaries to researchers, shared across more researchers, and a larger separate pot for funding the expensive reagents and services that some research requires. Don’t get me wrong, spending so much time on an application, it would be nice to get a big payout, but I think it’s the wrong way to go about it and the poor success rate of funding applications really highlights that changes need to be made.

Modest amounts frequently is enough

These problems are in part why I chose to try crowdfunding my research. I don’t need much, I just want to do what I love and enjoy. This is part of my re-thinking how to fund my research. Smaller amounts, more frequently. Of course this has to depend on your success rate, for which crowdfunding can become very personal.

The emotional side of a disease like Alzheimer’s is therefore a beneficial element when it comes to people understanding the implications of what you do. Writing all these (approximately 20 a year) applications and not having any feedback or success is enough to make anyone want to give up their career in science. But convincing the general public that my research is necessary, that was something I was willing to try.

I’ve discussed in a previous post about how much work running a crowdfunding campaign actually is, but it is also a lot of fun, and as an added bonus, it was a lot more successful than the majority of my grant applications have been!

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