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I-Os and Funded Research

Ashley Walvoord, Verizon Wireless

Liu-Qin Yang, Portland State University

Greetings from Yes You Can, the column that is “all about the Benjamins” and how to find them for your I-O research interests! In this issue we continue profiling real-life funding examples and strategies from successful I-O peers. The focus of this issue is military grants and contracts, and back by popular demand, you will get a “behind the scenes” perspective from a colleague “on the inside”! Join us for the next 1,500 words and see just how many opportunities military funding may hold for your own research interests!

This quarter we partnered with Dr. Eduardo Salas (University of Central Florida; UCF) and Dr. Jay Goodwin (Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences; ARI). Eduardo has an extensive history of winning research funding with the Department of Defense, and prior to joining UCF, Eduardo worked as senior research psychologist for the Naval Air Warfare Center’s Training Systems Division. Jay is chief of Basic Research, a role in which he leads the development of the Army’s research priorities and the awarding of funding to researchers. Both experts were eager to share their military funding expertise and experience with the TIP audience!

Let’s cut to the chase and talk about “I-O in uniform”. Does I-O really offer a good match for military research topics?

Eduardo (UCF): My answer is yes! I-Os are qualified to contribute to military research in numerous ways. The most obvious pairing is when military funding agencies have research priorities that overlap explicitly with I-O subject areas; some funding solicitations may focus more on I (e.g., selection testing), more on O (e.g., teams and organizational culture), or a combination of the two. A somewhat less obvious opportunity is when the funding solicitation focuses outside of I-O, and we can still bring expertise in measurement or program implementation to other military research topics. Remember that military entities are organizations too!

Jay (ARI): From the ARI perspective, many of our funding topics fit squarely in the domain of I-O psychology (selection, leadership development, and training account for a large proportion of our research priorities). Ironically, I review in excess of 100 proposals and white papers each year, and I don’t see nearly as many proposals from I-O psychologists as I do from other disciplines. If it is any motivation for TIP readers, we put millions of dollars out there every year to support research, and I am amazed that there aren’t more I-O psychologists pursuing it. Consequently, the vast majority of that funding is going to individuals in other fields!

That does sound motivating! Let’s talk about the form of those million dollar mechanisms. What is the difference between a military research grant versus a military contract?

Jay: Good question, they are very different. A contract is literally a procurement of a good or service. If you are issued a research contract, you are being paid to perform a very specific service. A grant is a form of assistance in which the government provides support to you to do the research as a public good. As of last year, ARI uses both contract and grant mechanisms.

Eduardo: In a contract, the military is buying a specific deliverable from you (e.g., a program, a simulation, a tool, a literature review of team dynamics), so you don’t have the flexibility to change things or move money around without approval. A grant is more flexible, where you propose the research that you want to conduct, the agency gives you the money saying “let’s see what happens when you carry this out.” With the grant, your research may unfold in some different directions, and money is typically more flexible to move around.

Imagining our research interests in a military context could be a challenge for some I-Os. Could you share some ideas to help readers identify the military research opportunities that offer alignment with their I-O research interests?

Eduardo: First, I subscribe to discussion lists and websites using keywords for my research interests, and then every couple of weeks I receive potential funding solicitations matches. I try to read those solicitations while remembering everything that an I-O potentially brings to the table. I encourage TIP readers not to stop at the first paragraph of a solicitation and conclude that there aren’t relevant opportunities out there—don’t create a self-fulfilling prophecy! The funding topic can be broad, such as “human performance.” What is that? It could be anything. Read on and do some digging and you will often find opportunities for numerous research topics!

For example, if a solicitation focuses on human performance in a hostile environment, that doesn’t necessarily link to my personal interest in teams or training. However, I read the solicitation anyway, and then I call a contact at the funding agency to learn more and decide if there is something that I can offer (e.g., is there a legitimate team or training component in the larger topic). If I don’t feel that I am the best match to lead a proposal for that solicitation, but I am still interested, then I sometimes reach out to a colleague to share the solicitation and offer my support. I can contribute to the measurement of the project, or the methodology, or other aspects.

In general, networking is probably my most important strategy. I intentionally try to meet people from military agencies (e.g., program officers) at conferences, and then I maintain those relationships by touching base periodically. I might call up a contact to ask what research priorities are on the horizon, what do they see coming up in the next 3 to 5 years (anyone can pursue this type of interaction with program officers, it’s not just a benefit for more experienced researchers).

Jay: I also think it is helpful to first understand that military research organizations are domain focused—they won’t fund all research topics, only the ones related to their research mission. The Navy and Air Force have divisions within their overarching research labs (the Office of Naval Research and Air Force Research Laboratory, respectively) that focus on human science topics. The Army has a small number of research labs that focus on human science: The Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and the Army Research Laboratory’s Human Resource Engineering Directorate are the main ones.

In contrast to the National Science Foundation (NSF) or National Institutes for Health (NIH), military laboratories generally are seeking higher-risk proposals than those agencies. We look for proposals that will stretch the boundaries of science. Another interesting difference is that NIH and NSF tend to use more external reviewers for evaluating research proposals, whereas at ARI we tend to use internal reviewers because we need to ensure the proposal moves the topic forward into applied research (approximately 2/3rds of my staff have an I-O background).

To learn about current areas of focus, you can identify researchers from the military labs who handle the research domains you are interested in and follow the topics they are presenting and publishing. To learn more about future directions, review current broad agency announcements that describe the interests of the agency, and then follow up with your questions to the research managers identified. The research managers will often invite you to send them a three to five page white paper with your idea. Taking the time to write the white paper is a good idea. It shows your dedication to the topic, and it will also result in feedback that helps you clarify your topic. Often this leads to an extended interaction where you can learn more about what they are specifically interested in.

Finally, I always recommend the website of the National Research Council’s (NRC) Division for Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences and the section on Humans, Systems and Technologies for those who wish to learn more (there is also great information about other topics at that site).

Finally, do you have any advice as TIP readers begin to brainstorm about their research and opportunities for military research funding?

Eduardo: A very important lesson is to be responsive to the funding solicitation. Remember that your proposal is about making a difference for that agency. I invite readers to check out the new chapter “Writing Grant Proposals for Military Agencies” (Salas & Shuffler, in press), which shares suggestions for familiarizing oneself with military agencies, assembling a team of researchers, the importance of submitting an initial white paper, networking, tips for proposal writing, help with understanding military language, and more!

Jay: Remember that ARI is looking for substantial scientific advancement and application. Most research is incremental to some extent, but there is a big difference between adding a condition or a variable to the conceptual model, which usually indicates a small incremental step, and synthesizing a new conceptual model drawing from several literatures and disciplines, which usually indicates a fairly large incremental step.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to submit proposals for smaller amounts of funding. Often, the funding agency will end up with a smallish amount of funds left after selecting several proposals. Some agencies will then proceed down their list of proposals and identify good quality proposals that fit the smaller pool of funds remaining. In those cases it pays off to have a proposal that fits in those funding seams.

A Look Ahead to the Next “Yes You Can: I-Os and Funded Research”

Our sincere appreciation to Eduardo and Jay for a great introduction to military research funding! Remember, you can read the continued conversation from these interviews at www.siop.org/grants.aspx, in which Eduardo shares his tried-and-true tips for funding success, and Jay reveals the strategy behind ARI’s prioritized research topics!

In the next column, our series continues with real-life examples from several of your I-O colleagues who have found success with foundation-based / niche grants, including Donald Truxillo from Portland State University! Still on the fence? Try visualizing your research interests as objectives of these funding agencies, and until next time, remember: Yes You Can!

Funding Resources

Salas, E., & Shuffler, M.L. (2012). Writing grant proposals for military agencies. In R. Sternberg (Ed.), Building successful grant proposals from the top down and bottom up. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.
http://www.nationalacademies.org/nrc/ (Behavioral and Social Sciences > Humans, Systems, and Technologies)