January 27, 2016
Since its inception in 1922, the Grants in Aid of Research program (GIAR) has funded graduate and undergraduate students in support of their research efforts. These are funded not only from Sigma Xi’s endowment, but we also administer funds for the National Academy of Sciences. Currently, the maximum amount of support granted to a successful applicant in $1000, although some fields, such as Astronomy and Vision Research, have additional funding which allows grants of to $5000. GIAR has two deadlines: March 15 and October 15. Although the funding levels are relatively modest, this belies the impact that these grants are having not only on the development of future scientist as well as on significant advancements across the broad spectrum of scientific disciplines the grants cover. As a GIAR awardee myself (although from many moons ago), I can certainly attest to the importance of the financial assistance to defray some of the travel costs associated with my PhD research – it involved collecting literally tons of rock from localities across several states in the Rocky Mountain region to examine the nature of recovery and repopulation following a mass extinction event – as well as the long-standing impact of the award as a ‘feather in my cap’ signifying my ability to write compelling proposals as well as the discipline’s view of the research I was and continue to do.
As one of the flagship programs with the panoply of elements offered by Sigma Xi, one of the goals of the GIAR committee has been to constantly refine its elements so that it continues to be of value to current members as well as a means of attracting future members. From that perspective, over the past decade or so, one of the biggest changes has been the transition to an online application. That process continues to evolve and has led to several important changes ranging from allowing applicants to include graphics with their proposals to improving the review process to giving students feedback generated as the reviewers respond to their proposals.
This increased accessibility has also led to a substantial increase in the number of international applicants. Furthermore, the GIAR committee has been involved in various outreach efforts, including having an online forum using Google Hangout to outline the qualities of a strong proposal as well as to answer questions generated by the attendees. We hope to continue to strengthen the GIAR process, to continue to attract proposals that change our perceptions of various aspects of science, and to use the program as a platform to promote the benefits of Sigma Xi membership to scientists in North America and across the globe.
Chair, Committee on Grants-in-Aid of Research