Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) contributes to significant advances in the fields of structural and cell biology. Given electron microscope costs, investigators adopting cryo-EM for their research often seek external funds.
Here, I will outline the most common challenges and our proposed solutions to address funding needs for cryo-EM.
Funding electron microscope costs
Make a plan
Preparing a proposal requires a great deal of time and collaboration with the funding body, the vendor, your organization and lab members.
Map out a tentative timeline of events and dates for major milestones along the way, and be sure to set aside dedicated, uninterrupted writing time at a cadence that fits your timeline and workload.
Determine and demonstrate need
You will need to demonstrate to both your institution and the funding agency that an electron microscope is essential to your research; be prepared to make a strong, scientific case for this.
You will also need to demonstrate that the instrument you choose will benefit society at large; funding agencies want to see that their funds will have a significant impact.
Look within your organization for faculty, or collaborators, with similar research needs. If such collaborators are in short supply, consider forming a consortium with nearby institutions. Incorporating an electron microscope into educational activities is also a good way to reach a larger number of people to demonstrate need and reach.
Identify the right instrument for your research
The right microscope will depend on your research needs.
- Talk to an expert about your research
We are constantly innovating, introducing new capabilities to our existing solutions, and launching entirely new products. To ensure you’re mapping the right technology to your cryo-EM needs—from single particle analysis to cryo-electron tomography and microED—be sure to talk to an expert.
- Request a demo
You will gain credibility with grant proposal reviewers if you show you evaluated electron microscope costs and options carefully. Request to demo various products if necessary and inquire about collecting some preliminary data on your microscope of choice. This way, you can utilize the data and demonstrated use-case in your proposal to give your research projects more weight.
Having demo experience will also help you understand what will need to go into your training plan—a critical piece of your grant proposal that will help funders understand the instrument’s use-case and its accessibility in your lab.
- Ask about service options
All scientific instruments run into issues and it will be important to have a good understanding of what your service options are and how they fit into your budget.
For example, if your microscope requires service, ask how long you will have to wait until a service engineer can come onsite, how many service engineers are available in your area, and make sure you know how your organization will cover the cost of service beyond the life of the grant.
Find the right funding source
You must identify a funding source that supports life science applications and offers applicable funds that cover electron microscope costs.
The most common funding sources come from private donors, government grants, internal funds, or some combination of these. Depending on your situation, you may need to seek funds from more than one source at the same time.
Visit Thermo Fisher’s Electron Microscopy Funding Support Center, our brand new resource hub >>
Seek guidance from your network
Your network is your most important resource!
Ask fellow researchers for advice, including a copy of successful grant proposals. How many proposals did they have to submit before they were awarded? What advice can they lend to gain institutional support? Who should you suggest as reviewers?
Their proposal will be especially helpful if it was also developed to request funding for cryo-electron microscopes, but any good scientific instrumentation grant will come in handy.
Amend your writing style
Grant writing is distinct from scientific writing and bad writing distracts from your scientific content.
Furthermore, word and space limits will be a challenge. Try to use plain language with limited highly technical jargon; reviewers read a lot of proposals over a short period of time and they may not be as well-versed on your research topic. Be succinct and seek help from a professional editor if needed.
While there are many challenges to putting together a successful proposal, we are here to help you achieve your goals. Peruse our grant resources and learn more about how we are working to help you, every step of the way.
Blanca Carbajal Gonzalez is a Senior Scientist, Cryo-EM at Thermo Fisher Scientific.