Comments about the #SciFund Challenge prior to publication

This is a much delayed post and I’m sorry for that, but better late than never. Now that I’m completely done with the #SciFund challenge, my money has arrived, and UNM has deposited the money in a spending account for myself I thought I’d share my thoughts about the entire experience. Today I’m going to talk about the #SciFund experience from application until publication, that is the moment my project went live.

Looking back, the application process was fairly simple and straightforward. I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself when writing my abstract (or pre-proposal as I called it then). I had assumed that the #SciFund selectors were going to be very critical of the type of research selected, and that there would be a lot of people applying for this unique opportunity. In retrospect I don’t think either of my assumptions were correct, but I do think having the attitude I had made my proposal an easy selection. Basically I put myself in a pressure situation that would cultivate success and that helped me get in.

Once I received my acceptance email, the work began. The proposal development for the SciFund challenge was extremely time consuming. Discussing with Koch we determined that it is really no more time consuming than writing a grant for a much larger award. Most of the time was spent writing and rewriting for a general audience, and there were iterations of critiquing involved as well.

The critiquing was crucial to the successful development of the proposal. The #SciFund Challenge had established a wiki that we could post our proposal to and the other #SciFunders would read and offer comments on how to improve the proposal. Everyone was required to read a couple other proposals and offer feedback, but a lot of us went the extra mile and read a lot more proposals and offered feedback. I think I personally offered constructive criticism on about 8 proposals.

Emphasis on constructive.

In my experience the community of #SciFund was the most rewarding aspect of the challenge. I don’t think crowdsourcing for science would have been successful if it wasn’t for the team effort. And the best part is, there was no trolling or negativity. We all understood from the start that we are all in this together. We aren’t technically competing with each other because all of our research reaches a different audience. There was a google group setup that allowed us to organize initiatives and spread information to each other, and this communication was extremely useful and positive.

The organization of the leaders of the Challenge was also impressive. I was involved in only the second #SciFund Challenge which was much larger in scope than the first challenge. The first email welcomed me to the program and provided a neat timeline of how the development of the proposal should flow. Then we would receive updates every few days that would help us stay on task and discuss extraneous details about the program that would be crucial to our success. Ultimately it was this organization that helped me maintain momentum throughout the proposal development process and ensure I uploaded to Rockethub on schedule.

Currently there are a few crowdfunding for science initiatives that have been released (Petridish.org and Microryza.com to name a couple). I haven’t experienced them, but I imagine those are a self-serve type site. If that is the case then I have no idea how crowdfunding research is successful on those sites unless you have a vast and wealthy network. I don’t think my crowdfunding campaign would have been as successful as it was without the support of the community and the organization of the leaders.

  • http://twitter.com/eperlste Ethan Perlstein

    I love what SciFund has done but I don’t think coordinated fund drives need be the only way scientific research gets crowdfunded. If an individual or small group of collaborators wishes to crowdfund on a lab website instead of an established crowdfunding portal, why shouldn’t they have every expectation to succeed if they use best practices and plan carefully? I see the benefit of safety (and advice) in numbers, but I would like to see crowdfunding scale to the point where lots of uncoordinated campaigns are happening all the time.

    • http://www.iheartanthony.com Anthony Salvagno

      I completely agree. I’ll be writing up my experiences about the actual scifund campaign in a few days, but based on how I received money (mostly from people I knew) I don’t see why I couldn’t have done that with just a paypal account and some emailing and social media messages. Jean-Claude Bradley told me they once had a paypal account on their lab website for donations. They didn’t receive much (or anything) from what I recall, but I don’t think they actively marketed their research for donations. The benefit of the SciFund group was that we could all learn from each other as far as working marketing schemes and proposal structure. Outreach was crucial as well. No one really plugged their own project. Whenever someone had a media outlet, they would sell SciFund as a whole. That has the potential to affect lots of projects instead of just one. And along with what you’ve said there are several companies building crowdfunding platforms for science so labs/groups/individuals can crowdfund on their own. Using this site may work a little easier in case there are people who just look at projects all day long looking to donate money (unlikely) as opposed to hoping one finds a lab website by random chance.

      • http://twitter.com/eperlste Ethan Perlstein

        I look forward to seeing your post-game analysis!