Crowdsourced funding sites have been around for just about five years but have gained attention and popularity in the past year or so, perhaps because of a downturn in the U.S. economy. The economic model of sites like RocketHub and KickStarter isn’t new – it’s a way of raising funds by offering rewards, such as the much joked-about tote bag from PBS fund drives.
What is new, though, is using crowdfunding to support archaeological science. The first project I saw to use this method was Colleen Morgan’s Maenander Project, which raised over $5,000 to support archaeological excavation in Turkey. Since I launched the Roman DNA Project, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my reasons for using crowdfunding to raise money for my research. There are actually several factors that encouraged me to become involved in crowdfunding in general and in the #SciFund Challenge in particular. In no specific order:
- I got my PhD last year but haven’t landed an academic position yet, as the job market for bioarchaeologists has taken a nose-dive since the early-to-mid 2000’s. Sometimes the job market feels like a catch-22 – like you need to have a research project to get a job, but you need the academic affiliation a job provides you to apply for grant funding for your project. There are granting opportunities for independent or adjunct scholars like myself, and I’ve applied for them (such as the Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship through Wenner-Gren and a summer stipend through the NEH), but not having a permanent affiliation means I can’t apply for many large research grants. Crowdfunding is therefore a great way to launch a research project that I’m incredibly excited about without waiting until I am tenure-track faculty.
- The funding situation for science in the U.S. is bleak at the moment, with government- and state-level budget cuts lessening the pool of money available to fund researchers. I’ve received money for previous research from granting agencies, but the time between submission of a proposal and (successful) funding is often quite long. In anthropology, it might be a year between the submission of a grant application and successful funding. If your proposal is unsuccessful, you’re back at square one, and have to spend more time applying for money. Another problem is that, even though many anthropologists are doing cutting-edge science, as a discipline we’re fairly poorly funded because we’re not a “hard” science. Submitting the Roman DNA Project through a crowdfunding site is an interesting way of raising money outside of the traditional bounds of academic/governmental granting agencies. I don’t think crowdfunding can fully replace the traditional avenues of science funding, since our best bet to raise $20,000-100,000 for an archaeological dig or other large-scale project is still through NSF, Wenner-Gren, or NEH, but it’s an excellent way of drumming up financial and moral support for a pilot project, which might in turn generate enough data to make a larger grant easier to get.
- I’m committed to bringing science to the public, and I try to communicate my passion for my research through multiple media: in print in academic journals, of course, but also through blogging (at PoweredByOsteons.org and as a guest blogger elsewhere), tweeting, and public talks (you can catch me at Middle Tennessee State University on Wednesday at 4pm!). I’ve had an online presence for years, but I’ve never directly engaged the public in my research. Joining the #SciFund Challenge seemed the perfect way to do this – to bring my research to the people who are most interested in it and to convince them to become stakeholders in the process of science.
The short answer, then, to the question, “Why crowdfunding?” is that joining #SciFund with a bunch of other scientists seemed like a great way to jumpstart my professional career with a research project that the public might be quite interested in supporting. With over $1,600 raised in less than a week and with people tweeting and sharing the project all over the internet, I’m thrilled that people are intrigued by my project and am really looking forward to carrying out this research.