Social Sciences Receives $7.4 Million in Research Grants

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UC Santa Cruz’s social science division recently acquired $7.4 million in research grants. The projects funded by this money are diverse, with topics ranging from drought and climate change, to student success factors in public schools, to democracy and youth voting, and immigration and citizenship — just to name a few.

Kyle Eischen, assistant dean for academic planning and research in the division of social sciences, said the amount recently announced is a normal sum given to social science research. While the amount might be standard, Eischen said research is central to UCSC’s mission as a public university, as numerous graduate and undergraduate students participate in research projects during their academic careers.

“It is the kind of research that will change how people think when it is finalized, be taught in classes by our professors and graduate students and then finally inform public policy decisions our government makes,” Eischen said.

Grants come in intermittently throughout the year, and each researcher averages one grant per year, Eischen said via e-mail. Writing and submitting grants takes a long duration of time, so once a grant is recieved, the focus shifts to actually conducting the research. Even after the lengthy grantwriting process, there is no guarantee researchers will receive the grant they request.

“It is important to remember all of these awards are competitive, meaning our faculty or student researchers apply to be funded and then are judged against their peers across the country,” Eischen said.

Gregory Gilbert, professor and graduate director in the environmental studies department, is one UCSC faculty member who received grant money for two exclusive projects. Gilbert said he finds fulfillment in his dual profession of professor and researcher.

“I am here [at UCSC] because of the combination of teaching and research,” Gilbert said. “I learned a ton about what is most important to teach by doing research, and one of the most exciting parts of working with students is introducing them to how you learn about the world — not just facts.”

One of Gilbert’s grants, referred to as “New, GK-12 SCWIBLES: Santa Cruz-Watsonville Inquiry-Based Learning in Environmental Sciences,” accounted for $472,162 of the total grant money.

The grant, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), places graduate students in science classes at Watsonville High School in an attempt to develop hands-on inquiry-based learning for the next generation’s environmental problem-solvers.

The second grant Gilbert incurred is known as “Phylogenetic Analysis for the Data Archival and Reporting Project,” with $33,000 funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This project is a collaborative effort using Gilbert’s basic research with the objective to provide decision-making suggestions to government agencies responsible for agriculture and environmental safety when dealing with pests.

The GK-12 grant is currently in its fourth out of five years — the listing of the recent grant was the transfer of the final funding to the campus — while the USDA grant is in the third renewal of this annual collaboration.

While Ph.D. student Jacopo Magnani balances his studies with job searching for post-graduation employment, he strives to refine his doctoral dissertation. Working with UCSC economics professor Daniel Friedman on his doctoral dissertation “Financial Circuit Breakers: Theory and Experiments,” Magnani received $25,925 from the NSF to fund his research. Eischen emphasizes the prestige associated with research grants such as Magnani’s.

“The funding coming to the division is because the questions we are asking are seen as valuable and needed,” Eischen said. “It is not generosity behind the NSF granting a graduate student a dissertation grant, but a belief in the work the students and their department are doing.”

Although the terms and concepts littered throughout Magnani’s research project summary may appear somewhat dense to those unfamiliar with his field of work, his desire to learn and discover through experimentation is transparent in the section explaining his research’s main aim.

“The broader impact includes the ongoing policy debate on the regulation of financial markets,” according to Magnani’s summary. “[The project] will highlight the key determinants of the effectiveness of circuit breakers, such as the quality of information available to the market participants.”

Each research proposal is stapled with a budget framing what the researcher anticipates is necessary to complete the research.

“[Budget framing] involves a whole range of activities from simple travel, to supporting graduate work on the project, to buying essential equipment,” Eischen said.

The majority of social science’s research funding comes through federal government sources like the NSF and National Institutes of Health (NIH). The social sciences division has also been supported by private foundations, such as Hewlett and Spencer.

When asked about the relationship between funding from outside sources and the necessities of research, Eischen said research grants optimize the potential for discovery and the overall experience of researchers.

“While research would still take place without funding, our success in getting funding creates new opportunities to ask questions and generate knowledge that couldn’t be done the same way without [it],” Eischen said. “This is particularly true for us in the social sciences, where our work takes us into the community and around the world.”