Heather Tipaldos, Mark Chaves, Gale Boyd, Jenny Tung

Getting the right funding is crucial to innovative research, but navigating the ins and outs of the process can take valuable time away from the research itself. For scholars at Duke, the Social Science Research Institute is committed to making this process as smooth and efficient as possible so the real focus can be the research.

Led by Grants Program Director Heather Tipaldos, the team of eight offers a full menu of support for researchers, from pre-award to post-award services.

This includes coordinating preparation of materials for proposal submission, establishing administrative structures for awarded projects, ensuring project requirements like IRB approvals are in place, and providing ongoing support for reporting requirements.

It’s a do-it-all shop that helps scholars find, secure, and fulfill funding opportunities and their requirements.

And Tipaldos, naturally, is thrilled her team can provide this service to researchers across Duke and Duke Health.

“The team is really bonded,” she said. “We support each other and go to each other with questions and our needs. We’re constantly sharing and talking about ways to accomplish the work better.”

Supporting Research across Duke

True to the interdisciplinary mission of the Institute, faculty from across Duke University and the Duke University Health System have used SSRI as a resource for their social science-related research activities.

Scholars at the Sanford School of Public Policy, the Nicholas School of the Environment, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences departments, Oncology, and Epidemiology have worked with SSRI grant specialists to secure funding for their work.

And this year has seen a number of new awards for scholars at Duke.

From researching the housing market in the Great Lakes to methods for increasing college access for Appalachian girls, the projects represent a number of different approaches and disciplines tackling important social issues.

What Faculty Are Saying: Sociology

For nearly twenty years, Mark Chaves has made it his mission to gather data on American religious practices and preferences to locate trends in how Americans worship. A professor with appointments in sociology, religious studies, and divinity, his interest in religion stems from his childhood in Queens, New York, where his father was a Presbyterian minister.

Growing up in the church, Chaves became interested in American religion and worship when teachings at his Lutheran parochial school differed from his Presbyterian church in some key ways.

This interest developed into an impressive career investigating American religion.

He’s since guided three waves of the National Congregation Study, a survey of nationally representative samples of congregations. Approximately 1,200 leaders of mosques, synagogues, churches, and Hindu temples are interviewed for the study. The fourth wave has received the go-ahead with funding from the Lily Endowment.

With the help of the SSRI grants team, Chaves secured that funding and an award from the John Templeton Foundation for a related project entitled the National Study of Religious Leaders.

“The idea is to do a follow-up study of the leaders associated with these congregations so that we’ll have a profile of them as well as their congregation,” Chaves said.

The researchers will then have a more fleshed out picture of the data with responses from the congregations and their leaders, assistants, and other key figures.

For Chaves, the grants team has been a valuable resource. At Duke for 11 years, he’s worked with them regularly to secure grants for his work.

“I’m trying to focus on the substance of the research,” he said. “So it’s been very helpful having this guidance shepherding [the proposal] through all of Duke’s internal systems and the other approval processes. I’m sure they’ll be as helpful with post-award management too.”

What Faculty Are Saying: SSRI

For economist Gale Boyd, working with the grants teams at SSRI just makes sense. After all, as associate research professor at SSRI, he has grants specialists literally around the corner from his office.

But even when that wasn’t the case and his appointment was in economics, Boyd drew on their expertise for his work with federal and sensitive data.

In addition to his research, Boyd also serves as director of the Triangle Research Data Center (TRDC) on Duke’s campus. It’s one of 27 secure federal statistical research centers managed by the U.S. Census Bureau. Through the TRDC, he is able to work with specialized data sets that require extra layers of security.

When the strict environment of the TRDC isn’t required, Boyd often relies on the Protected Research Data Network (PRDN) at SSRI. The PRDN provides a secure environment for sensitive data from other, non-government sources.

Using the TRDC and the PRDN, Boyd conducts research in multiple economic areas, including industrial energy demand, emissions, and productivity. He’s worked specifically on the EPA Energy Star voluntary energy efficiency program for some time now through a series of EPA grants.

Recently, he was awarded a grant by National Resources Canada to expand his study of the Energy Star program to industry in both the U.S. and Canada.

“We have requirements that aren’t typical of [National Science Foundation] or [National Institutes of Health] types of grants, so I work very closely with the grants team here to meet the requirements,” Boyd said. “They’ve made what would otherwise be a much more complicated life simpler. Having a partner in that process is really important.”

What Faculty Are Saying: Evolutionary Anthropology

Associate Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology Jenny Tung studies the role of gene regulation in explaining social environmental effects on fertility, health, and survival across the life course using mammalian models for human health.

These mammalian models have included a population of wild baboons in Kenya through a collaboration with the Amboseli Baboon Research Project, rhesus macaques in captivity, and meerkats through a collaboration with the Kalahari Meerkat Project.

Throughout her time at Duke, Tung has worked with the SSRI grants team for her research activities. Together, they’ve secured a number of recent grants for Tung’s work.

“[They] are incredibly valuable to us and we love working with them,” Tung said. “They’re organized and responsive and we have great rapport. We submitted a lot of grants last [academic] year and I think we couldn’t have done it without them.”

These awards include a National Science Foundation RAPID grant for a project on the Damaraland mole rat in South Africa.

This funding mechanism is used for proposals having a severe urgency with regard to availability of, or access to, data. It’s often used for proposals that collect data from recent or ongoing natural disasters.

For this research, Tung’s funding supports travel for herself and a postdoc to South Africa to collect samples from an established lab that she’s collaborated with previously and that specializes in the Damaraland mole rat. The initial experiment was ran by another lab and planned to close, so Tung and her researchers needed immediate access to funds to collect what they needed before the colony of mole rats was no longer available to study.

“I was in Kenya at the time doing fieldwork on baboons,” Tung said. “I think this is a great example of the kind of work that simply won’t happen if you don’t have excellent grants support.”

Originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of GIST by the Duke Social Science Research Institute (SSRI)

Photo, left to right: Heather Tipaldos, Mark Chaves, Gale Boyd, Jenny Tung