We recently took a closer look at the types of issues and causes that the Autism Science Foundation has been supporting lately to get a better idea of how this foundation operates. Specifically, autism researchers should become familiar with the Autism Sisters Project, which explores why more boys are diagnosed with autism than girls, an overlooked area of research
But there really is no substitute for having a conversation with foundation leaders who make funding decisions and set promising ideas into motion. So to dive even deeper into ASF grantmaking, I connected with Chief Science Officer Alycia Halladay to ask a few questions.
To start, ASF is looking for new grantees right now, which is great news for researchers working in the field of autism and brain research.
Halladay said, “We are always looking for both experienced investigators outside of autism to bring their expertise to finding solutions for autism. We also love to support junior-level investigators who might have otherwise gone on to study another disorder devote their efforts to autism research.”
Before approaching any foundation for funding, it’s a good idea to understand the basic theory of change behind its grantmaking. When asked about ASF's theory of change, Halladay said:
ASF heavily invests in career development and training for junior-level researchers just starting out their careers. In this way, the investment is both on the research in the next few years and the workforce development of the next decade. This works! Our data shows that 80 percent of ASF fellows stay in autism research three years after their fellowship is over. ASF feels that this is a worthy investment. In addition, rather than fund something that is duplicative, we want ASF funds to be used to expand, enhance, or speed up other large-scale, multisite projects to make a difference in the lives of people with autism. In the end, ASF is looking for discoveries that have the potential to improve the lives of people with autism.
All ASF grantees are involved in the autism research community, as this is a single-issue funder. But there are certain specific characteristics that ASF grantees tend to share, Halladay says. “They volunteer in their communities, they seek educational opportunities outside their field of study, they respond to posts on ASF social media and are leaders at their universities," she said. "They want to become autism researchers, not just researchers who study things related to autism.”
We’ll end with a piece of advice that Halladay offers prospective grantees:
For an organization like ASF, applicants need to thoroughly consider the real-life implications of their research. How will their studies improve the lives of families with autism? This applies to even the basic neuroscience grants. Also, be persistent. If you don’t get the award the first time, read the peer reviews and comments. Use it as free expert evaluation.