Success! Michelle Spicer (Lehigh MS student) has successfully obtained funding for her forest research using the relatively new method of crowdfunding (see previous post). Admittedly, I had some doubts about the crowdfunding model when I first heard about it, particularly how successful it would be at engaging the public in science research. I also wondered how much of the funding for these projects was typically obtained from the general public versus immediate friends and family of the investigator. However, Michelle’s research topic seemed to be well suited to crowdfunding so I was excited when she decided to give it a try. She ended up being more successful than I would have guessed.
Michelle exceeded her funding goal, and was able to attract contributors from outside of her immediate network of family and friends. Her proposal was funded by 23 individuals, and although 10 of these individuals were family and close friends, this group of people only provided about 20% of the total funds. About 80% of the funds were from people that were outside of her immediate network, and these were nearly all people that she had never personally met; i.e., friends of family, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, Lehigh University alumni, and people that found her proposal through SciFund, Rockethub, and their networks. The median contribution was $25, although contributions ranged from $10 to $1000. Most surprising to me was that the two largest contributions ($500 and $1000) were from people that she had never met.
It is also worth noting that through this process, Michelle’s SciFund proposal was shared extensively on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets – and therefore a lot of people learned about her project and the Lehigh Experimental Forest. Clearly the process of engaging the public and alumni in this project has only just begun, and Michelle has already had some nice correspondence with some of her funders. Michelle plans to post updates of her research progress on her blog, In the Forgotten Forest, where anyone interested may post comments, suggestions, and questions as her research progresses. A big thanks to all the funders, and to all of the people that “shared”, “liked”, and “tweeted” Michelle’s proposal.
“And if three whole people, why not — four? And if four whole people, why not–more, and more, and more….” – Snoopy and the Peanuts
There has been much recent discussion on the role of crowdfunding in scientific research (for example, see here and here). Crowdfunding is the public funding of projects or ideas of organizations or individuals, typically via the internet. Described as “sort of a combination of venture capitalism and social networking” by the bloggers at Jabberwocky Ecology, several organizations have emerged to support this funding model for the scientific community (e.g., Petridish, #SciFund Challenge). What role will crowdfunding play in science research funding? How important will this funding source be in the future? Will it shape the way some science is done? Will it lead to greater interaction between scientists and non-scientists? The verdict is still out on these and other questions, but at a minimum it seems like a fun way to potentially fund small projects and engage the public in scientific research. So…..a student in our research group has decided to give it a try….
Michelle Spicer, a graduate student in earth and environmental science at Lehigh University, is currently part of the third round of the #SciFund Challenge. Her proposed research is focused on understanding the ecological history of the Lehigh Experimental Forest, a plot of land overlooking Lehigh University that was systematically planted with various tree species as a forestry experiment back in 1915 (see this previous post for details). However, the experiment was forgotten about by the 1950s and Michelle hopes to assess the outcome today… a century after it was planted. In particular, she hopes to conduct a thorough survey of the present-day vegetation, compare the present-day vegetation with what was originally planted, and determine the history of forest changes using tree rings and aerial photographs. Her video proposal is embedded below…if you like it, head on over to Rockethub to view the rest of the details and, if you like, contribute to its success! Even $1 or $5 contributions add up, and as a funder she will keep you informed of her research activities and results as they emerge.