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The Philip M. Smith Graduate Research Grant for Cave and Karst Research

Deadline: March 1, 2024

Beginning in 2015, the Cave Research Foundation named the graduate research grant program in honor of Philip M. Smith, CRF's founding president (1957-1965). Philip Meek Smith (1932-2014), a native of Springfield, Ohio, and graduate of Ohio State University with degrees in geology and science education, was a national and international leader in science, technology, and public policy for five decades. He is best known for his work on polar research programs with the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, and the National Science Foundation, and served three U.S. presidents – Nixon, Ford, and Carter – on issues of science policy. From the 1950s through the 1960s, Smith was deeply involved in caving, helping to found the Central Ohio Grotto of the National Speleological Society and taking part in the NSS C3 expedition in Floyd Collins Crystal Cave, Kentucky.

In the early 1950s, there were few American scientists pursuing cave-related research, but advances in exploration like the C3 expedition showed immense potential for sustained exploration and study. CRF was formed to help provide this support, largely modeled on similar organizational support for the International Geophysical Year, in which Smith was then deeply involved. From its inception, CRF has always placed importance on multidisciplinary, integrated research.

Inspired by Phil Smith's lifelong support for science and his early influence on the organization of CRF, the graduate research grant program is dedicated in his memory.

Each academic year, CRF accepts proposals for graduate student research in cave and karst studies leading to either a master's or doctoral degree. Proposals may be in any field of the earth, natural, or social sciences as long as the research addresses topics related to caves or karst. The award ceiling is determined annually by the CRF Board of Directors; however, typically, four to six grants are awarded annually, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 each. Students must be enrolled in a degree-granting institution and preference is given to research directly related to the student's thesis or dissertation project. Competition is open to U.S. and international institutions, but application materials must be in English.

Application Guidelines

The application deadline is March 1 of each year.

The following materials are required as part of the application:

1.    A title and abstract. The abstract should not exceed 250 words and be understandable to a non-specialist audience. On this title page, indicate your departmental affiliation, major advisor, and whether this is a master's or doctoral project.

2.    A proposal describing the intended research. The body of the proposal should be no more than ten (10), single-spaced pages in length (12 pt. font, 1 inch margins) including tables and figures (references cited are not counted in this limit), and should discuss the problem to be addressed, background, significance of the research, especially as it relates to cave and karst studies, and methods to be used.

3.    A budget and proposed research schedule. Indicate other sources of funding or grant programs to which you are applying.

4.    A curriculum vitae. This should include a list of peer-reviewed papers, presentations at conferences, honors, and any other information relevant to your qualifications for research and professional work.

5.    Two (2) letters of reference. One letter must be from your graduate advisor or committee chair. These letters may be sent directly to the grant program chair by the referee.

In preparing the proposal, it is important to remember that several karst scientists will review the proposal. These scientists may include geologists, biologists, hydrologists, archaeologists, and others. Reviewers are more likely to support research that has broad significance to cave and karst studies.

Application material should be submitted electronically, preferably as a single Adobe Reader-type PDF file (items 1 through 4 above in order) to the Grant Committee co-Chairs, Dr. Patricia Kambesis ( and Dr. Kayla Sapkota (, by the deadline. If you do not have the capability to produce PDF files, electronic submission as a DOCX or RTF file format is acceptable. Do not send paper copies of the application material.

Applicants may wish to contact the grant committee chair prior to submitting a full proposal to discuss their research topic and appropriateness to the grant program.

Grant Conditions

It is recommended that an account for disbursing grant funds be set up through the student’s university if at all possible. You should contact your university's research and grant office before submitting your proposal to make sure this is possible and their requirements. The following conditions apply to all grants:

1.    University indirect or overhead costs (Facilities & Administrative Costs) may not be charged to the grant.

2.    The start date of the project is the date of the award letter and ends one year from that date.

3.    If the student has not completed all work on the project within that year, they should request a no-cost extension from the grant program chair. Provide a brief justification and estimated completion date.

4.    A check for the full amount of the award will be sent to the institution at the beginning of the award. Provide appropriate remittance information to the grant program chair and CRF Treasurer.

5.    At the end of the project, CRF would like a brief financial report of expenditures. If funds remain unspent they should be returned to CRF.

6.    The student will prepare a summary report of the research for publication in the CRF Annual Report. This report will be due three months after completion of the project. The report should be less than 2,000 words in length (excluding references) and may contain two or three figures or tables as appropriate.

7.    The Cave Research Foundation should be acknowledged as a supporter of the research in any publications deriving from the project.

Allowable Budget Items

1.    Travel costs to and from the field or while in the field. If driving, these costs should be itemized based on university motor pool rates or reasonable rates for use of a personal vehicle.

2.    Per diem or daily allowances for food and lodging while in the field. These costs should be itemized and reasonable.

3.    Expendable field or laboratory supplies necessary for the project. Itemize.

4.    Specialized analyses necessary to the project. Examples might include radiometric dating, isotopic analyses, and specimen thin sections.

5.    Specialized field or laboratory equipment, if it is necessary to the project and justifiable. Examples might include dedicated data loggers, specialized cave equipment, or other specialized measuring equipment.

Unallowable Budget Items

1.    Facility and Administrative costs.

2.    Salary for the principle investigator(s) or other student employees. Salary for field workers from the host country on international projects may be allowable if justified.

3.    General equipment or instruments that have a long use life outside the project, such as computers, cameras, scales, and software are generally not allowable unless they can be justified under number 5 above.

4.    Travel, lodging, and registration for scientific conferences.

Click the following links to see abstracts for grant recipients in previous years:


Page last updated or validated on May 26, 2023