Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About the Michigan Sea Grant Research Program

Q: What kind of research does Michigan Sea Grant fund?

Michigan Sea Grant funds three types of research that seek to better understand of the Great Lakes coastal ecosystem and socioeconomic dynamics: integrated assessments, core research, and graduate student fellowships. This portfolio approach was introduced in the 2015 Request for Proposals, expanding our scope to fund traditional research approaches resulting in data generation and analysis and also providing support for the next generation of Great Lakes scientists, in addition to Integrated Assessments. 

For more information on each of these approaches, see the sections below.

Q: Are there reporting and publications requirements for all projects and fellowships?

Yes, Michigan Sea Grant provides guidelines for reporting and publications. Reporting guidelines outline a general reporting schedule and requested content. Publication guidelines generally serve to guide development of public outreach materials (e.g., use of logos, acknowledgement statement, project reference number, etc.). All funded research teams and graduate student fellows must submit a final narrative report to Michigan Sea Grant. The report will be circulated for expert peer and stakeholder review, with feedback relayed to the principal investigator for the opportunity to incorporate final revisions before publication of the final report. Publication guidelines provide suggestions for the research report content.

Q: Does MSG have a data management plan?

Yes, all MSG-funded research teams will need to comply with a data management plan, Core Research teams and Fellows, see: NOAA Data Sharing Policy for Grants and Cooperative Agreements Procedural Directive. Integrated Assessment teams, see: Data Sharing Policy for IAs

FAQ Integrated Assessment

Q: What type of information does an Integrated Assessment provide?

Michigan Sea Grant supports research projects that take an Integrated Assessment approach to tackling complex environmental issues in the state. The goal of Integrated Assessment projects is to use the best available data and analytical tools to answer the following questions regarding a specific environmental issue. Depending on the needs of decision-makers, certain questions may be emphasized within the assessment.

  1. What is the current status of the environmental, social and economic conditions related to the issue?
  2. What are the historical trends related to the issue and what is likely to happen if no change is made?
  3. What are the likely social and environmental causes of the issue?
  4. How is the issue impacting people and the environment?
  5. What can be done to address the issue and how effective are the possible strategies?
  6. How can these strategies be implemented?
  7. How certain is our assessment of this issue? What other areas need to be studied?


Q: How does Sea Grant develop research topics?

Michigan Sea Grant works with state and local agencies that manage natural resources, community planning, or economic development along Michigan’s coasts. These management partners help Sea Grant identify a suite of potential issues and develop and approve the topics listed in each call for proposals.

Research topics align with Sea Grant’s four focus areas: hazard resilient coastal communities, healthy coastal ecosystems, safe sustainable seafood supply, sustainable coastal development. For additional information, see the Michigan Sea Grant Strategic Plan.


Q: Who participates in an Integrated Assessment?

An Integrated Assessment project involves:

  • Researchers from several disciplines form a technical assessment team
  • An agency sponsor, a natural resource manager or policy-maker who plans to use the results of the assessment
  • Stakeholders, including relevant community, business and government leaders
  • Sea Grant outreach specialists


Q: Are multidisciplinary teams required?

Yes, in most cases. Michigan Sea Grant supports the development of multidisciplinary teams that are able to address the increasingly complex natural resource management and policy issues in Michigan. These types of teams are being sought more frequently in federal and foundation proposal solicitations. Thus, Sea Grant research projects provide an opportunity to build a track record for multidisciplinary teams prior to seeking other types of funding support.


Q: How can researchers conduct such a complex project with a relatively small grant?

The focus of the Integrated Assessment approach is data analysis, synthesis, modeling, and stakeholder engagement. This methodology does not require the collection of new data, which is generally the most expensive element of academic research.

Research teams may seek to collaborate with local non-governmental organizations or government agencies. Collaborating with agencies that bring access to data and/or capacity to synthesize and process data is also a creative method of extending the project budget. Team members are also encouraged to apply for other relevant sources of funds to augment Michigan Sea Grant support. Thus, Sea Grant encourages team leaders to be as creative as possible in building project teams and budgets.


Q: How are stakeholders defined?

Stakeholders are defined as anyone who is affected by or who has an interest or stake in a particular issue. Stakeholders may include:

  • Key decision makers from local, state, federal or tribal government, including natural resource managers and city planners.
  • Business leaders and industry representatives.
  • Representatives from non-profit groups, churches, or other citizen organizations
  • Individuals from loosely defined user groups, such as anglers, recreational boaters, or farm owners.
  • Any other individual with an interest in the issue.


Q: What are the benefits of working with stakeholders?

Sea Grant’s Integrated Assessment projects are intended to support decision-making for Michigan’s coastal communities and coastal resources and understanding the needs of stakeholders is crucial to their success. For many issues, the decisions of businesses and user groups are part of the problem and therefore these stakeholders could be part of an innovative and effective solution. Studies have shown that audiences are more likely to see the results of an assessment as relevant and credible if they participated in the assessment. In addition, stakeholders often have access to, or at least know of, additional relevant data that will benefit the project.


Q: How can an Integrated Assessment address the social barriers that impede change?

Effective assessments must include all stakeholders, all of whom will have interests – political, economic, personal – at stake in the outcome of the integrated assessment. The purpose of effective stakeholder engagement is to identify all the interests and, through the IA process, ensure that they are adequately addressed so that the suite of resulting policy/management options takes these factors into account. At that point, the decision maker(s) using the results of the IA will have to weigh the impact of various options in their implementation decisions.


Q: How do stakeholders contribute to the research project?

From the outset, the research team will identify the most important stakeholders and, in many cases, will contact them in drafting their research proposal. The stakeholder engagement plan should be given implementation priority at the same level as data collection and analysis. The research team should keep stakeholders updated on progress of the assessment and regularly invite feedback through meetings, workshops, or online tools.

Some stages of the Integrated Assessment can only be accomplished through discussions with decision makers and the range of stakeholders.

  • Defining the problem within the decision-making context
  • Establishing goals for the region
  • Integrating expert opinions and local knowledge
  • Identifying feasible management/policy options
  • Identifying potential challenges to implementing solutions
  • Reviewing results and identifying overlooked or less tangible factors, such as impacts to quality of life.


Q: How can Sea Grant assist with stakeholder engagement?

Engaging policy-makers, community members, and the media requires time and skills that may be beyond the scope of a traditional research team. A Sea Grant extension educator who works in the study area will partner with the research team to support the process of identifying and engaging stakeholders. This educator and other outreach specialists are also available to help plan and facilitate workshops and inform targeted audiences about the project. Because Sea Grant has established community connections, outreach specialists maintain relationships with decision-makers and community members long after a research project has ended, providing continuity and enabling lasting impacts.


Q: Can research teams tap into Sea Grant’s communication and public outreach capabilities?

Yes. Project managers need to use creative outreach techniques to attract stakeholders and gather the necessary feedback. Framing the assessment in a meaningful way can help motivate local or regional involvement. Sea Grant communication professionals work with researchers to develop web materials, factsheets, stakeholder surveys, and press releases.


Q: How do you determine the success of an Integrated Assessment?

Four criteria have been used to evaluate integrated assessments:

  • Credibility: Measured by the peer review process and the general acceptance of the science by the scientific community.
  • Value/Salience: Assessed by evaluating its relevance to the policy questions being addressed.
  • Legitimacy: Established by the extent of engagement of a wide range of stakeholders in the development and review of the assessment, and whether the process was deemed fair and objective.
  • Effectiveness: Best measured by two factors – did the integrated assessment make a difference in a policy outcome and/or did it influence how policy makers understand the problem.


FAQ: Core Research

Q: What does Core Research encompass?

Core research projects investigate issues that affect the Great Lakes ecosystem using traditional research methods and approaches. Our core research projects may encompass ecological and social science approaches toward improved understanding of Great Lakes systems. Core research typically collects, develops and assesses new data and tools.

Q: Does the Core Research competition support social science proposals?

Yes, a social science research proposal would be considered if it addresses the focal areas of the Michigan Sea Grant Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan focuses generally on critical issues relative to the Great Lakes coastal and ecosystem resources and ecosystem services. If a pre-proposal addressed ecosystem services and one or more of the aspects of the MSG strategic plan, that should meet the RFP goals. The applicant should describe how the research will be directly linked to the Strategic Plan and address a critical issue relative to the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Q: Can Core Research teams collaborate with the MSG communications team?

Yes, the Michigan Sea Grant communications team is available to assist with public outreach, research communications and general publicity. Depending on the project, Michigan Sea Grant Extension and extension educators may also be available if appropriate.


FAQ: Graduate Student Fellowships

Q: What does the Michigan Sea Grant Graduate Student Fellowship entail?

New in 2015, these fellowships are for one- to two-years for graduate students enrolled full-time at Michigan universities. MSG Graduate Student Fellowships support graduate student research focused on issues relevant to current Great Lakes ecological, habitat or fisheries management issues. Research fellows will work with an agency sponsor and faculty member to conduct a research project that supports existing Great Lakes research programs at federal, tribal and state agencies.

  • Supports exceptional graduate students (M.S. or Ph.D.) engaged in research relevant to the Great Lakes, ongoing agency research efforts, and to the Michigan Sea Grant Strategic Plan.
  • Fellows will work with an agency mentor to ensure results are useful and contribute to ongoing Great Lakes research.
  • Fellows will be provided with professional development opportunities that include conducting a research project, data collection and analysis, and preparation of project reports and presentation materials.
  • Fellowships are available every two years. For more information, see: Fellowship Opportunities.

Q: Do I have to be enrolled at a Michigan institution at the time of the application, or would I only have to be enrolled at the time the fellowship actually starts?

Students do not need to be enrolled in a Michigan institution to apply for funding (due May 29); however they do need to show that they have been accepted to a graduate program at an accredited Michigan university. This allows prospective students to apply for funding, with proof of enrollment provided prior to release of funds.

Q: What sponsors are required?

Students need to have an academic advisor and agency sponsor. Students can recruit their own agency sponsor. While the faculty advisor must be based at a Michigan institution, the agency sponsor does not have to be based in Michigan (e.g., EPA, NASA or other federal sponsor).

The proposed research should support existing Great Lakes research programs at federal, tribal and state agencies. By “state agency” we do intend for the agency sponsor to come from a public agency (e.g., MDNR, MDEQ) versus a non-profit group (e.g., watershed council, Trout Unlimited).