Dear Graduate Students,
This series of GradFunding Advice comes from your fellow graduate students across campus. One of the things that I like best about working with graduate students applying for fellowships is that I get to witness students develop as researchers and writers. Stanley has always been an excellent scholar, but when I edited some grants for him (again) this fall, I was so pleased. In the space of a year, he had really turned a corner in terms of his ability to articulate his research and its significance to a wide audience. This development came because of his persistence through several initial disappointments. Below, I’ll let you read in Stanley’s own words what happened this year.
Hi! I am Stanley Donahoo, a third year PhD candidate in the Department of Linguistics. My minor is in the GIDP Cognitive Science. My research explores how we come to understand the meaning of language beyond what is literally said and how that knowledge is represented in the human mind/brain. This research area is known as experimental pragmatics, which currently receives a lot of federal support in Germany.
My personal experience in securing a grant or fellowship is: Apply! Apply early, apply often, apply to multiple grants, re-apply.
In my second year, I applied to both the DAAD long-term research grant and the Fulbright research grant to study and collect data in Germany, where I would be surrounded by experts at every turn. Thus, when I found out I was a non-select for DAAD and an Alternate for Fulbright, I was devastated.
Failure is part of the process, though. After a lot of re-writing and tweaking, I re-applied to both grants again in the fall of my third year. In that time, I spent many hours collecting perspectives from diverse backgrounds on my materials. This spring, I found out I was an Alternate for Fulbright and thought that everything was going to be a repeat of the year before. But, a week later, DAAD announced that I was an awardee! And, shortly after that, I got good news from another funding source, the Studienstiftung des Abgeordnetenhauses von Berlin! In a year, I went from no grants to having to choose between two. While all three grants were written with the same project in mind, they were quite different in their substance. It’s important to know your granting institute – that goes a long way in achieving a positive outcome.
This is also to say that you shouldn’t take rejection personally—determining who does and doesn’t get funding can sometimes seem really arbitrary as an applicant. As a non-awardee, feedback on your materials is sometimes non-existent, and you’re left wondering why your project didn’t get funded. Nevertheless, incorporate any feedback you do receive into your next application and keep moving forward.
Getting feedback on your application is just one of the reasons why it’s important to seek help in the grant writing process. Find someone (your advisor or another department member) in your field to read your proposal and make sure you represent the big picture well. But also ask someone outside of your field to read your grant materials as well. Communicating your research to a lay audience is not just an important skill in fostering scientific literacy, but one that will help to convey your message to a grant review board which may not have any specialists in your area on it. Relaying your research without relying on too much jargon makes for a much more fundable project, and is a skill that will serve you well in almost any career path.
Please apply to as many grants as fit your research. Don’t wait until you hear back from one to start another; notifications can take more than six months for major fellowships. The process is emotional but ultimately rewarding, no matter the final decision. Even though I didn’t receive a grant the first time around, it really helped me to define a concrete research project which led to a lot of other great outcomes, like conference presentations and research collaborations. If you feel overwhelmed, start small. Submit a proposal to an internal grant first, and then use feedback there to revise for a larger external grant.
Grant writing takes a lot of time and planning ahead, but there are some excellent resources here on campus. Take advantage of these, and reach out to people who have applied in the past to your target grant.