Applying for financial grants to fund research, academically-related travel, and other expenses is often part and parcel of the graduate student experience. Especially when working on a PhD, you might find yourself regularly seeking funding for conference attendance, research and travel, or summer language acquisition programs. While the money is out there, competition is at an all-time high, and it can therefore seem daunting to even enter the applicant pool and submit a proposal. It is far from impossible, however, to receive generous grants that make the difference in your life experience, research and writing, and the job market. Below are the top tips and tricks for writing a stellar grant proposal.
5 tips for writing a winning grant proposal
- Make your project match the grant, or scratch it!
Often, we see a grant and are eager to apply: It offers generous funding, it allows for travel or for doing important and exciting fieldwork, or it allows us to attend and network at a conference we otherwise wouldn’t be at. However, in this excitement, it is important to always ask: Is this the right grant for me? How do you answer that question? Here are three pointers:
a. Ask yourself if you fit the qualifications specified. Are you in the age/educational stage/nationality bracket specified? Are there slight discrepancies, or major gaps (e.g., a prerequisite degree to have earned that you do not possess, a gender requirement with which you do not identify, etc.)?
b. Consider the amount of work that will be necessary to reframe your proposal and in order for it to reflect the grant committee’s interests. Your project might be right in line with the grant description provided, or you might only have a tenuous connection to the sort of material the committee wants to see. Is it worth investing the time to make massive revisions on your work, or worse, fabricate your interests and goals to get this funding? Remember: Grant committees can usually see through a poor match for their funding.
c. How much do you need this funding for your work, and how much does it simply seem attractive to receive extra funding/travel privileges, etc.? Sometimes, there are easier grants to receive, or times when you’ll need a grant more than you do now; remind yourself that it is okay to say NO to a grant opportunity right now, and look back into it down the road.
- Have a S.M.A.R.T. goal.
Often, grant proposals will ask you how you plan to use grant money if you receive it; other proposals can be vague, asking for a general “letter of intent” or “personal statement” without specifying what specifically the grant committee would like to know. You will set yourself apart by using these letters/statements/proposals as an opportunity to get specific and show that you have a plan already in place for using the grant money productively and efficiently. The key is to articulate what productivity gurus call a S.M.A.R.T. goal: a specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goal. For example, you might change a generic proposal for funding, such as,
“I would like to receive funding in order to go to England to learn more about Charles Dickens”
“If granted this generous funding, I plan to use these funds for a two-week research trip to the UK, in order to develop my dissertation chapter devoted to Dickensian narrative. I will visit the National Art Library in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where I have received curatorial permission to access two of Charles Dickens’ handwritten manuscripts of David Copperfield. This research will allow me to gain firsthand insight into the narrative and editorial processes of Dickens’ writing.”
Here, you have gotten much more specific: You’ve told the committee exactly what they would be investing their money in. A two-week trip to a very specific location, to examine a finite number of manuscripts you’ve already received permission to access, and which is relevant to a particular chapter of your dissertation, sounds like a very doable goal that will help you make lasting and interesting contributions to your field. Always, always refer back to the S.M.A.R.T. paradigm when putting together a grant proposal; it’s amazing how much improvement you’ll make on your original draft!
- Be timely in all of your communications.
You will likely be communicating with multiple parties as you put together your grant application: the grant committee, your thesis advisor, any additional recommenders, and any host institution or program coordinator. In all these interactions, put your best foot forward. That means: make sure to be on top of deadlines, and give recommenders at least one month to write you a recommendation. (Note: Some recommenders prefer two months of notice, while others, if scheduling allows, will write a last-minute recommendation.) Also, remember that your grant proposal is NOT at the top of anyone’s priority list except your own. In other words you need to remind recommenders to submit recommendations; check in with the grant committee to see if your materials have been received; and make sure your arrangements are made in a timely and responsible manner.
- Remember that your work is worth the funding.
Countless conversations with clients and colleagues alike have taught me that it is worth remembering: You are interesting, and your goals and past experiences are interesting. Your interests and research goals are worth funding! If you consider yourself boring or uninteresting, you can be sure there’s no chance of conveying a different self-image to the reader! So, convey pride and confidence in your work. Don’t be arrogant, but rather, present a matter-of-fact air about your work and your ability to deliver on your proposal goals, bringing in evidence from your CV and other past experiences to demonstrate your record for stellar and timely work.
- Know that Accepted is here for you!
Here at Accepted, we help help clients master application writing, or self-presentation to a committee of scholarly individuals dealing with a competitive applicant pool. We can help you, too.
Do you need help finding your strengths, accentuating your accomplishments, and presenting the most compelling explanations for why YOU deserve the funding you seek? Contact Accepted to get started.
With 30 years of career/admissions experience at four universities, including Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Business and College of Engineering, Dr. Karin Ash has met with thousands of recruiters seeking to hire the best students from leading schools. She has served as a member of the admissions committee, ensuring that the applicants who ultimately enroll are a good fit for the program and prime candidates for employers. Karin has been a Consultant with Accepted for 8 years and has facilitated students’ entry into top engineering, data science, MBA, and other STEM graduate MEng, MS, and PhD programs. Her clients have been accepted into MIT, the University of Chicago, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, UPenn, and USC. Want Karin to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
- Get Your Game On: Prepping For Your Grad School ApplicationGet Your Game On: Prepping for Your Grad School Application, a free guide
- How to Write Your Master’s in Engineering Statement of Purpose
- How This Student Got Accepted to MIT’s Engineering Program and Landed a Job at Apple, podcast Episode 460
- A Harvard PhD Student and Admissions Consultant Shares Her Story, a podcast episode
- 5 Lessons Learned When Winning a Fulbright on the Third Try
- A USC Rossier Student Discusses Grad School for Education, and Post-Graduation Goals, an interview with a graduate student and senior research administrator