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Graduate Student Corner- Summer 2015

Applying for Grants and Fellowships in Graduate School

An important, if not crucial, aspect of graduate training is applying for (and hopefully receiving) research grants. The grant writing and application process provides valuable experience to graduate students for myriad reasons, including:

  1. Finding sources for grant and fellowship opportunities;
  2. Narrowing in on research topics that interest you;
  3. Discovering new data sets and methodological approaches;
  4. Navigating research design with a budget;
  5. Connecting with research mentors;
  6. Honing persuasive writing skills;
  7. Meeting deadlines;
  8. Receiving feedback on your research ideas from experienced scholars;
  9. Swallowing your pride rejection after rejection;
  10. Revising, resubmitting, revising, resubmitting, revising, resubmitting…
  11. Being awarded a grant or fellowship – which leads to more grants, as money tends to follow money;
  12. Getting a job, etc.


Applying for grants is an inevitable part of professional development and like many aspects of graduate school; it can be intimidating and frustrating.

You’ll likely apply for quite a few grants before you are awarded one. In Kyl’s three years of graduate school, she has applied for five grants for solo projects and has yet to be awarded. However, her fifth grant application was exponentially better than her first, second, third, and fourth grant applications and she now has a feasible dissertation topic thanks to the handful of research proposals she has written.

Gaining insight from people who have been awarded grants or who sit on grant reviewing committees is extremely helpful when preparing to apply for research funding. Even talking to people with “unsuccessful” grant writing experience can shed light on what they’ve learned.

Claire Renzetti, Professor of Sociology and DWC member, shared some grant writing advice with us from her 20+ years experience as a grant reviewer for NIJ and NSF.

GSC: What do you think are the most important aspects of a great grant proposal?

CR: Based on my experience, I would say that among the most important elements of a successful grant proposal are a compelling research question and a sound research design (including an appropriate sample, data collection strategy, and data analysis plan) to answer that research question.  The applicant needs to convincingly demonstrate that what she or he wants to study is worth studying and that she or he has the ability to study it well.

GSC: What three things are your grant proposal pet peeves?

CR: (1) Probably what bothers me most when reviewing a proposal is when an applicant does not respond to the CFP (e.g., she or he proposes a study that simply does not fit with what the funder has specifically identified as what they are willing to fund); (2) when the applicant does not follow the directions in the CFP or submits an application with required elements missing; (3) and when the proposal and supporting materials are riddled with typos and grammatical errors.  If you think about it, why would a funder entrust someone with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars if that individual is not careful in responding to the CFP or does not bother to proofread their application.

Graduate school is the perfect place to work on your grant writing skills and acquire a nice “funded by _______” line on your CV before hitting the job market. Start early, respond to CFPs appropriately, and proofread before clicking submit!

Good Luck!

Graduate Student Corner

Kyl Myers, Janne Gaub, and Jordanna Navarro