In the wake of Sandy, GradFund sends our best wishes to everyone affected by the storm and its aftermath. We know that many of you have looming deadlines, and that you may have lost a week or more of time to revise. If you are suffering from last-minute doubts, you may even be considering not submitting your application. Unless your award program limits the number of times you can re-apply, we encourage you to submit even a less-than-perfect proposal: Your chances of winning are vastly better if you apply than if you don’t, and reviewer comments have helped many an applicant (including the author) be successful in a subsequent application cycle. Therefore, we wanted to devote this blog post to the final edit: When you are out of time (and perhaps out of patience) with a proposal, how do you make the last few days count?
If by some chance you have not yet received feedback from your faculty advisor and letter writers, we suggest that you will want to get in touch with them ASAP. Not only will they have a critical, discipline-specific perspective on your research proposal that no other reader can duplicate, their letters of recommendation will be more compelling if they are able to discuss the specifics of your application. If you are only now showing them your essays for the first time, mention the pending deadline and explain that you understand that they may not have time to provide in-depth advice.
Next, carefully re-read the award program solicitation and any information on the funder’s website. Have you prepared all of the necessary materials according to the guidelines? Have you followed any recommendations the funder provides for a successful application? Have you answered all the questions asked in the prompts directly and specifically? Have you used your written materials to appeal directly to the funding program goals and the review criteria? If you have any doubts (or even if you don’t), go back through your application and try to label each sentence or paragraph according to the review criteria it targets. Ask yourself if that narrative element is serving its purpose as effectively as possible, and whether it is specific, detailed, and unique to you as an applicant.
Then, go back to basics and review your documents for spelling, consistent verb tense usage, subject-verb agreement, awkwardness of phrasing, or other writing issues. If possible, have a friend or relative help you with this part of the process, since catching these problems in our own writing can be difficult. If you can’t find someone to help, try changing fonts and font sizes to make the document look less familiar to you and help you catch errors (but don’t forget to change it back afterward!). Reading aloud is a great way to detect an awkward sentence or unclear clause.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, submit your application early! If the online application system becomes overwhelmed by traffic, or if you experience technical difficulties on your end, the funder is unlikely to extend the deadline or provide you with an alternate submission process. In many cases, program officers and tech support staff are too swamped the day of the deadline to be able to assist everyone who needs them. So take a deep breath, hit “submit” early, and congratulate yourself for your hard work and all that you learned along the way (regardless of the outcome)!