Many fellowships and grants require either an informal or formal timeline to be included with your proposal. The best timelines are persuasive documents that give reviewers the sense that you have a good idea of how your research is going to proceed, and that the work you are proposing is feasible in the time you have. It is important to make sure that you are as specific possible about the work involved in your project, while not giving the reviewers the impression that you’re stretching yourself too thin. This post talks about the way a timeline functions for each application type, strategies for writing the timeline, and different ways to structure the timeline.
Timelines for Different Funding Types
Even if your award will last several years, or the funder doesn’t ask for a timeline specifically, a good proposal often contains a discussion of what your educational goals are, and how long you imagine it will take you to accomplish these goals. If you have room in the application, we recommend including a paragraph or so about the way you envision your graduate career progressing. This shows that you have thought through the amount of time it takes to do the research you are proposing, and that you understand the discrete steps involved in the process of completing your graduate degree.
Grants and Research Fellowships
If you are applying for a pre-dissertation or dissertation research grant or fellowship, you will generally be funded for a discrete amount of time, usually between 6 and 12 months. As you write the proposal, provide the committee as specific an idea as you can of what you will be doing during that time – what each step in your research process will be. If you are conducting an experiment, walk through each phase of the experiment in the proposal, providing a rough idea of how much time each part will take. If you’re planning to conduct interviews, specify whom you will be interviewing, when, and how much time you need for interviewing each group of people.
Some research grants and fellowships require the recipients to engage in specific activities during the time of funding. Carefully read the program requirements and check with a program officer if necessary, to make sure you’re only included program-sanctioned activities on your timeline. For example, an archival fellowship will likely only want you to do archival research, and not to be writing chapters or doing other field work at the same time.
Even if the funder doesn’t require a timeline, it’s a good idea to integrate a discussion of your timeframe into the methodology section. Provide a very clear picture of what you’ve already accomplished (keeping in mind that it may take 9 months to receive funding after the deadline), what portion of the research you are asking the funder to support, and what you envision doing after you complete that portion. Providing a bigger picture of the research process helps to contextualize the piece you’re asking for money to accomplish.
Timelines are perhaps most important for completion fellowships. The timeline should work together with your proposal to convince the reviewers that you really, really, really will have your dissertation defended by the end of the fellowship year. This means being realistic and specific about where you are in the process of writing your dissertation, where you’ll be by the time the fellowship year begins, and exactly what needs to happen for the dissertation to be written and submitted in time. If you’re still collecting data, explain why that will be completed in time to devote yourself to writing full-time during your final year. Applicants for completion fellowships can be successful if they have one discrete, specific piece of data collection or research that they need to conduct in order to complete or enhance the dissertation, but that should be very clearly explained. Clearly lay out each piece of the project, and justify why that amount of time will be sufficient.
There are a few strategies that can improve the dissertation grant timeline writing process. First, give an idea of where the project is now, where it will be when the funding period starts, and what you will accomplish during the time period for which you are requesting funding. There’s usually between 6 months to a year from when you are writing and when your funding period will begin, so you can explain any current deficiencies as something you’ll accomplish before the funding begins (acquiring statistical skills, improving language skills, etc).
As you think about how to write the timeline, it may help to work backwards from the end point. Think about what you hope to have completed by the time your grant or fellowship ends, and then what steps need to be in place for that to be accomplished. If possible, determine different sections or chunks of work to be done, and then break those into discrete, measurable subcomponents, and estimate how much time each will take. This will give the reviewers the sense that you know how to sequence your project and how to break it down into manageable, actionable components.
You should also write the timeline in close consultation with the body of the proposal. Make sure the entire document is internally consistent, and that what you’re describing in the body of the proposal matches your timeline.
Finally, think about ways to involve your committee members and advisors in this process as well. Discussing the logistics of the timeline with them will make sure that their letters reflect the timeline you are articulating in the proposal. It will also give you a heads up as to whether you and your committee are on the same page in terms of the timeframe for completing research and writing.
Some proposals specify the format of the timeline, and others even provide a form for you to fill out. If you aren’t getting off that easily, you should decide which format fits you and your project best. Some people use tables or lists that specify the month, the activity, and the progress you’ve made.
A narrative format is often most persuasive at communicating not only what you will accomplish but the steps involved. If you use a narrative format, it will break down the activities chronologically and explains what you will be doing, when, and how long you expect it to take. The narrative can help to support the story you are telling in the proposal, and provide supporting details that enhance the feasibility of the timeline.