Hello GradFund Conversations readers! Planning for the future is one of the most crucial yet often overlooked or misunderstood aspects of applying for and obtaining funding. Maybe you are planning your dissertation proposal and would like some money to do the work you are proposing. You may just need to shift into a new phase of research that requires travel, either domestic or abroad. Or you are beginning to wrap up your dissertation research and would like a fellowship so that you can focus on writing and defending that dissertation. In each case, understanding the concept of funding cycles and the gap between deadlines and start dates can greatly enhance your competitiveness for these opportunities.
The first thing to keep in mind is the concept of funding cycles. You should always check two dates when planning ahead. The first is obviously the due date. The second is the award start date. The gap between the due date and the award start date can be thought of as a lead time. This lead time informs and defines what we call funding cycles. As a general rule, any award you apply for in the current academic year (September-May) will have an award start date sometime in the next academic year. We always emphasize planning your funding needs for the next stage of your research well in advance so that this lead time can be accounted for.
The first step of this process is answering the question, “Where am I now?” The next step is asking, “Where do I need to be next year?” If you are getting ready to propose your dissertation, then you should probably be thinking about dissertation research funding. So maybe something like the NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant would fit your bill. Maybe your proposed research would require travel abroad. In this case, you could be considering a Fulbright or an SSRC International Dissertation Research Fellowship application. Are you expecting to defend your dissertation within the next two years? Then the AAUW American Dissertation Fellowship or the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship may interest you.
In each of these cases, you would not receive the funding until 6-8 months after the deadline. If you account for good grantsmanship practices, that’s a full year from start to finish. This is the basis for the annual funding cycle. When you start adding up the months, it’s easy to see how planning at least two years in advance could be beneficial since it will likely include the next major shift in your research direction. In cases where departmental funding opportunities are limited, or where free time is needed for travel, this advanced planning becomes imperative for a timely degree completion. All too often we get to the end of our current funding window before thinking about the next stage. By the time this happens, it is often too late to facilitate a gapless transition to the next stage. Hopefully, I have highlighted the importance of planning beyond the current stage of your research to ensure that you aren’t left in a bind.
To sum everything up: apply for funding to cover the next stage of your research while you are still in the current stage. As the spring semester nears its end, now is a great time to create or re-evaluate your future funding plan. As always, feel free to drop by our website for additional information or to schedule a meeting. We are always happy to help you navigate your options now. But, perhaps more importantly, we also want to help you plan ahead so that you can avoid those funding binds and pitfalls that are all too common. Remember, fortune favors the prepared.