When a student starts a program of graduate study, they usually have a general sense of what their life will look like for the following couple of years. In most cases, this happens through a timeline, generally set by the program, that is broken down by semester or year: courses to complete, qualifying exams to pass, professional meetings to attend, and publications to start working on are only some of the many things that graduate students need to do as part of their busy schedule.
In this long list, grant and fellowship applications can often become an afterthought since they are not a requirement to help us move on to the next level and do not have built-in accountability like our coursework and exams. But if working on external funding applications is as essential to our professional development as any of those activities described above, why not approach these applications with the same sense of urgency and accountability that we attribute to graduate program requirements?
While working on award applications may seem like yet another addition to our seemingly never-ending list of things to do as graduate students, there are ways to make time and opportunities to work on grant proposals. The trick is to change our approach to working on grant and fellowship applications as something that we do alongside our other commitments rather than a burden we take on in addition to them. The suggestions outlined below will offer strategies to plan and make time for preparing funding applications for busy graduate students.
Sketch out your funding needs
Each graduate student enters their program with a different funding package and a different set of financial circumstances. They also have different program requirements and times to complete their degree. All of this combined means that each student has unique priorities when it comes to funding their degree. Take a moment to look at all of the factors that impact your education and evaluate your funding needs. Making a year-by-year breakdown of the kinds of funding you have available and that you will need is a good starting point for this exercise.
Research and make a list of awards you would like to apply for
After having evaluated what exactly you would need funding for (research, language study, dissertation completion, etc.), take some time to search for awards that would support your needs. Unless restricted by eligibility requirements, you will generally be able to find grants and fellowships for all stages and fields of study. Take a look at the GradFund database, and make a list of awards that you are fit and eligible for.
Talk to people who are familiar with the awards you are interested in
Once you’ve found some awards that you would like to apply for, identify people who can help you better understand the award and application process. Your advisor, committee members, and/or fellow graduate students are all good resources to consult. You can also book a ‘Help with a Funder‘ meeting with GradFund in order to familiarize yourself with a specific award’s requirements and the funder’s goals and mission.
Familiarize yourself with application cycles
Funding applications generally operate on a set calendar without much flexibility or variation, with deadlines mostly clustered in the fall. This strict timeline makes paying attention to deadlines doubly important in planning to work on your application. Therefore, make sure that you know when each application deadline is and that you give yourself enough time to work towards it. Students should plan to submit applications the academic year before they intend to use the funds.
Prepare a timeline for working on your applications
After having familiarized yourself with application deadlines, start sketching out a plan on how you could proceed to prepare your application. Writing out a list of commitments that you need to complete and placing those commitments on your calendar will give you a clearer sense of when you will have and can make time to work on your funding applications. Once you have a better idea of your availability, insert dates in your calendar that will serve as major milestones to complete each component of your grant or fellowship application.
Be flexible in your plan
While it would be great if a graduate student’s life proceeded on a predictable pattern, we all know that surprises may happen along the way and that plans can change. Therefore, it is always good to be flexible. You can allow for flexibility in your planning by scheduling some buffer time for commitments and funding applications. Having that extra time already planned out will ensure that you are not overwhelmed by unexpected additions to your schedule. Remember that even if you experience delays, it is possible to get back on track with proactive planning.
Make use of GradFund’s resources
GradFund’s Building a Funding Plan resource page has a workbook that will walk you through steps to integrate your funding applications into your graduate career. The workbook also has worksheets that you can use to set goals and identify your funding needs. If you think you would make better use of talking to someone about how to map out your funding needs, you can book a ‘Building a Funding Plan‘ meeting with GradFund where we can help you prepare a list of awards and come up with a plan to work on your applications.
We hope that you will give the above suggestions a try, and look forward to meeting you to help you integrate funding applications into your graduate career and craft competitive applications!