As a fellowship advisor, one of the questions that I most frequently encounter at the end of my meetings with students is, “What do I do next?” By asking this question, students are right on point in identifying a crucial piece of knowledge in their interaction with the funding world: It is not just enough to know the awards for which you are eligible; you also have to decide which one(s) to apply for. Yet, students’ confusion regarding the essential next step–doing the actual work of starting to prepare an application–is understandable as the process is complex and can, at times, be overwhelming.
At GradFund, as much as we strive to guide students in helping them decide which award(s) would be the most suitable option for a student’s career trajectory, we recognize and respect the autonomy graduate students have in being responsible for making the ultimate decision. But we’re also aware that taking the next step is difficult. Therefore, although each student has a unique set of circumstances that impacts their decision on whether or not to apply for a particular award, the suggestions detailed below will help any student on the way to turning their desire to apply for funding into a reality.
Review your options
The best thing you can do after you’ve identified what grants and fellowships you are eligible for is to review your options. In order to do so, familiarize yourself with the funder–peruse their website, make a note of their application requirements, read their review criteria, and take a look at what they have funded before. After familiarizing yourself with your options, ask yourself, “What would be the most suitable fit from among these awards for my goals, research, and stage of study?” In other words, what would make most sense, in light of the abovementioned criteria, for you to apply for right now? If you seem to be settling on an award, but still aren’t sure about the fit, book a ‘Help with a Funder’ meeting where we can provide you with an in-depth introduction to the award you picked and discuss tips to draft the most compelling application.
Be realistic in your assessment
One of the other questions I commonly encounter during my meetings with students is, “How many awards should I apply for?” There is no straightforward answer to this question, but my typical response is, it depends. The general rule of thumb in making that decision is to be honest in your assessment of two important questions: 1) Can you realistically find time to prepare a strong application for multiple awards? and 2) Can your application be competitive for each and every one of those options? In answering the first question, it’s key to remember that strong applications take time to prepare and require multiple rounds of revisions. In answering the second question, it’s key to understand that just because you are eligible for an award does not necessarily mean that your application will be competitive for it. If that seems to be the case for you, then, you may want to cultivate the kinds of experiences that will make you a competitive fit for your funder or consider other award options.
Come up with an action plan
Now that you’ve reviewed your options and assessed your priorities, it’s important to come up with a concrete plan to help you move forward to prepare your application. To do so, start by making a list of the award deadline(s) you will be working towards. If you decided to apply for multiple awards, write down all of the components that will be required for each submission. Since you now know what exactly you will need to produce for your application, make time to work on it. Pull out your calendar and schedule time for writing and revising your application. Unless working on funding applications is a requirement you have to fulfill as part of your degree requirements, it is likely that grant writing will turn into your least important priority if you don’t create built-in accountability for it. So avoid falling into that pattern by making sure you have an action plan to implement.
Engaging in thoughtful review and planning will help you make the leap from merely thinking about applying for funding to actually doing it. So focus on the suggestions above to help you plan your next steps. You’ll see that the process is not as intimidating as it may look once you take the plunge!