At GradFund we always say “you need to know the funder”. But, why is this important? And how do you do it?
Reviewers for graduate grants and fellowships are usually interested in both short-term deliverables (i.e. what training or research you will undertake for the tenure of the grant and why it is significant?), as well as the longer-term trajectory of a graduate student and their research. For example, they are not merely funding a student’s training in order for them to receive a master’s degree or Ph.D., they want to know how a student will use the research or training to build a successful and influential career, and how this career will contribute to society. Each award will place varying degrees of emphasis on this future trajectory, and they may be interested in funding different kinds of careers and social contributions, but rest assured they want to see how their support will blossom beyond the lifespan of the award itself. Your job is to find out that big picture: What kind of world is this grant designed to contribute to? How does the funder interpret social contribution? What kind of scholarship and careers do they believe will generate these changes? The organizations that fund and/or administrate the award had these kinds of discussions when they designed the parameters of their application. You are simply using the award parameters to piece together your application and show why you are a fit.
As you peruse the materials made by the funder or grant agency, such as the grant website or pamphlets, look for any sections that detail the ‘mission’ of the grant, review criteria, as well as background information such as when and by whom the grant was set up. What types of scholars and projects have they awarded? Can you see any patterns in terms of where research was conducted, its implicit or explicit aims, or what these scholars went on to do afterward? Do any of these materials mention applicants’ volunteer work (which may suggest they are interested in the character, convictions, and civic involvement of applicants)? Do the review criteria or application components emphasize the role of mentors in supervising or assisting with the research? For many larger grants such as the National Science Foundation, National Health Institutes, or Mellon Foundation grants there is often a wealth of information on the web that helps applicants answer these questions.
Answering those questions is very important, and will reflect positively on your application, however, you can also go a step further. You may know the name of the grant, but do you know the funder? For example, the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship funds Ph.D. students in their final year, while the SSRC International Dissertation Research Fellowship funds three to twelve months of international doctoral research. However, both fellowships are funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Getting a sense of this funder’s mission will help you see the kind of graduate student these fellowships are designed to fund. Another good resource is what other people (e.g.faculty, administrators) or organizations say about the funder.
If you’re having trouble understanding what reviewers are looking for, don’t stress. Book a ‘Help with a Funder’ meeting with us, and we can provide guidance.