This post is part of a series where Rutgers grant and/or fellowship winners are invited to share their thoughts and experiences with the process of applying for funding in graduate school.
By Kathryn Coniglio
I am a 4th-year doctoral candidate pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology under the mentorship of Dr. Edward Selby. There were many reasons both personally and professionally for why I chose to complete my graduate studies at Rutgers, but one important one was my advisor. Many principal investigators (PIs) in clinical psychology study specific disorders, but Dr. Selby examines constructs that can be applied to a number of disorders. Thus, within the broader context of emotion regulation, I am interested in anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder involving severe food restriction and body image disturbance and is the psychological disorder with the highest mortality rate. I specifically study compulsive exercise. Unlike many eating disorder behaviors (e.g., extremely restrictive diets, dangerous methods of calorie purging), exercise is enigmatic in that it is not objectively pathological, and yet is associated with a great deal of physical harm and psychological impairment for those who exercise compulsively. The nuances around how compulsive exercise is defined and its pertinent features are a burgeoning area of study in my field and one that I’m excited to help move forward. Recently, Dr. Selby and I published a theoretical paper in Psychological Review examining positive emotion dysregulation in anorexia nervosa, a very new area of study.
In April 2019, I defended my thesis, and in December 2019 I defended my qualifying exam and officially became a doctoral candidate. Currently, I am working on writing up and submitting papers for publication. Some of these papers are data-driven, such as secondary data analyses from my Masters’s thesis study, while others are more theoretical, like review papers or case conceptualization manuscripts. I am also serving my final year as co-chair of the Early Career Special Interest Group (SIG) within the Academy for Eating Disorders. I am volunteering for an organization called Project Parachute that matches frontline healthcare workers with pro bono therapy from licensed clinicians. Finally, I am teaching an advanced psychology course this summer (second session) and carry a relatively full clinical caseload.
After I finish my internship in my 6th year and graduate, I will likely pursue a postdoctoral position with an eye on procuring a tenure track position at a small liberal arts college with a strong research focus. I have also been curious lately about pursuing opportunities in science communication and dissemination and plan for my future career to include some component of educating lay audiences about psychological science.
My experiences with the world of funding
As a graduate student, I have received multiple fellowships and awards. Most notably, I was awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). I have also received smaller foundational awards to support aspects of my research and conference travel. These include the Alex DeVinny Memorial Scholarship Award from the Academy for Eating Disorders, a Graduate Fellowship from the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, and the American Psychological Association Division 12 Clinical Training Award.
The impacts of my NSF award have been twofold. First, applying for this funding allowed me to be successful from a research standpoint by forcing me to think deeply and critically about the questions in my field that need answering and the skill sets that I want to be able to develop in myself to answer those questions. Second, receiving the funding allowed me the precious resource of increased time during my week that I could spend working on the research questions that interested and excited me (i.e., rather than having time taken up through teaching assistant duties). The smaller fellowships have allowed me to actually do the research, since the NSF does not allow for any research-related costs, so finding these smaller fellowships to enable me to pay my participants has been instrumental in getting the work done.
GradFund’s role during my application process
On my meetings at GradFund, I mostly worked with Fellowship advisor Dr. Ben Arenger. GradFund was immensely helpful in acting in the role of the reviewer. Ben was well versed in grant writing and academia more broadly but not in my specific area of study, which perfectly replicated the conditions under which my application would be reviewed at the National Science Foundation. He was patient and genuinely curious about my work and helped me find my voice.
My advice for other applicants
My general, practical advice for other applicants is to:
1. Know your funder and your reviewer, and tailor your project to fit the funder’s aims/goals and meet the reviewer where he/she is in terms of their familiarity with the subject.
2. Hold the reader’s hand as you guide them through your work. A confused reviewer is a cranky reviewer! For example, despite that the subject matter was mostly similar, my NSF research proposal was far more detailed than my Rutgers Center of Historical Analysis fellowship proposal, as the latter focused more heavily on qualitative narratives.
My advice specific to the NSF is as follows:
This particular fellowship application frequently gets compared to the National Research Service Award (NRSA) from the National Institutes of Health (i.e., the F31). While they function similarly, the application process is very different. Briefly, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program from the NSF looks to fund promising young scholars, not necessarily promising projects. Therefore, it’s equally important to make the case that not only is your area of research essential but that you make sense to carry out this research. In other words, ensure that both elements of your application – the proposal and the personal statement – are two parts of a cohesive whole.
Although applying for an award from the NSF is time-consuming, it is assuredly a worthwhile experience. Even if your application is not funded, taking the time to identify an under-researched area in your field and an associated project to address this knowledge gap is an enriching exercise that may help you carve out your very own line of research.