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 Catherine Babikian
I am a fifth-year student in the Department of History at Rutgers, where I research British cultural and imperial history. My dissertation, “Creating Welfare, Nursing Empire: Colonial Nursing and the National Health Service,” tells the story of migrant nurses in Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) after World War II. From its founding in 1948, the NHS relied on the labor of nurses from British colonies and former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. But while recruiting nurses from overseas made the British health system possible, it also exacerbated nursing shortages in those nurses’ home countries, which needed nurses for their own health care systems—a “skill drain” that continues to perpetuate inequalities in the provision of health care across the globe.
I’ve received external research grants from the North American Conference on British Studies and the American Association for the History of Nursing, as well as the School of Graduate Studies and the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research here at Rutgers.
These grants have helped fund two preliminary research trips at the beginning of my program, and later, eight months of dissertation research in British archives. My project likely wouldn’t exist in the form it does without this time in the archives.
No less importantly, the process of applying for funding has helped me better articulate the goals and methods of my project. I write my dissertation one section and chapter at a time, frequently immersing myself in a subset of documents and data for weeks at a time. But grant applications force me to come up for air and think about my project as a whole. With each proposal I draft, I’ve had to explain what my research does in very precise terms and make a case for why it matters—sometimes in as little as two pages, often for audiences in different fields and disciplines. And by teaching a potential funder what my work is about, I clarify and sharpen my own understanding of my work—which benefits all the research and writing I produce.
Working with GradFund is an especially important and valuable part of this process. The GradFund advisors bring a wealth of expertise to their work. They help strategize ways to pitch your project to different funders and communicate its significance to the widest possible audience. And after weeks of solitary writing, the chance to talk out a complex idea or a particularly stubborn paragraph with a fellowship advisor can often lead to unexpected breakthroughs.