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 Will Aguado
Hello! My name is Will, and I am in the Human Evolutionary Sciences track of the Anthropology Ph.D. program at Rutgers. I came to Rutgers primarily to join the Laboratory for Primate Dietary Ecology and Physiology of my advisor Dr. Erin Vogel. We combine lab and fieldwork to understand the link between primate diet and physiology and are lucky to study one of the most interesting and charismatic wild animal species on the planet—the Bornean orangutan.
My research examines how orangutan diets fluctuate according to forest fruiting and leafing patterns. I use chemical analyses of orangutan foods to understand whether the pursuit of certain nutrients or the avoidance of particular toxins guides their foraging behavior.
Orangutans are critically endangered, and I hope that my research can contribute to their conservation. Arguably, one of the most effective conservation strategies is to protect animal habitats but to do so, we first need to know which habitats are most suitable. Understanding what foods orangutans are biologically adapted to eat and which foods are most important for their health is a vital component of determining habitat suitability.
I will soon be starting my year-long fieldwork in Indonesia, and after completing my Ph.D., I would like to eventually become a university professor.
My experience applying for funding
I became familiar with the world of external funding as a master’s student at Iowa State, where I received a few internal grants as well as an award from the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, funded through the University of Iowa. At Rutgers, I have received internal awards and fellowships from the Department of Anthropology, the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, and the Rutgers School of Graduate Studies. Most recently, I received a Fulbright IIE to conduct my research in Indonesia.
The Fulbright award financially covers a considerable portion of my project budget. Researchers who do fieldwork and laboratory work, like me, rely on grants to carry out our work, which can become quite costly when you have to live in a foreign country for over a year. Fulbright covers the cost of some of the most significant expenses of my fieldwork, such as airfare, room and board, and money for incidentals and research. This is a grant that you want to be awarded if you are a fieldworker.
Besides the financial support for your research, there are other benefits of a Fulbright award. For instance, as a Fulbright grantee, you can apply for a Critical Language Enhancement Award, which is a multi-month-long intensive language training in your host country.
For my research, I will be working in close quarters with a team of Indonesian students, field assistants, and staff, so knowing how to speak and understand Indonesian is a must. Doing research in a foreign country brings you into contact with other academics, government workers, and people from all sectors of society. Having the training to communicate effectively in the host country’s own language is crucial.
Advice for students who may be applying for fellowships and grants
1) Start early. Give yourself time to think about what information would be most relevant to convey in your application. You also want to leave yourself enough time to step away from your application materials for some time between drafts. Looking at an application with fresh eyes can be really important.
2) Get other eyes on your paper. This can be through GradFund or someone else whose suggestions you can take to heart and whose comments you respect and value. For myself, this took the form of a mutual exchange of grant editing with a friend. I found that reviewing someone else’s grant made me more attuned to ways that I could improve my own writing.
3) Write multiple drafts. Grant writing is an iterative process. You will want to say a lot within a strictly defined page limit. Unless grant writing is your superpower, you probably won’t be able to convey everything effectively on the first try. I went through at least 10 drafts for both the Statement of Grant Purpose and the Personal Statement for the Fulbright application before it got to a point where I felt that my writing was sufficiently clear, persuasive, and engaging.
4) Make yourself stand out. Reviewers will likely read dozens of grant applications, and you want yours to be memorable. You can do this in a personal statement by beginning with a compelling personal anecdote that showcases who you are and where you are going. For instance, my Fulbright Statement of Purpose started with an amusing anecdote about feeding behavior that I witnessed during my preliminary research of orangutans in Borneo. I tied this anecdote to an enduring question in my field, and how this question guided many of my prior experiences and current research plans. Defining yourself through ideas that fascinate you and have driven your academic career can help make your application stand out.
I worked with GradFund during every stage of my Fulbright application. I had at least three meetings with GradFund advisors and have nothing but good things to say about the services they provided. The GradFund peer mentors that I met with (Hudson McFann, Alexandria Smith, and Andrew Carlson) helped me get into the weeds of my writing beyond what I could have achieved on my own. They read my grant application with a fine-toothed comb and their advice helped me to craft a grant-winning application. Working with GradFund has made me an all-around better writer.
As a researcher, your work is limited by the amount of funding you receive. Getting grants is not just a way to show off your chops as a scholar, but also a necessary component of doing science. Happy writing!
You can follow Will on Twitter @will_aguado
To learn more about his research, you can see Will’s profile on the Rutgers Center for Human Evolutionary Studies page: