Now in its 20th year, GradFund is the School of Graduate Studies Peer Mentoring Fellowship Advising Service designed to help our graduate students learn how to apply for merit-based fellowships and grants to support their graduate study.
GradFund’s mission is to assist graduate students throughout the process of applying for external fellowships and grants. From helping students to navigate the world of funding and learn about the opportunities available to them, to providing feedback and support as they craft their most competitive funding application, we are guided by a deep respect for the intellectual work and professional ambitions of Rutgers graduate students.
Our goal is to normalize and demystify the process of applying for funding, and to empower Rutgers graduate students to pursue external fellowships and grants. The process of applying for funding, while challenging, can have a profound effect on the professionalization of graduate scholars. When students are successful in their applications, being awarded external funding confers both distinction and financial benefits, both of which can have a transformative impact on their graduate scholarship and future careers.
Empowering Graduate Students
Admittedly, applying for graduate funding can be an intimidating and overwhelming task. There are thousands of funders and awards, wading through the information and identifying the awards a student is eligible to apply for at a particular moment of their graduate career can be time-consuming and confusing. Additionally, a student may become disheartened to realize that in the end, they are eligible to apply for only one or two opportunities or conversely, the student may be overwhelmed by the many options available to them. Applications can be lengthy and challenging, and must be submitted up to a year in advance of when funding becomes available, making it challenging to plan ahead and incorporate these applications into busy graduate student schedules. The particularities of funder goals, review procedures and audiences, criteria and cultures necessitate careful framing of research projects in ways that are often foreign to graduate students.
GradFund provides support for all of these tasks. By clarifying available funding options for graduate students and helping them to understand the goals and criteria of each funder, we help students to decide which funding opportunities are the best fit for their goals, timeline, research interests, and professional plans. By working to plan application timelines, we support graduate students as they carve out time to apply for funding and think critically about the ways they plan to progress through graduate school. By providing constructive non-disciplinary peer feedback on funding applications, we help students to make critical decisions about their self-presentation and the communication of their research in a supportive environment. Our focus is on giving graduate students the knowledge and support they need to make critical decisions about applying for funding and to empower them to write competitive applications for awards that will best serve their professional goals and needs.
Democratization of Funding Applications
As an office of the Graduate School-New Brunswick and a part of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, a key part of our mission is to empower and aid graduate students whatever their background, experience or goals. By contesting narratives that reserve prestigious fellowships and grants for students with more privileged backgrounds, and simultaneously working with students on smaller grants and fellowships, which also serve their needs, we seek to democratize the process of applying for funding. By teaching grant-writing as an explicit skill to all graduate students who come to us, we enable all graduate students to make their best possible case for their intellectual promise and research contributions.
Our online database of funding opportunities and extensive online guidance for writing applications further democratizes access to the funding application process.
Graduate students, whether seeking careers in the academy or outside of it, benefit from the acquisition of grantsmanship skills. Crafting competitive funding applications requires graduate students to describe their research in ways that will resonate with different review audiences, and to speak to the operational concerns and review criteria of various funders. Doing so challenges graduate students to hone their ability to communicate their research beyond the highly specialized audience of their dissertation committee and to make connections between their research and the wider world. These communication skills will be vital, whatever their career path.
The process of applying for funding also requires graduate students to present their research approach, contributions and graduate study plans with confidence and clarity. Doing so can help students to understand themselves as professionals and scholars earlier in their graduate careers and to build a regular practice of seeking out and applying for the grants and fellowships that will support them throughout a distinguished academic career or allow for professional advancement outside of the academy.
Normalization of Applying for External Funding
Given the benefits of applying for funding, both as a professionalizing and empowering process and, when successful, as a mark of distinction and financial support, one of our key goals is to encourage all graduate students to understand applying for fellowships and grants as a normal and recurring part of their scholarly careers. By normalizing funding applications as a part of graduate life, we can further empower all Rutgers graduate students to understand that they can be competitive applicants, and continue to build an institutional culture that is supportive of their aspirations.
GradFund serves the Rutgers graduate student population by enabling them to, as professional graduate scholars, find and apply for the funding that best fits their needs and plans. By respecting the plans and the intellectual work of graduate students and their advisors, and helping graduate students to communicate that work to diverse audiences, we teach our graduate students valuable skills for their future careers and help them to obtain the external funding that can have such a transformative impact on their careers.
Helping a student build their professional development toolkit and to cultivate scholarly communication skills motivates GradFund’s work. Securing extramural funding is a critical goal but it isn’t the only goal. We encourage graduate students to engage in the process of develop competitive fellowship and grant applications in order to secure valuable research support and to bring prestige to their early scholarly careers but most importantly to learn how to communicate their scholarly ideas to a variety of audiences.
GradFund offers more than critical writing advice and guidance. We work on a peer mentoring model that trains graduate students to read across disciplinary lines and to offer critical feedback to peers and graduate student mentees benefit from insightful feedback and offers a perspective that takes the student beyond their disciplinary silo. GradFund advising informed by best practices in fellowship advising, peer mentoring, and grantsmanship which includes a robust knowledgebase and deep intelligence on funding trends in graduate education and detailed profiles of specific fellowship and grant competitions.
Our praxis takes a dual approach, first centered on the graduate student and their ownership of their graduate career and the decisions they make about their scholarly development and second rooted in engagement on the graduate program level. Engagement on the graduate program level reflects the GradFund philosophy that our advice and guidance should complement the work that a student does with their faculty mentors and our goal to encourage graduate students, their faculty mentors and graduate program leadership to take a holistic view and encourage students to integrate the practice of applying for funding into their graduate career.
Our work is regularly assessed and evaluated. We actively seek student centered feedback to guide and shape our service offerings. Student and community feedback is considered in conversation with quantitative data that includes service statistics, funding trends and competition outcomes.