Make the Internet Work for You

It’s probably no surprise to hear that you can find a variety of tools and tips on the internet to assist you as you prepare a grant application. But, like any internet search, you need to know how to weed through the useless or inaccurate information to get to the really useful stuff.

We’ve compiled a few tips to help guide you in this process.

  1. Look at the date of the information. Unless the piece was written in the last year or two, be cautious of the advice provided. It’s true that some resources, such as The Art of Writing Proposals, provide broadly useful information that remains relevant even years later. However, advice or tools relevant to specific funders may no longer be accurate. For example, the National Science Foundation revised their review criteria fairly recently, so resources written prior to that time will not reflect these new philosophies or policies. This leads to tip #2…
  1. Verify any information you find by using the funder’s own guidelines and program solicitations. It’s a common strategy to search the internet for sample applications, but because proposal guidelines change from time to time the current format may be different. Deadlines may also change from year-to-year, as could the number of awards to be made, funder’s target interests, or any number of other details.
  1. Consider the source. If you are a grad student, a blog post on grant writing written by a tenured professor or senior researcher may be helpful, but you may not be eligible for the specific funding opportunity discussed or the criteria for review may not be relevant to someone at your stage. When possible, seek out advice provided by those who would be considered your peers.

Happy surfing!

Getting Ready for the Fall Funding Season

Believe it or not, the fall funding season is fast approaching! In July and August many funders post updated calls for proposals and eligibility guidelines; online application portals often open around this same time.

Once application portals open up, create a login and view as much of the application as possible. With deadlines for many awards in October or November, you may not be ready to start the proposal narrative just yet. Creating an account is a low-stakes way to begin the application process and may provide access to additional information not posted on the public website or register you to receive newsletters or other updates via email.

Look for webinars or other informational sessions offered by the funder. These provide valuable information on both technical aspects of the application (e.g. formatting, budget, letters of recommendation) as well as tips on how to frame your application for that funder’s mission.

After you gather specific information from your target funders create application to-do lists and outline a writing schedule. Once the semester starts you will likely find yourself facing more tasks than you have time for; use your time now to minimize your stress later!

Rejection is part of the process, but don’t let that stop you!

During summer 2015 we’ll provide a monthly update, including upcoming events, noteworthy deadlines, tips for searching and applying for funding or other useful information. These updates are designed to provide highlights so be sure to check other resources posted to this blog for more comprehensive information.

External funding is competitive. Some programs have success rates of lower than 5%. If you’re considering applying for a grant or fellowship, don’t let these numbers hold you back—if you don’t apply, you’re guaranteed to not get the money.

And if you’ve ever submitted a grant or fellowship application you likely know the anxiety associated with waiting for the notification email, followed by a quick scan for either “Congratulations…” (hooray!) or “We’re sorry to inform you…”  (boo!). Given how competitive many funding opportunities are chances are you saw the later rather than the former.

Whether you’re thinking about applying for funding but are intimidated by low success rates or dealing with the sting of rejection, try not to despair. The reality of competitive funding is that many great proposals are rejected. Consider what you can gain from this process, even if you aren’t awarded the money.

You get first-hand knowledge of how funding application cycles work. Even though all grants and fellowships utilize different application procedures, going through the process once makes each subsequent application a bit easier to navigate.

Writing the application helps you to clarify your research focus, refine your methods, and develop a better grasp on your literature. This will be an asset as you move forward with your project and, better yet, you have chunks of writing you can likely repurpose for other grants, your prospectus, publications, or even your thesis or dissertation.

If you received reviewer comments, consider waiting a day or two to let the initial sting wear off before you read them. After you read them, go back and read them again a month or two later; chances are your perspective will have changed, which will allow you to be more open to the suggestions provided. It’s hard to read critiques such as this, but remember grant reviewers are generally faculty or other respected colleagues—consider the reviews advice from knowledgeable voices you wouldn’t normally have access to.

It can be particularly frustrating to make sense of conflicting feedback from reviewers. Your advisor can be an asset in these situations; before jumping into the revision process meet with your advisor to discuss your reviews. And don’t despair, as clarity can develop from this frustration. Eventually, you must decide what advice to follow and what you’ll ignore and why, a process that helps you develop more precision and conviction as a writer.

Remember, rejection or not, successfully submitting a funding application is a big accomplishment. Stay positive, treat yourself in some way, and move on.

Check out the “Summer 2015 Events” page for descriptions and registration links for our amazing line-up of summer events!

Upcoming Deadlines

Dr. Guido Goldman Fellowships for the Study of German and European Economic and International Affairs are due July 1, 2015.

Smithsonian Institution – Enid A. Haupt Fellowship in Horticulture are due July 1, 2015.

NIH F31 (predoctoral) and F32 (postdoctoral) applications are due August 8th (additional deadlines fall on December 8 and April 8). More information is available here. Remember this application must be submitted through the UMass internal system, with materials due a minimum of five business days prior to NIH’s deadline.

Several program dues dates for NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants fall in the summer months. A list of programs offering DDRIGs can be found here. Remember this application must be submitted through the UMass internal system, with materials due a minimum of five business days prior to NSF’s deadline.

Spring 2015 May Update

During spring 2015 we’ll provide a monthly update, including upcoming events, noteworthy deadlines, tips for searching and applying for funding or other useful information. These updates are designed to provide highlights so be sure to check other resources posted to this blog for more comprehensive information.

Summer is a great time to start searching for grants or begin working on grant applications for future submission.

If you are searching for grants, check out our main database, Grant Forward. We maintain an institutional subscription to this database so you can register for a free account using your UMass email. For international students, the Cornell University database allows you to select citizenship status as a search filter for funding opportunities.

As you search for funding, develop a system to organize your results. For example, create a file in Excel with headings for pieces of information you want to retain (e.g. name of grant, website, amount awarded, deadline). Then create separate lists with the same headings using the tabs at the bottom of the page. Use labels such as “Predissertation,” “Dissertation Research,” and “Dissertation Writing.” This allows you to keep track of funding opportunities you could apply for in the future and can help you plan your application cycles accordingly.

Many grant applications are due in the fall, so summer is the perfect time to make a detailed checklist of each application’s components and start pulling these pieces together. Many applications require transcripts, CVs, letters of recommendation, or other materials you may need to create/update/gather/request. Pulling these materials together far in advance of the deadline allows you more time to work on the proposal narrative, including revisions, refining your materials, or soliciting feedback on your writing.

During the summer months (June-August) GSGS will host informal grant and fellowship writing groups. These sessions will allow students and postdocs at a similar stage in their career (predoctoral, dissertation research, dissertation writing, postdoc) to come together to offer peer feedback, share resources, and work with a GSGS staff member to craft competitive funding applications. If you are interested in joining us please contact GSGS at gsgs@grad.umass.edu.

Upcoming Events
For full event descriptions and registration links see our Summer 2015 Events page.

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program Workshop
Thursday, May 21, Marcus Hall, Gunness Student Center Conference Room
9am – 12pm for NEW GRFP applicants
9:30am – 12pm for Returning GRFP applicants, with an optional 20 minute one-on-one consultation

National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants Workshop
Tuesday, June, 9am-1pm, Campus Center, Room 904-08

Intro to Grant Searching
Monday, June 8, 3-4pm, Goodell 5th floor lounge (outside room 538)

Intro to Grant Writing
Thursday, June 11, 3-4 pm, Goodell 5th floor lounge (outside room 538)

Intro to Grant Searching for Postdocs
Monday, June 15, 3-4pm, Goodell 5th floor lounge (outside room 538)

Spring 2015 April Update

During spring 2015 we’ll provide a monthly update, including upcoming events, noteworthy deadlines, tips for searching and applying for funding or other useful information. These updates are designed to provide highlights so be sure to check other resources posted to this blog for more comprehensive information.

An important component of the grant writing process is soliciting feedback on your proposal. The prospect of asking others to evaluate your work can be intimidating, for accomplished researchers and first-time applicants alike. If you learn to embrace the feedback process rather than run from it, you can use it as a tool to develop more competitive applications.

We’ve organized a few tips on receiving feedback that can help you make the process work for you rather than against you.

Think carefully about the type of feedback you need and who may be in a good position to provide that feedback. A good way of conceptualizing what type of feedback you need is to consider Global vs. Local concerns.

Global concerns are “big picture” such as your argument or clarity of purpose. It is critical to address Global concerns in early drafts, as you don’t want to revise your entire theoretical framework right before your deadline. Good people to ask for Global feedback include peers in your discipline, your faculty advisor, or writing professionals (such as staff at the UMass Writing Center). Be cautious, however, about providing your advisor with your very first draft—you may want to get some of the kinks out first by working with peers.

Local concerns are “small picture” or sentence level, such as grammar, punctuation, or citations. This tends to be the focus for feedback in later drafts, when the Global concerns have been addressed. Good people to ask for Local feedback include non-expert family or friends or, again, the staff at the Writing Center.

When you ask for feedback, provide some guidelines for your reviewer. Simply saying “tell me what you think” is unclear for the reviewer and won’t likely yield the specific attention to Global or Local concerns you seek.

When you receive feedback, assume best intentions on the part of your reviewer. It can be had to hear critique of your work, but seeking this feedback is actually a way to let others do some of the work for you.

If you seek feedback from multiple people you may receive conflicting advice. Clearly you can’t take every suggestion offered, but learn to view this as a strength of the feedback process. Evaluating what feedback to accept and what to reject forces you to develop greater clarity on your own message and purpose. Ultimately, this is your proposal and you need to be happy with the results.

As a final suggestion, seek feedback early and often in your writing process. Be sure to allow your reviewers sufficient time—as with all aspects of the writing process, plan ahead!

Thanks to our colleagues in the OPD Graduate Writing Initiative for these tips!

Upcoming Events

GRFP Informational Panel and Proposal Development Workshop
Thursday, May 22, 9am-1pm ▪ Location TBD
This workshop will provide effective strategies to prepare a competitive application for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), these awards provide a $32,000 annual stipend for three years to early-career graduate students. Preregistration required; registration details coming soon. 

The Office of National Scholarship Advisement will be hosting a series of events to support students interested in applying for various Fulbright competitions. Register for these events by contacting onsa@honors.umass.edu.

Fulbright Information Session
April 15, 12pm, Office of National Scholarship Advisement, Commonwealth Honors College, Events Hall East
Thinking about applying for a Fulbright year abroad?  To study or complete a research proposal?  Or teach English? The 2015-16 UMass Fulbright program kicks off with a general information session, featuring a panel with a representative from Fulbright New York and this year’s Fulbright winners.

Fulbright-Clinton Scholarship
April 15, 1:15pm, Office of National Scholarship Advisement, Commonwealth Honors College, rm 305
Graduate students in public policy fields (education, public health, public administration, communications, technology)  who are interested in spending a year working in a foreign government ministry are invited to hear more about the Fulbright-Clinton Scholarship.  Lunch served. 

Fulbright Boot Camp
May 7, 9:00am – 12pm, Office of National Scholarship Advisement, Commonwealth Honors College, Events Hall West
Get an early start on your Fulbright application by attending this three hour session to explain what Fulbright is looking for, how to maneuver through the on-line application, and how to craft your essays.

Fulbright ESOL Workshop
May 7, 1:00pm – 4:00pm, Office of National Scholarship Advisement, Commonwealth Honors College, rm 305
An introduction to the fundamentals of teaching English to foreign students to assist candidates applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.