Please note: the following are general answers and may not apply to every situation. If in doubt, consult your advisor, Graduate Program Director, or other faculty member regarding your particular case.

Does the Office of Professional Development provide grants and fellowships?

Unfortunately not! We wish we did. There are so many hardworking grad students at UMass Amherst whose research will make important contributions to their fields. You all deserve to be funded.

What we can do is help students learn how to search for and apply to external funders. We provide tools that enable students to become savvy professionals when it comes to finding prospective research support, and then to be competitive when they apply.

What services does the Office of Professional Development offer related to external funding?

— Individual consultations in which you can learn about searching for funders via databases, and also talk about your particular situation. See the About/Contact tab for details on how to make an appointment.
— Introductory sessions and writing workshops.
— This blog! See the Tips and Downloads tab for writing tips and handouts from our workshops.
— News about grant opportunities and deadlines.

When should I start looking for funding for my research?


Seriously, grad students should start learning about grants and grant writing as soon as they’re admitted. Many competitions take a year from deadline to disbursement of funds, and it takes at least six months prior to that to write a good proposal. “Plan ahead, start early” and “Apply early and often” are two pieces of advice we hear from successful students and faculty.

I don’t think I stand a chance of winning funding. Why should I bother to apply?

Two words: Professional Development. No matter where you go from here, understanding and working on grant writing will make you competitive on the job market. This is a valuable skill that will help you stand out from the rest!

If you’re fortunate enough to land a tenure-track position, your chance of getting tenure will be vastly improved if you’re able to bring funding onto your campus. If you’re working outside of academia, you’ll either be applying for grants (in a non-profit organization) or creating and justifying expenditures in a budget (in governmental or for-profit situations). Either way, this is training that will serve you well!

On top of that, you may even succeed in getting funding. Don’t sell yourself or your work short!

My application for funding got turned down. What did I do wrong?

If you didn’t receive funding, you’re not alone. Even professors get turned down — more often than you might think — including those who have a long and distinguished track record. There are many reasons why people don’t get funded. Factors may include such intangibles as the make up of the review committee and whether or not your reviewer was having a bad day when s/he read your proposal. It’s true.

On the other hand, this is an opportunity to review your proposal critically. Ask the funder if they provide feedback; if so, take it as constructive and note it for the future. If not, ask faculty and other students to review your submission and give you an honest critique.

Bottom line: Don’t be discouraged! Grant writing takes skill, persistence, and a bit of a tough skin. Faculty tell us that it may take three or four tries to win a grant or fellowship. Hang in there, and remember that every time you refine your proposal you’re becoming a more skillful writer.

Is it worthwhile to apply for small grants, or should I save my energy for the big money?

Definitely apply for small grants! Not only are the applications usually less complicated to assemble, and require less time, but adding a number of small grants (even travel grants) to your CV reassures the big sponsors that you are worth funding. It is also great practice.

Should I apply for grants or fellowships when I’m running out of departmental support?

Yes, but don’t rely on this type of funding for living expenses. Many funders provide money for research-related expenses, but not a stipend for tuition or food and lodging. When it comes to finances, plan carefully and remember that most grad students live off the money they make from assistantships, loans, savings, family assistance, and from regular employment.

And remember: if you need the money in less than six months or a year from now, you are already late!

Can I use my dissertation prospectus as the basis for a funding proposal narrative?

Yes, but be careful: proposal writing must be relatively free of jargon (unless otherwise specified), because your reviewer(s) may not be specialists in your field or subfield. Also, your dissertation proposal will probably be much longer than the proposal narrative, which is usually limited by the funder.

Didn’t find your question here? Want to discuss your particular situation? Email us at hbauerclapp@grad.umass.edu.