Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Top Ten Tips for Getting Graduate Grants

It's the time of year when graduate students are stressing themselves out filling out grant applications. Having won a SSHRC for my master's and doctoral research, I've been asked for tips. I wrote a lengthy grant treatise a few months ago, but here are my top ten tips:

1) Follow instructions
The first and most important tip is don't consider any instructions or tips from a granting agency as optional; they are commandments. Don't deviate from their instructions - no matter what. If you think you have a compelling exception, change it so it follows their instructions.

2) Think outside the application form box
I don't like to have blank areas in application forms. Don’t put in inappropriate material, but something is better than nothing. For publishing, consider non-conventional sources such as blogs (it's better if it is not self-published though). For awards, include professional awards and for experience include relevant volunteer work.

3) Choose references wisely
Make sure they'll write a glowing letter and consider their credentials (at the least they should be from academics). Give your them your program of study as they should refer to it in their letter.

4) Good writing style is always important
Everything in your application form and program of study should be clear and effective. Avoid jargon or imprecision. Use subheads and spacing to break up your program of study so that it isn’t a monolithic block. Tell an interesting story that keeps readers interest and distinguishes you from the stack.

5) Convince me
The information in your application form and program of study should all work together to form a cohesive, powerful narrative of the merit of your study and your unique ability to execute it. Include your professional and personal as well as academic details that describe how you have the knowledge and access to the relevant topic or groups.

6) It's not a Miss Universe pageant
The social relevance and impact of your proposed research should be strong, but don't be like beauty pageant contestants and promise to change the world and create world peace.

7) Method to your madness
There's not a lot (or for OGS – any) room to get into the minutiae of your research plan. However, your study should be clearly enough articulated to appear purposeful and viable. So I don’t think you need details about your transcription style, but you should specify the method steps and type (e.g. unstructured or semi-structured interviews). Include a sentence about your ethical review process as well.

8) Seek and obey criticism
Run your program of study by a bunch of reviewers. Try to get a variety of people, particularly academics without expertise in the area (as if they don’t understand it, grant reviewers probably won’t either) and methodologists. Listen to their feedback and if you disagree with it, you probably should change it anyway. Grant proposals are not the place to shake things up nor is it worth the risk of being misunderstood as there are no second chances.

9) 100% Proof

Proof read your work and then proof read again. Rinse and repeat.

10) Comfort in numbers
Get advice, fret, and lament collectively with peers or online via GradCafe

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