Grant Deadline Season - The Spookiest Time of the Year

By Louis Gorgone

October 31, 2018

Jack-o-lantern stuffed with money

It’s almost Halloween and what could be scarier then talking about money as a graduate student? I have chills just typing this sentence. How do I get money to fund my summer research? Will I be able to afford rent next year? Where will this money come from?

Well I have news for you friend, it can potentially all come from grants. Grants – a word that provokes anxiety for some and excitement for others. Grants can cover many things from tuition, to travel, to housing and food, depending on what grant you are applying for.

To try to alleviate some of the stress around writing grant proposals, I identified some helpful  tips and tricks to the granting process from conversations with other grad students and professors.

So then, where can I find one of these grants?

This question is less simple then it seems. As a biological anthropologist I am limited to applying for grants that would view me as a capable Principal Investigator (PI). It is unlikely that my grant proposal on gibbon mating strategies is going to receive a grant from someplace like NASA. Therefore, one of the important things to think about is: what agencies fund my type of research? You can often see at the bottom of academic papers where the funding for the project came from. For biological anthropology graduate students, I recommend checking out the National Science Foundation (Biological Anthropology and Archeology programs), The Leakey Foundation, and The Wenner Gren Foundation. Another great resource is GW’s Office of Graduate Student Assistantships and Fellowship website that provides internal and external funding opportunities and links to smaller granting foundations that can support things like travel grants and small research grants.

Alright then, you’ve found a grant you want to apply to, now what?

Here is some communal advice from the students of the department on how to plan out your grant proposal.

1.     Start early. Seriously as early as you can!

2.     Read lots of other successful grant proposals in your field.

3.     Spew all initial ideas on the paper and edit later.

4.     Write or heavily revise your introduction and abstract last (Up to your own preference here).

5.     Pay close attention to broader impacts: How is my research connected to other fields? How is it impactful to society at large?

6.     Find a reader from outside your direct specialization to carefully evaluate and comment on your grant, as well as your advisor.

7.     If rejected don’t freak out. Read and respond to the feedback and try again next year, or search for another granting organization.

The general consensus is that grant writing takes time. It’s a long process of figuring out what you need from the organization, how you can best propose your project, and then editing everything down to only a few pages. Granting organizations want to know that you as a PI have thought about every possible part of your experiment/research and that you will put their money to good use.

If you do wind up getting rejected do not take it personally. Read the reviewers’ comments and then set them aside for a few days.  Once the emotional disappointment has dissipated a bit, read them again and adjust your next version accordingly. Grant money – especially in this field – is limited and many worthy projects do not get funded.  Good luck with your grant application process and let me know if you have additional tips for gaining research funding!