Applying for Grants and Fellowships as an International Student – Part One

It would not be wrong to say that my introduction to the world of external funding happened when I started my doctoral program in Anthropology at Rutgers. As an international student coming from a country that has very limited external grant and fellowship options for study and research in higher education, I was both excited and overwhelmed by this, back then, quite foreign terrain. Having successfully (and sometimes not so successfully!) navigated the external funding landscape as someone who has had limited options to work with, I would like to address four major myths in which international graduate students like myself often come to believe in their search for external funding. In this post, I’ll cover the first two myths.

Myth #1: There is no funding available for international students

My excitement about the many funding opportunities I’d been introduced to as I entered my program took a big hit when I realized that my citizenship status made me ineligible for some of these opportunities, especially early graduate study fellowships such as the NSF-GRFP and the Ford Foundation’s Predoctoral Fellowship. However, the fact that international students are not eligible for certain awards does not mean that there are no funding options available to them. In my field, for instance, even though there weren’t many options for early graduate study fellowships, I could apply for almost all of the major dissertation research grants such as the NSF-Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant, SSRC International Dissertation Research Fellowship, and the Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant. Although your options may seem limited to you from where you stand, you may still have plenty to work with. Come and talk to GradFund, reach out to fellow international students in your program, and consult your advisor! But don’t let eligibility requirements mislead you into believing that you don’t qualify for anything and don’t give up on applying for external funding.

Myth #2: Because I have fewer funding options available, I don’t have to start thinking early about planning my funding timeline

Integrating your external funding applications into your graduate career is one of the core suggestions we have for students at GradFund. Although I’m a strong proponent of this approach now, I, unfortunately, didn’t come to accept it naturally or easily. At the beginning of my graduate career, hastily deciding that there was nothing for me to apply for at that point, I decided to skip becoming a part of the GradFund summer mentoring program in my first year at Rutgers (and the year after that and the one after!). I knew that I needed to do fieldwork in my fourth year, but the reality of needing funds to do research did not sink in until the very panicky first months of my third year in the program when I needed to apply for grants.

Knowing the external funding cycle and creating your timeline is key to integrating your funding applications into your graduate career. Students usually apply for grants and fellowships a year before they will need the funds, which makes planning early even more important. For instance, if you plan to conduct fieldwork for your dissertation research in Fall 2017, you will need to start applying for funds in early Fall 2016. In a similar manner, if you want funds to help you complete your dissertation during the 2017-2018 academic year, you will need to apply for external awards in early Fall 2016. This also means that you will need to have completed your search for external funding and identified your funders much earlier than the application deadline, and have a full draft to work on revising and polishing over the summer.

I would like to underscore that the fact that you have fewer external funding options as an international student does not mean that you have lower chances of getting funded. But it does mean that you have to do your best in each application because you already have a limited number of awards to apply for. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that you start planning out your funding timeline as early as possible. Knowing what is available to you will give you a sense of direction and confidence as you are working on your initial drafts. Although the deadlines seem to be rather far away from where you stand right now, they do come quickly. So work on your funding timeline now to avoid the stress and panic later.

These are the two major myths in which international graduate students often come to believe in their search for external funding. Stay tuned for Myths 3 and 4 next time!

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Describing a Research Project Before You Have One

A common requirement for grant applications is that you describe your project. It’s a reasonable request for the people offering you money to want to know what you’ll do with it. However, a lot of us enter graduate school without knowing what we’re going to study while we’re here. Particularly in the lab sciences, many doctoral students are encouraged to rotate through several advisers before selecting one. Even for students in other disciplines, it’s normal to not have one clear, specific research topic to which you commit forevermore. It’s expected that you will adjust or completely change direction as you gather more data from your research. In this case, how do you work with this uncertainty when applying for grants?

There are basically two steps: (1) choose a topic (2) write about it. As easy as it may seem on paper, I personally know that it can be a daunting task to have choose a single topic from a range of possibilities (I still haven’t settled on one). However, it’s a doable task. With the right perspective, it’s also a wonderful challenge. Grant writing forces you to evaluate the feasibility and merit of a project, making it a great tool for determining if you should start or continue a particular research path. Additionally, the writing process helps to improve and demonstrate your understanding of a topic. Continue reading

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How to Write a 500-Word Application

Often funders will set low word count limits for essay within grant or fellowship applications. It eases the organization’s review process, but puts applicants in a bind. How do you sum up potentially years of complex field specific data into a clear and concise 500-word essay?

My points below are drawn from my experience with the Hall Rothman Fellowship from the American Society for Environmental History. I won this award in 2015-2016. In this blog post I want to share some of the techniques and ideas that below shaped my application essay. I believe that the below tips can be used in other 500-word applications as well.

  1. Identify if you are right for the application. With these shorter applications, funders are usually looking for specific kinds of candidates that relate directly to their field, a particular set of resources, or a research question. You’ll need to convince them in your essay that you are the perfect candidate for the award.
  2. Outline your essay. The below is rough guideline of what point you might use to frame each paragraph. You’ll want to be aware of the structure of your essay. 500 words is roughly three paragraphs, you’ll want to the information to flow logically and read smoothly.
    1. The first paragraph does more than introduce your topic, it needs to convey the serious analytical weight guiding your research. Why is your project important and what does it contribute to your field? There is no space for anecdotes in this short essay. Here, give readers the biggest, most significant implications of your project, and ground that in short sentence or two framing of the discussions in your field. What is the main question your project asks, and how does your research contribute to your field? If you at the point where you can offer a hypothesis or argument do so, but let it follow naturally from your guiding research question.
    2. Then, take a step back from the big ideas guiding you research to talk about the details of your project. What specifically does your project do? What is form or shape of your project (is it a dissertation, an article, etc)? Who/when/where are you studying? What sources are guiding this research? What methods are you using? Are their any theoretical frameworks guiding your analysis?
    3. Lastly, you’ll want to inform readers how you will use the grant or fellowship. Funders will want to know in specific detail what you will do with the award. Tailor this paragraph to fit what the research grant should enable to do to and why you need to do it. If it is to travel to a research site, explain why what is there is important for your work, and what it will enable you to argue. Be as specific as possible. If you are writing to visit a library or archive, note specific materials in their collection and tie that to arguments or idea in your work.

These guiding points are simply suggestions. Please take into account when working on your application the particulars demands and desires of your program and field. There is no one size fits all when it comes to grant writing, but taking some time to think about structure and organization can create a better essay and a better chance of winning the competition. Good luck!

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Keeping Your Reviewer in Mind: Merging the Worlds of the Unfamiliar with the Familiar

As graduate students, we like to stay in our cozy, academic silos. Why? Because there, we are free to use our jargon with ease, our colleagues will likely be familiar with our theoretical frameworks, and our research methods are generally accepted. But what happens when we must venture out into the world of funding agencies, where reviewers from disciplines other than our own will judge our work? We struggle to communicate our research to reviewers effectively.

You must remember that reviewers will likely come from many areas within the humanities, social sciences, and hard sciences. Although you are passionate about your work, you have to put the needs of the reviewer first. For example, why should a reviewer from biochemistry or pharmacology care about your research on a rare species of frogs? Today, I’ll share an intellectual activity to help you communicate your specific research topic to a broad audience of researchers. I like to call this approach: placing the familiar in conversation with the unfamiliar. Continue reading

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Grant and Fellowship Bulletin Board

Series note:  Periodically, we post our electronic bulletin board of grant and fellowship announcements that have arrived in the GradFund office.  This is a great way to keep up to date on new competition announcements.  The newly arrived information is listed at the start of the post and then we include an archive of recently posted grants and fellowships to provide you with a convenient list of upcoming deadlines.  This is not a comprehensive list of grants and fellowships for graduate students!  If you are interested in learning more about research grants and fellowships to support your graduate study, be sure to visit the GradFund Knowledgebase.

New Announcements

Marshall Sherfield Fellowship (October 10, 2016)

Doctoral Training Grants in Oncology Social Work (October 15, 2016)

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (October 28, 2016)


SAPA-Biopeptek Graduate Travel Grant (July 31, 2016)

SHRM Susan R. Meisinger Fellowship for Graduate Study in HR (August 15, 2016)

Kaufman Dissertation Fellowship (August 17, 2016)

Grants-in-Aid for Research at the Rockefeller Archive Center (November 1, 2016)

AAHD Federick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability (November 25, 2016)

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GradFund: What to Expect When You Meet with Us

So you have the idea to meet with GradFund. Mayhap your advisor suggested meeting with us to “discuss your options.” You could have come across one of our various emails. It’s possible that your program requires you to participate in one of our summer mentorship programs. Or maybe you just heard from a friend or colleague how wonderful and helpful we can be. Whatever your reason for scheduling a meeting with GradFund, we are thrilled that you have come to us for assistance! So what can you expect in your various interactions with us? Let’s examine the different types of services we offer. First, we need to determine where you are in your funding search.

So I’m new to this whole process.

Let’s assume you are a blank slate. You simply want to explore your options. You have scheduled a meeting and are now waiting for your first face-to-face with a GradFund Fellowship Advisor or Peer Mentor. The first service we offer is an introduction to the world of graduate funding. Here at GradFund, we want to help you plan ahead. So we collaborate with you in order to build a personalized funding plan that projects your needs and interests into the future. We stress the importance of planning ahead and would like to enable you in that endeavor. In this vein, we help you compile a list of relevant awards and plan out the different stages of your graduate career with matching funding opportunities. In future meetings, we can also help to revise this overall plan to adjust to emerging needs and opportunities as your situation may require.

So what if I have already found an interesting award? I’ve drafted an application. How can I expect help?

Then you have taken a monumental step in your graduate career and should be proud of yourself. At this point, we can help you explore the ins and outs of a particular funder or award and help you interpret what the funder is looking for. Basically, we help provide you with insight into your audience. In our experience, these meetings are more productive if you have submitted a draft for us to review. We can critically examine different elements of your application and ascertain how it fits into the funder’s overall expectations. With a draft in hand, we can provide feedback on overall structure, clarity, and completeness of your proposal with specific examples to illustrate how you can adjust these elements to speak directly to the funder. During this process, we attempt to take on the mindset of a reviewer and identify the strengths and weaknesses of your draft. We then work with you to emphasize these strengths while hopefully shoring up any weaknesses. To facilitate this process we encourage a collaborative effort between you, your advisor(s), and GradFund.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact us at, visit the GradFund Website, or schedule a meeting for more information.

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Meet Our Ford Fellows: Carolyn Ureña

Series Note: This year, three Rutgers graduate students have been awarded the prestigious Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for 2016-2017. Read on to learn more about Carolyn Ureña’s research, commitment to diversity, and her thoughts on working as a Fellowship Advisor at GradFund.


Carolyn Ureña, 2016 Ford Fellow

A Fellowship Advisor’s Perspective 

As a graduate student I started taking advantage of GradFund’s services even before I first set foot on campus! I participated in a summer mentoring program before my first semester, and that experience was transformative. Not only did it give me the opportunity to begin the long process of refining my research project, but I was able to begin building lasting relationships with faculty mentors — one of whom is my dissertation chair, another is on my committee, and another remains a trusted reader. As a Fellowship Advisor, I became a better reader and writer and in meeting with fellows graduate students I learned first-hand the value and pleasure of communicating across fields of study. Rutgers is full of passionate researchers and scholars, and in speaking with them about their work I learned how to better share my own.

Diversity in Research

Inspired by figures such as the renowned psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon, and informed by decolonial theory, phenomenology, critical race theory, and disability studies, my  dissertation, “Invisible Wounds: Rethinking Recognition in Decolonial Narratives of Illness and Disability,” challenges contemporary understandings of health, illness, and disability by engaging in the larger project of reevaluating how we define what kinds of lives are worth living. Specifically, I bring Fanon’s medical and theoretical contributions into conversation with U.S. and Caribbean narratives in French, Spanish, and English to examine how accounts that foreground the wounds and the embodied forms of knowledge that are the dual legacies of slavery and colonialism offer access to devalued or otherwise overlooked perspectives.

My work contributes to current efforts to build on the links between the humanities and the medical sciences, and in order to do so I draws from literary studies, Caribbean philosophy, critical theory, medical anthropology, and ethnography to enrich my interdisciplinary project. My goal is to foment discussion between seemingly disparate fields that can nevertheless serve to promote social justice while also working to increase medicine’s awareness of the complexity of patients’ stories, both of which are essential to the goals of the growing fields of disability studies and the health humanities.

I grew up in Washington Heights, a primarily Dominican neighborhood in northern Manhattan, where I was fully immersed in my family’s culture, speaking Spanish at home and English at school. My bilingual and bicultural upbringing provided me with early exposure to the value of inhabiting two worlds, and this experience inspired my passion for learning to speak multiple languages in order to be able to communicate with people across various cultures. This same desire to explore communication is what drives my current research on redefining health and illness because although we will all at some point in our lives encounter illness and disability, this is not always apparent given the ways we talk about what it means to be healthy or ill.

Giving Back by Teaching

My parents, immigrants to  the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, always valued education very highly and encouraged me to do my best in school. In fifth grade, I jumped at the chance to apply for Prep for Prep, a highly selective leadership development program for underrepresented public school students, and succeeded in being admitted. The program involves 14 months of intensive supplementary coursework, all while attending public school, in order to allow students the opportunity to gain admission to private school in seventh grade and gain access to more rigorous educational experiences that have lifelong consequences. This summer will be my third teaching rising sixth graders at Prep as a way to give back to a program that helped transform my life through education.

As a university professor and researcher I aim to promote new ways of understanding the world. Given my research interest in bridging the gap between the sciences and the humanities, I have been pleased to encounter pre-medical students each semester whose understanding of patient autonomy shifts as we discuss the medicalization of the broad spectrum of human variety. Among my most rewarding experiences has been bringing together students from various majors and specializations and facilitating their ability to find common ground in discussions about what it means to be human.


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Meet Our Ford Fellows: Rosemary Ndubuizu

Series Note: This year, three Rutgers graduate students have been awarded the prestigious Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for 2016-2017. Read on to learn more about Rosemary Ndubuizu’s research, her thoughts on diversity, as well as her thoughts on community.



Rosemary Ndubuizu, 2016 Ford Fellow

Hi! My name is Rosemary Ndubuizu. I am a sixth year PhD candidate in Women’s and Gender Studies. Recently, I was selected to be a 2016-2017 Ford Dissertation Fellow. I must say that I am still shocked but very humbled that Ford’s selection committee believed in the value of my scholarship and saw my potential to become an outstanding teacher and researcher in higher education. I am also honored that I get to share the privilege of being a Ford fellow with two other outstanding women of color scholars, Dara Walker and Carolyn Ureña.

In my dissertation, “Where Shall the Monsters Live?”Understanding the Urban Politics of Black Women’s Disposability,” I examine how negative narratives about low-income black women informed and transformed the work of affordable housing agencies, public officials, non-profit developers, and even housing activists. More specifically, I demonstrate how Congress and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretaries used racialized and gendered narratives about low-income black women to implement pro-market housing reforms. These reforms had a range of carceral effects on nonwhite women in particular, including leaving them vulnerable to eviction, displacement, and homelessness. To elucidate how these policies harmed black women, I conducted an ethnographic study of Washington, D.C.’s housing politics through a primarily black women-led organization called Organizing Neighborhood Equity. By interviewing and organizing alongside black women who championed affordable housing for all, I illuminate how black women theorize and fight for social and economic justice in their everyday lives.

What Diversity Means to Me

Diversity is more than token inclusion. Diversity means the thorough respect, embrace, and understanding of difference. For far too long, we have been taught that inclusion is only for those who look, talk, or act in normative ways. If you acted differently, you were derided, exploited, or excluded. My role as a scholar is to help students realize that difference is an opportunity for deep learning. I encourage my students to produce knowledge that pushes them to question and unpack how the normative assumptions they may have accepted as “truth” have hurt their ability to embrace difference. My hope is that my teaching and research helps students understand that if we are committed to creating a better world–and ideally, a more inclusive and materially equitable one–then we must embrace the concept of difference differently. And we must work to create a world where we truly value people’s different abilities, life stories, and ingenuities.

Community Support

While it is my name on the award on the letter, I recognize my honor is reflective of a community effort. Institutional resources, academic advisors, and supportive friends were the key factors in my recent success. With regard to institutional support, GradFund provided invaluable support. I applied to Ford a couple of times before my application was successful.  But I always turned my disappointments into learning opportunities. And each year, I would take my application back to GradFund and I would ask, “How can I improve? How can I make sure my research is clear, concise, and compelling ?” Luckily I heeded GradFund’s advice to reapply because every year my application—and my dissertation—get stronger and more focused. Although this point may be obvious to many, I can confidently say GradFund is a principal reason why Rutgers is becoming a powerhouse when it comes to securing competitive fellowships.

In addition to GradFund, I know my recent selection as a Ford Fellow would not have been possible without my academic advisors. My dissertation committee and other academic mentors were incredibly supportive. They were there to tell me to keep trying when my previous fellowship applications were unsuccessful. They were there to listen anytime I struggled with concisely capturing my dissertation’s key ideas in my applications.

And lastly, my caring friends were invaluable too. Some read draft after draft. They never tired of telling me how I can improve and clarify my ideas. And they provided some much needed respite from the daily grind that is academia. FUN is necessary and I’m glad to say that my closest friends were always there to make sure I had fun and practiced wellness through life-work balance! For me, institutional resources, academic mentors, and caring friends were the key to my recent success. But to be sure, these resources are vital to academic success in general.

As a Ford Fellow, one of the resources I look forward to gaining access to is the community of Ford mentors, who support fellows as we complete our dissertations and seek to make a name for ourselves as future scholars. The annual Ford Fellow conference will be a great opportunity for me to meet like-minded scholars who want to use their scholarship to inform positive social change. And it is there I hope to learn more strategies on how to become a better teacher who nurtures students’ evolution as social justice advocates and critical thinkers.

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Proposal Writing 101 (Throwback Thursday)

Series note:  The following post is part of the GradFund Throwback Thursday blog series.  From time to time, we will repost one of our most popular blog posts from years past. If you are interested in learning more about research grants and fellowships to support your graduate study, be sure to visit the GradFund Knowledgebase.

At a basic level, nearly all merit-based graduate student award applications (from early graduate study to completion fellowships) include a set of common elements. If you have never written a proposal before, or are beginning a new draft, the suggestions below will help you get started in crafting these elements.

Introduction– The introduction will take up just 10% of your essay, and will set the stage for the rest of the proposal. At the very least, you will want to include one or more sentences explaining your research topic for the review audience, followed by one sentence stating your research question, and one sentence articulating your central argument or hypothesis. If you have a longer (~10 page) limit for the essay, giving you space for a second introductory paragraph, include details on the methods you will use to support your argument or test your hypothesis, and a sentence or two about the contribution your outcomes will make to the state of the field or the funder’s goals.

Literature Review- The literature review section will cover approximately 20% of your essay, serving the essential function of laying the groundwork to support your research question, methods, and contribution to the field. Therefore, you will want to carefully select citations that build an argument for the importance of your work, as well as justifying the details of your approach, such as research site selection or use of a non-standard methodology. Continue reading

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Meet Our Ford Fellows: Dara Walker

Series Note: This year, three Rutgers graduate students have been awarded the prestigious Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for 2016-2017. Read on to learn more about Dara Walker’s research, commitment to diversity, and her thoughts on working with GradFund.

As a native of Washington, D.C., I attended a public high school just five blocks away from the White House. Despite its proximity to this symbol of power and its high ranking, the school’s facilities lacked a solid physical infrastructure. In the winter, my peers and I wore coats indoors due to lack of heat and we dodged bricks that sometimes fell from the face of the deteriorating building. But we knew that we deserved better. So we organized. We organized our peers from other schools to demand better funding for schools, quality curricula, and a voice in matters that related to our daily lives as students. Outside of school, we studied the history of social movements, researched the relationship between charter schools and public schools, and investigated funding patterns for educational resources. In studying past struggles to end racial segregation in schooling, I found my passion for African American history. And through my engagement with civic institutions like the D.C. Board of Education, I learned the value of experiential knowledge. I discovered that my experiences as a student could inform policy decisions about the future of public education. My experiences, and my life as an African American woman who is the first in my family to attend college, inform my view of the academy as a means to realize a vision of diversity that treats the lives of marginalized groups as powerful sources of knowledge.

Social Justice in Research and in Teaching

Reading about social movements after school hours in high school ignited my interested in learning more about the Black Power movement as a college student. As an alumna of Africana Studies, and a current student of History, I use any and every opportunity to write and research about the movement, particularly about the experiences of high school student activists. In my dissertation, “They Dared to Fight: Black High School Student Activism in Detroit during the Black Power Movement, 1966-1972,” I examine how black adolescent activists conceptualized power, politics, and citizenship in the era of Black Power. I argue that black adolescents’ intellectual development and their experiences with segregated schooling, the carceral state, and the welfare state reveal the failure of the youth-centered racial liberalism that had informed the successes of the Civil Rights movement. My work suggests that focusing on young people’s intellectual development, and not just the heady moments of their activism, illuminates the ideas and experiences that shaped their political commitments.

Taking a page from own life, which has taught me to value the experiences of marginalized communities as legitimate sources of knowledge, I use oral history interviews and archival research to craft this narrative history. In addition to mining the archives for rich sources, I have interviewed adults who were once teenagers on the front lines of school desegregation battles. What can their stories tell us about the significance of black educational activism to the Black Power movement? What might their experiences and analysis reveal about black youths’ visions for a better future? Instead of simply keeping these stories buried in my dissertation, I also include them in my teaching. I tell the history of 20th century social movements through the experiences of the young people who lived them and I use the interviews to give a face to big concepts like deindustrialization, the state, race, and democracy. This pedagogical approach allows me to demonstrate, in creative and exciting ways, that the voices on the periphery are indeed meaningful sources of knowledge worthy of study.

As the first person to attend college in my family, I envision using my research and teaching to extend this lesson about experiential knowledge to the broader world of academia. As a tenure-track professor, I will publish the oral interviews and student newspapers into an edited book and digital history project that other scholars and communities can use to understand the world as it was decades ago. These efforts, I believe, will help make the academy more accessible and accountable to marginalized communities.

Working with GradFund

The road to winning the Ford Foundation’s Dissertation Completion Fellowship was a long one, paved with honorable mentions and unsuccessful applications. But with the assistance and encouragement of GradFund’s fellowship advisors, and my intellectual community, the process became a bit easier each time. I used my application review meetings to develop a submission timeline and to learn how to move from storytelling (an historians’ love) to making my case in more concise terms. But more importantly, I learned how to research the funder and the funders’ goals. As a first generation student, I really appreciated the fact that GradFund democratized the funding application process and demystified what grantsmanship looks like. Working with generous peer advisors, I also had the opportunity to develop my ideas more fully, which allowed me to produce a successful application and improve my analysis for the larger dissertation project. Advisors talked through my ideas with me, and gave me the tools to help others. Finally, I learned to envision my life beyond graduate school as a professor who uses research and teaching to help students expand their own ideas about their world of possibilities.

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