Nearly every graduate student seeking funding for their dissertation research project starts out focused on finding one award that will pay for all their expenses at one fell swoop (and in one application season). However, there are many reasons to consider the power of small grants offered by professional societies, private companies, and foundations. From providing much-needed funds to accomplish individual components of the project to allowing a (sometimes) less-competitive environment for skill and C.V. building, small grants can easily form the foundation for a successful dissertation project and graduate career.
Funding amounts for small grants typically range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. For some students whose advisors already have funding for the project, these amounts may be more than sufficient to allow them to make financial contributions to the research and build their scholarly credentials. If you need significantly more support, beginning your external funding quest with small grant applications early in the project can be a great way to develop your grantsmanship skillset and demonstrate the value of your scholarly work to larger-payoff funding programs in the future.
Depending on the discipline or research topic, some students may not have the option of applying to dissertation research grants and fellowships with large sums of money attached. For example, in the sciences, many funders assume that students are working on projects that are funded by large grants already won by their advisors, so few large graduate student grants are available. In this case, applying to various small grants at different stages in your graduate program to support individual components of the dissertation research can be a very effective way to garner the necessary financial support to complete the work.
Even if you and your research project happen to be fully-funded by your advisor or graduate program, applying for small grants as a graduate student is an important step in building your toward a future academic career. By learning the strategies, nuances, and approaches to effective grant-writing as a graduate student, you will increase your chances of success as a postdoctoral fellow or future faculty member. Finally, having any type of external funding track record on your C.V. sends a message to future advisors and employers that you are an active scholar with the motivation, knowledge, and skills to succeed.
The spring semester is a great time to apply for small grants, with an abundance of rapidly approaching deadlines. To begin searching for small grants appropriate to their research plans, Rutgers graduate students can search the Pivot Database. Then, schedule a Pre-Application Meeting with GradFund for help getting started on your applications!