Taking the time to fully understand an award program is a critical part of the application preparation process that novice proposal writers sometimes overlook. GradFund suggests carefully following the multi-step process below before even beginning to draft your application materials. These steps will allow you to tailor your application to the guidelines, funder’s goals, and review audience, setting it ahead in the review process from the start.
First, take the time to get to know the funding institution offering the award: Is it a government agency, a professional society, a non-profit, and how might this designation impact the funder’s guidelines and intentions? What goals does the institution as a whole intend to accomplish, and how might the variety of different awards and programs offered come together to help them meet these goals? What funding streams support the institution (taxpayer funds, donations, private foundations, membership funds), and how might this impact the ways in which it allocates money to award programs or individual applicants?
Next, carefully read all the documents and information related to the specific award program. How does the funder intend to support their mission through this award, and how will your application enable them to do so? What are the eligibility guidelines, and do you meet these criteria? Who will read the proposal (specialists in your field, specialists in multiple fields, non-specialists), and what is the review process (one tier of review, or multiple tiers of review by different panels)? What narrative elements must you present in the proposal, what criteria do you need to meet, and what other specifications are necessary to leave the reviewers with a positive impression of your application? Highlight or take notes on elements of the guidelines you will want to keep in front of you as you draft your proposal.
Then, go the extra distance to set yourself up for success: If the website includes a list of recent awards made through the program, investigate trends in topical emphases, disciplinary backgrounds, methodologies, and other characteristics. Finally, use all the information you have gleaned from the process above as a starting point for a deeper conversation with the program officer about how your research topic and professional goals will fit with the goals of the award program (see our previous post on “Program Officers: Understanding Awards from an Insider’s Perspective” for more about this step in the process).
Once you have established a deeper understanding of your funder and award, try to view your application through the lens of that program’s reviewers and program officer. Rutgers graduate students are always welcome to schedule an individual meeting for strategic planning or application review to for help understanding an award or appealing to the funder’s goals.