Understanding your funder and the awards it offers

Why do organizations provide money for grants and fellowships? Knowing the answer to this question (which varies depending on the specific funder) helps elucidate the ways in which graduate students need to approach applying for external funding. Without knowing the underlying mission behind an award, be it public or privately funded, it is difficult to illustrate the relevance of your research to the review audience.

In order to persuade the reviewers of the relevance of your research to the goals of the funder, start by researching the organization and its stated goals in its mission statement. At times, the overarching mission of the funding organization is explained in the “About us” section of its website. After you have acquainted yourself with the broader mission of the funding organization, turn your attention to the more specific goals of the award. If you are applying to an early graduate fellowship, for example, the goal of the funder often entails ensuring that young researchers with promising career trajectories are provided with adequate financial support and are temporarily released from the obligation of having to teach or work a part time job. As such, in an early graduate fellowship application, you will need to demonstrate your present and future promise as a scholar in your field, and as someone who will also advance the specific goals of the organization.

In the process of researching the funder and the award it offers, you may also discover other awards that the organization provides. For example the National Science Foundation funds the Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which is an early graduate study fellowship for first and second year PhD students in STEM disciplines. The National Science Foundation also funds the Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, an award which is offered by several directorates within the NSF. The application guidelines and goals for these awards differ, but the candidates applying for the NSF-GRF and the NSF-DDIG alike need to illustrate the intellectual merit and the broader impacts of their work. In fact, those two criteria embody the overarching mission of the NSF, which is to “promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare.”

So how does this all translate to the application writing process? When thinking about how to develop a proposal that effectively communicates how your goals advance a funding organization’s objectives, consider setting up a brainstorming session with your advisor. Through the process of conversation, you may find that you come up with more creative ways of framing your research so that it aligns with the selection criteria and mission of the funder. At GradFund we are also here to help you identify your potential fit for grants and fellowships, and work with you to craft research proposals that make the case for your research to a variety of organizations.

About Ben Arenger

I am a postdoctoral associate in fellowship advising at the Graduate School-New Brunswick, Rutgers University.
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