Relating Your Funder’s Purpose to Your Award Application

So you started working on your award application, but you are unsure of how your research project advances the goals of the funding agency. What do you do?

In a grant or fellowship application, you will want to make a compelling connection between your research and the goals of the granting institution. However, to learn this skill of communication often takes time since in our first years of graduate school we are accustomed to writing seminar papers to an audience of faculty professors. By contrast, a grant or fellowship application will often have a multidisciplinary review audience that is charged with the task of selecting only those projects that promise to advance the objectives of the funding institution. As such, the reviewers of your award application will not only need to understand the basic premise and methods of your research (as well as the contribution you will make to the knowledge in your field), but will also need to be convinced that investing in you will yield tangible outcomes for the organization providing the money.

To make the bridge between your research and the funder’s goals make sure that you understand broadly and in-depth what the funder is trying to achieve with its monetary intervention. Is the funder trying to enhance the diversity of academia? Are they aiming to broaden the appeal of science to non-scientists? Or is the goal of the funder to enhance humanistic knowledge? Once you know the answer to this question, aim to play to your strengths in your proposal. For example, if you are applying for a grant or fellowship from the National Science Foundation, you will learn that one of its review criteria is to enhance “Broader Impacts,” which it defines in five ways.  As an applicant to an NSF grant or fellowship, consider the distinctive and compelling ways in which your work hits on one to three of these categories and specifically, and spell out those connections in your proposal.

Ultimately, to make your proposal resonate with the reviewers and the goals of the funding agency, expect to write multiple drafts and to work closely with your faculty advisor to frame your research as a fit with the funder. Once you get a draft of an application underway, consider setting up an appointment with us to get feedback from a fellowship advisor.

About Ben Arenger

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