Hello, GradFund Readers! Whether you are a second-year PhD student preparing an NSF GRFP or an ABD (all but dissertation) student applying for a Louis Bevier Dissertation Completion fellowship, effectively describing your preliminary research can make or break your chances of success. Today, we are going to discuss getting the most out of the work you have already done.
Why it matters.
Preliminary data and results serve a number of purposes. First and foremost, they establish a pattern of work for the reader to consider – something tangible to associate with you as a researcher. Secondly, it establishes a project foundation for your proposed work. This gives your theoretical foundation something to which you can directly refer, avoiding the pitfall of flinging your ideas out into the nebulous cloud of academia. Thirdly, for many finishing fellowships and grants, your preliminary data is required to show progress to degree. This is important to establish a realistic timeline for finishing your dissertation within the fellowship year. Any and all of these issues are critical to many applications.
Do you even figure, bro?
Now that we have addressed the “Why” it’s time to address the “How.” How do we effectively describe these methods? In order to do so, we have to make a few assessments. Firstly, how much space do we have to work with? There is a huge difference between two pages and six pages. In the latter, we may have enough space to place a figure or three. In the former, there is even less breathing room. If you do place a figure, be sure to follow the required formatting conventions for the application. If no guidelines are stated, follow the standard convention in your field. In either case, make sure that the submission format will maintain the integrity of your figures and tables. A PDF will conserve your images perfectly. Electronic form submission through web applets may not. Contact the program administrator to make sure they can properly handle your submission and maintain the overall integrity. And always refer to the figure within the body of your proposal.
Placing the emphasis.
The second thing we have to assess is the context. Much of the answer to this issue lies in the funding opportunity itself. Is this a predoctoral fellowship such as the NSF GRF or the NIH F31? Or is it a finishing fellowship such as the AAUW American Dissertation or the Bevier? For proposals such as the NSF or NIH opportunities, you will be presenting your work as a foundational piece. This sets the stage for future work during the fellowship. Naturally, a more compelling piece of data is great in these circumstances. However, what’s important here is that you can use your preliminary data to build a foundation for your hypothetical constructs moving forward.
For the finishing fellowships, it’s important that you use your preliminary data and results to construct not only your theoretical foundation, but that you use it to illustrate your readiness to finish your PhD studies. Ideally, your “preliminary” results would essentially be the backbone of your dissertation and should integrate heavily into your theoretical discussions to demonstrate your place as a researcher within academia as a whole and especially within your own field. Draw conclusions from your results, as they are just as important as, if not more than, the data itself.