How to Begin Your Search for Funding

Identifying Your Needs:

How much money will you need? How soon will you need this money? Over what time period will you need these funds?

Answering these questions will allow you to target possible funding organizations. If your research requires you to spend a several years investigating the water purifying facilities in Fez, Morocco, then consider searching for a larger fellowship/grant that is renewable and, thus, would allow you to extend your research for more than one year. Larger grants/fellowships (over $20,000) are out there from both federal and private funding sources, but realize that competition for these funds is fierce.

However, if you need a smaller amount of money (say, under $5,000) to free you from teaching duties for one semester, you would obviously approach your search in a different way. There are several fellowship/grants/awards that are in the $500 to $5,000 dollar range. Consider stringing a couple of smaller awards together, the money will add up and the competition may not be as strong.

When you begin your funding search is critical. Do not expect to apply in May for a fellowship that begins in September. Plan doing your searches at least one year in advance-a year and a half in advance is even better. For example, if you will need funding in, say, September 2004, the best time to begin your search is March 2003. This will allow you time to research the funding organization as well as write a cogent proposal.

Defining Your Project And Yourself

What are you doing? Create a profile.

One of the most important aspects of involved in searching for funding is creating a profile of yourself and your project. This is where you sit down and consider what it is that you are doing and how it could interest funding organizations. Let's say you are a graduate student in sociology and your research involves Creole culture in Louisiana. When you create a profile of your research you are going to think of all of it's various aspects and how these aspects could "bleed" into other disciplines. For example, this project could bleed into history (American, European, African), arts and humanities, and area studies (languages), to name a few. Allow your project the freedom to bleed into other disciplines; this will generate more funding possibilities.

When creating a project profile, it is helpful to browse the KEYWORDS used in the funding databases COS and IRIS. The keywords used by these funding databases cover virtually all academic disciplines and fields.

Once you have created a profile of your project it is time to create a profile of yourself. Think about yourself personally: Who are you (man/woman)? Where are you from (region of U.S., another country)? What is your ethnicity? Who are your parents? Were they veterans? Rotarians? Schriners? Consider all of these no matter how trivial they seem. Some funding opportunities are restricted to people born in California, or who are Italian-Americans, or offspring of American veterans.

Developing a Search Strategy

The differences between searching for grants from federal, state, and local government agencies vs. grants from the private-sector (e.g., foundations, professional associations, community-based organizations…) Here again consider your project. Who will it benefit? Where could your research be applied? Is your research more theory based?

Let's consider a student doing watershed research in Western Massachusetts. She might consider searching for some funding at the state level because her research could be directly beneficial to certain state agencies and could also affect policy. She might also want to query local community- based funding agencies. The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts has a large number of smaller fellowships for graduate students who are attending universities in this part of the state. Community based agencies are great because, while they don't have the discretionary funds of the larger entities, they are located in the area where your research will be taking place. They live in your neighborhood. Community based agencies are also great contacts: they know the area and who you might want to query about additional funds.

One last option is to seek out larger companies that do business in the physical area where your research is centered. Say your research involves Old Deerfield, you may want to contact the public relations department of Yankee Candle (the largest employer in Deerfield area). Even if they are not a typical source of funding, they do business in the area and it is good PR for them to support funding that affects them in a direct or even indirect way.

A Note About Applications:

Federal funding agencies have pretty rigorous applications. The National Science Foundation, Department of Education, and the National Endowment for the Arts will require you to write longer proposals (10-20 pages) as well as jump through a whole lot of red tape. Because these are huge funding agencies and their applications must be put together just so, there will always be a contact person who will be able to answer any questions you may have about the requirements, the application, etc. Take advantage of this. Federal funding agencies are huge; you want to be in touch with a specific person.

You also want to make sure that all of your required documentation has been received and that your application is complete. Because they are the Feds, sometimes they lose things. Always be aware of the status of your application.

Proposals in the private sector (generally) will be a lot more streamlined. This is both a good and a bad thing. The application and proposal will be brief (proposals run anywhere from 2-10 pages), what you have to consider now is: in two pages, how do I stand out as someone worthy of funding? The private sector might not have a person dedicated to administering (answering questions, solving problems) a specific grant/fellowship, so you will be more on your own. However, this should not stop you from making sure that your application and supporting documents have all been received by the deadline.


Overview of the grant-seeking process

The best advice I can give to graduate students in search of funding is to be patient and be adaptable. There are many funding opportunities out there that could be right for you and for your project. Keep looking. Network with professors and other graduate students in your field; keep notes on what you have searched and found.

Again, let's use the example of the student researching Creole culture in Louisiana. Say she finds a grant that supports any aspect of 19th Century history related to Massachusetts. This could be a stretch but do some digging. Find out if there were any contacts between New Englanders and the Creole culture in the Louisiana territory. My guess is that there are several connections that a dedicated researcher could find and incorporate into a funding proposal. It is perfectly allowable in the funding world to adapt your proposal to fit the needs of a particular grant/fellowship.

Go to the web site of the potential funding agency. What type of research are they funding? What have they funded in the past? Look at the agency's annual report-most are listed online-look at the titles of the funded projects. Are they similar to yours? Some places list the names and addresses of people who have received funding, see if you can get in touch with some of these past winners. Ask them if they have any advice they would be willing to share. This is a great resource. Use it if you are able.

If you are interested in a particular fellowship, see if anyone if your department (professors or other graduate students) has applied to this fellowship before. I once brought out an abstract of a funding opportunity during a workshop for a group of Biology graduate students. The fellowship was for $5,000 and was being offered by a smaller funding agency. One of the students in the workshop announced that if anyone wanted to apply for this fellowship they should talk to her because two of her friends were on the review committee. That is an invaluable resource.

Remember, the more you know about a particular funding agency, the better able you will be to write a good proposal. Know your audience-or at least know as much about your audience as is humanly possible.

Print Resources

Look at the GSGS handout entitled, Finding Out About Grants: A Guide to Selected Sources of Information. This handout lists print sources available to graduate students at UMass. When possible the handout lists the call number of these books in the DuBois Library; examples include: Annual Register of Grant Support, Directory of Research Grants, The Grants Register, Awards, Honors, and Prizes, etc.

Web Resources

As soon as possible, become familiar with the two funding databases that UMass subscribes to for our graduate students. By becoming somewhat proficient in the use of the Community of Science (COS) and Illinois Researcher Information Service (IRIS) databases you will make your funding search that much easier. There are great "tip sheets" about using the databases listed on the GSGS website Read them!

Begin Where You Want To Begin, But Begin Already!

Take advantage of all of the helpful "tip sheets" and links provided on the GSGS web site. The information on the site has been culled from the experiences/discoveries of GSGS coordinators over the last 10 years. Do some surfing around, see what is out there and then go after it. Remember, just by going through the application process (the CV, the abstracts, the funding proposal, the career goals, letters of recommendation, etc.) and marketing yourself in those very specific terms you will be focusing your research- creating a road map that will hopefully lead to the completion of your thesis. By looking at funding opportunities this way, the application process becomes a win/win situation. The first bonus comes in focusing your research the second comes in receiving a financial award. Begin where you want to begin, but begin already!