Applying for funding is a tough, but necessary, part of the graduate school experience. But luckily, I’m going to be writing about it in my post today, with GIFs from The Big Bang Theory!
If you hope to continue in academia, constantly applying for funding will be a reality you’ll face until retirement, so might as well start enjoying it. And if you’re in your Masters and thinking about a PhD, you’ll probably be applying for funding for that too, so this cycle never really ends. It’s tough, it sucks, but here are a few tricks you can use to make the whole process much more enjoyable. I’ll be talking mainly about my experiences with OGS and CIHR as those are the funding bodies I’m most familiar with, but if you have experience with NSERC or SSHRC (or any others), please feel free to comment below.
1: Know the deadlines
This is crucial. Know the deadline for when the application is due to the granting agency, and if there is a separate institutional deadline. For example, while the PhD CIHR is due in to CIHR on October 15th, each department will have its own internal deadline to get signatures and departmental documents (my department has an internal deadline a week before). And remember: the deadlines and requirements change from year to year – start talking to your department and the Awards office early to find out the specifics.
2: Give yourself lots of time
If this is your first time applying for tri-council funding, you’ll need to budget lots of time (and coffee) to learn how to use CommonCV system, figure out what you need to do, then write, edit and draft your application. You will also need a buffer to deal with any hiccups you might encounter. The system *will* crash the day before the applications are due, so make sure you get everything uploaded well beforehand.
3: Edit, edit, edit
Related to the point above: don’t write your application the night before it’s due. Start early, leave it for a few days, and then look at it with a fresh set of eyes. Don’t rehash old projects for a new application. Tailor your application specifically to the granting agency and their requirements. If you know colleagues who are applying too, review each other’s applications. Be honest. While strictly speaking you might be in competition, a rising tide lifts all boats: often departments have internal funding available and if multiple people get external funding, then everyone else gets more money as a result. Plus, seeing how others structure their application can give you ideas about how best to “make your case” and might help jump start your writing. If you have senior students around, ask them if they’ll review your application, and if they do, be sure to get them thank you noms.
And for the love of Timmies, don’t confuse their, there and they’re.
4: BACK UP EVERYTHING
Seriously. Keep multiple copies of your application – hard copies, soft copies, email them to yourself etc. There is no such thing as too many backups. If your computer crashes/is stolen/gets a virus, you want to be able to submit this and then deal with it. I’m a huge fan of DropBox myself (check out my blog post), but a USB key or constantly emailing yourself files works just as well.
5: Don’t let getting funding be the goal
This is a little counter intuitive, but bear with me. Applying for funding is tough, and very competitive. And it is completely out of your control – external forces such as the reviewer you get, the institute’s focus that year and the level of competition all impact your chances.
Instead of focusing on the outcome, spend your time learning from the process. Filling out CommonCV, writing competitive application(s) and structuring your project to meet the requirements of a funding agency is a daunting task. While in one application you might have to stress the methods and techniques you use, in another you might have to stress how it fits within the mandate of your (prospective) funding body. Enjoy this process – while you can’t control whether or not you get funding, you can control how you feel about the whole exercise. For the psyc majors out there, you want to internalize your locus of control; in short, you want to focus on what you can change and have the goal be under your control, rather than have the goal be external to you and something you have little to no control over. If you learn from the application process and hone your skills, you’ll be better prepared for the next application/conference.
I’ve deliberately avoided specific details about “how” to apply for funding. Depending on your strengths and weaknesses, and the project you’re applying for, and the agency you’re applying to, your application will look very different. Start early, draft often and seek out feedback from those who are familiar with your field. Good luck and feel free to weigh in below!