Last semester while panicking about all the grant applications I had to write, a friend recommended that I read Dr. Karen Kelsky’s book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. into a Job. I usually have an aversion to self-help style books but in my grant-writing haze, I was desperate for any advice on how to most effectively write and prepare an application. When I started reading The Professor Is In, I was surprised to find an honest account of what to expect from academic life both as a student and as an emerging professional. Her book covered everything from navigating the job market and tailoring your CV to preparing for academic job interviews. Dr. Kelsky herself completed a PhD in Cultural Anthropology then went on to get a tenure-track position, eventually becoming department head. Her book shares advice and the valuable lessons that she’s learned after 15 years in academia in the US.
The part that was particularly helpful for me and I hope will be helpful for you as well, was her section on grant writing. Her chapter begins by outlining the practicalities of why graduate students need grants. She writes that graduate students sometimes grudgingly approach grant applications as interruptions to their schedules but it is important to remember that major grants act as a kind of ‘pre-vetting’ by a set of scholars in your field and that funding helps provide you with money to conduct your research without incurring more debt.
In her book, she provides an illustrated template called ‘The Foolproof Research Proposal Template’ where she provides step-by-step instructions on how to structure your funding application clearly and concisely. For graduate students, particularly those of us who are in the thick of preparing for our comprehensive exams, it can be difficult to be selective in the information we are providing for external readers who are approving our grants because we often get caught up in the minutiae of the literature we have read. As a result, it can be tricky to produce a clear draft. Dr. Kelsy’s template is useful because it not only provides a logical structure but also gave helpful pointers for the maximum length that each section should be before the external reader’s eyes glaze over.
In conjunction with my supervisor’s advice, I used her template to write some of my own grant applications. I found that having a visual template to refer back to made the process of writing my applications far less stressful. Although funding bodies in Canada all have different requirements for grant proposals, I would recommend reviewing this template before getting started on your draft. It’s a helpful way to get your thoughts organized before you even beginning writing.
The Professor Is In is written in the spirit of kindness and sharing. Beyond advice on grant applications, it also provides great information on how to survive the PhD process and thrive. It is also a good reminder that there are many academics who have been through the process of grant writing, comprehensive exams, and thesis writing who are willing to share invaluable advice.