Fellowship Toolbox

Applying for a fellowship can feel solitary. Here are some tools to make the process easier.

    1. Imagine the reader as you write. I’ve always liked to picture the reader as a friendly, well-educated aunt — she hasn’t seen you in a while, and doesn’t know exactly what you do, but she’s interested.
    2. Find the right mix of facts and stories. [Funding agencies] vary in what they seek in terms of the right mix of vignettes and numbers.
    3. It’s not just a grant, it’s an investment. [Funders] have limited resources, and want to show … the larger community that they’ve put their money where it will make a difference….

(From Carlson and O’Neal-McElrath, Winning Grants Step by Step, 3rd ed. Jossey-Bass, 2008, pp. 7-8.)

Susan G. Zepeda, PhD  |  Exec. Dir., Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky

Where do I look for funding?

After talking to your mentor, director of graduate studies, and more senior colleagues, you will, of course, scour the Graduate College’s offerings online and its weekly email digest. Then what? Print sources still exist! For example: Gen and Kelly Tanabe, The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2020 (Belmont, CA: SuperCollege, 2019). ISBN-13: 978-1-61760-147-7.

Do you prefer to click a keyboard or mistype on a smart phone? Below are some helpful links.

I aspire to become a faculty member. What funding is available to me?

While creating the next generation of college and university professors is not the only goal for Chicago’s public research university, it is a longstanding goal.

Below is a curated list of funding opportunities for someone wishing to stand on the shoulders of their college and university mentors.

A well-composed proposal, like a sonata, usually ends by alluding to the original theme.

Adam Przeworski and Frank Salomon (2012)

Grant-writing materials

“Brevity is a bitter stimulant to pithiness.”

Roger Cohen  |  New York Times journalist and author

NIH grant-writing materials

NSF helpful tips

Ten grant-writing suggestions

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute.
  2. Follow directions.
  3. Know your audience.
  4. Be explicit and specific.
  5. Propose a feasible timeline and project.
  6. Define success (outputs, outcome, impact).
  7. Tell the same story in the project narrative as in the budget.
  8. Lay out the connections between your research questions, methodology, objectives, and impact.
  9. Don’t make the reviewer work hard.
  10. So what? You must demonstrate why should your project be funded.

Crunch-time tips

  1. In your final drafts pay, very close attention to your prose—write in short, clear sentences and avoid your disciplinary jargon. If you must use terms that are very specific to your discipline define precisely what they mean and how your project will use them.
  2. Actually use the search function to look for too many unnecessary adverbs and adjectives—so for example look for overuse of words like “very”–each time you are stating that something is “very important to look at” just drop the ‘very” and tell us specifically *why* it is important.
  3. Most of us also fall into overuse of sentences that begin with “This” without a noun–this makes our ideas vague; so for example “This comes into conflict with…..” instead actually use a noun to tell us “what” comes into conflict with what. All these are techniques that help a proposal get more specific and forces you to keep reiterating what exactly the project is most interested in. A great deal of good proposal writing is about signposting again and again what is important to the study.
  4. Generally, each important term must be defined at its first use in the text. For example, if you are investigating violence, or aesthetics, or borders, be specific about what those will mean in your project. If there is a particular definition from a particular author that you find compelling then use that, cite them, and tell us why this definition will be helpful for your project.
  5. Do not use the term “discourse” to name everything you are looking at unless you really mean that something is discursive! And even then you must define *what* exactly makes something discursive. Use the search function for overuse of the term discourse and stop and define or think about whether what you are talking about is really discourse or something else.
  6. Avoid overstating how your project is the first one of its kind—someone will always be able to say that it is not!  This is what in the grant-reviewing world is called a “strawman.” Just because something has not been done before does not make it important and most of us make the mistake of thinking that we are the first when we  are not! Instead, locate yourself in existing intellectual arguments and tell us how you will think about these existing arguments to make a new argument or refute an existing one with your research. For example, show how your project will do something new for how we think about art, or aesthetics or war or violence, or class, etc.  Applying and existing arguments to different empirical settings is not a valid intellectual justification along; instead of saying that a study of xxx, yy, or zzz has not been done in your regional site,  tell us how your empirical site is likely to expand our knowledge of democracy, or artistic production or violence, or whatever it is that you are studying.
  7. Structure your research background/literature reviews in a way that they are not just a list of citations—but only pick those areas of scholarship that are going to be most important to help your projects and be very specific about what those ideas are and why and how you will use them in your contributions. If you cannot name an idea from a particular scholar that you will either refute or expand upon, just take them out. Effective grant writing is to show readers that you have read things that will help your thinking, not just that you have read things. Any place where you find yourself with 2-3 sentences of a list of citations stop and reconsider.

Lightly edited for concision and used with permission.

Tarini Bedi  |  Associate Professor of Anthropology, UIC