I’ve been meaning to write a post on research grants available to ecology and conservation students for a while now. In fact, I’ve been meaning to do it for so long that somebody else did it instead. Tim Doherty, quite thoughtlessly and, I think it’s clear, selfishly*, scooped me and published an excellent list here. Do read it.
It got me thinking about the first grant application I ever wrote. I didn’t finish it until the day it was due and only then did I realise it needed to be posted, not emailed. And printed on university letterhead signed by my supervisor. And include a copy of my academic transcript. In a blind panic, I faxed it (without those things) and hoped for the best. Needless to say, I was not successful. I’ve had a few more trips around the block since then, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned as a student chasing funding. There’s a slight ecology focus, but I think most points are universal.
Give them what they ask for
Address the criteria. On time. In the right format. With the correct attachments. It’s OK to ‘recycle’ material from other grant applications – you’ll often be applying for multiple grants at once to fund your project – but make sure you spend time putting it in the required format.
This means you need to…
Grant applications shouldn’t, and often can’t, be written and submitted the afternoon they’re due. Not only should you spend a bit of time thinking about and crafting your application (see this Research Whisperer post on half-baked grants), but there are logistic issues. They often ask for signed statements and references from supervisors, heads of school or industry partners. They might need to be printed on university letterhead, include scanned copies of academic transcripts or, heaven forbid, need to be submitted in hard copy. That all takes time. Supervisors will generally bend over backwards to help you, but if you start demanding things at the drop of a hat on a regular basis you will lose points very, very quickly.
Try and try again
Re-apply if they’ll let you (they usually do). I learned my lesson from that first dismal attempt and was awarded a grant in the next round.
Let them be the judge
You are not the judging panel. So don’t be the one to decide your work isn’t good enough, relevant enough or won’t win anyway so there’s no point in applying. That’s not up to you! Just address the criteria, be passionate, be honest, and let them decide. Which brings me to my next point…
A project can wear many hats. When applying for a grant, think about the parts of your work that are most interesting and relevant to their mission. Is it a conservation focus? A science focus? Are they keen on community outreach? Then frame it accordingly. You’ll be amazed at just how many different groups could be interested in your work. Be sensible about it though. If the grant is for work in arid ecosystems and you study coral reefs it might be best to look elsewhere.
Not just about the money
Whether you’re pursuing a career in research or will be an ‘on ground’ practitioner, you’ll need money to fund your projects. Learning to apply for grants is a critical skill. You won’t always succeed, and you won’t always enjoy it (rejection sucks), but you will improve with each attempt.
Grants are also a great opportunity to develop relationships with people and organisations in your field. In my experience they don’t just hand you a wad of cash, pat you on the head and send you on your way. They’re keen to hear about your progress, your findings and love to share your work with their members. This is a great opportunity to engage a new audience.
Where to look
If you’re in Australia, the JASON website is a great resource for post-grads, and if you’re working on conservation or ecology, definitely check out Tim’s list. Other good places to look are your university’s scholarship website, societies in your field, even local council or government departments. Also, don’t underestimate the power of a good Google search. Finally, chat to your supervisors and other students in the department and see where they find their money. In my experience, people’s desire to help overrides any competitive streaks they may have.