Tips for Applying for Funding (The Hidden Curriculum Series #1)

The concept of the “hidden curriculum” isn’t new. However, it becomes more and more problematic everyday. The hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them (this handout by Amy Pistone lays out several of these).

As a first generation, Black graduate student, I think about the things I was never taught how to do a lot. This is because they’ve come up frequently in my academic journey and because they aren’t exactly things that I could’ve learned growing up.

After several months of obsessing over funding applications, I thought that sharing some tips for applying for funding would be a good place to start. It’s actually amazing how I’ve made it this far in my academic career without ever being taught how to do this.

Here are just a few pointers for those of you embarking on the harrowing journey of completing funding applications for the first time. It might be helpful for some of the more seasoned of you, too, since I feel like I’m learning new strategies every time funding season rolls back around.

Know Where The Money Is

There are so many funding opportunities out there for undergraduates, graduate students, early career scholars, and beyond.

It can be overwhelming, and it’s tempting to ignore them all until they’re directly applicable to your situation. This isn’t a good strategy. Deadlines can sneak up on you and make your life much harder than it needs to be.

Whenever you see a funding opportunity being advertised, write it down.

This could be anything: something you hear about through a department listserv; from someone who’s talking about what they’re currently applying for; or even something you see being circulated on Twitter. 

I’ve created a list of funding opportunities for BIPOC in Classics here.

Even if you’re not at a stage where you can apply, it’s good to have a list of funding sources that you can reference when the time comes. At this point, your list should include:

  1. Name of the scholarship/fellowship/grant
  2. Granting institution
  3. Amount awarded
  4. Application deadline
  5. Link to the application website

This is what my Google sheets spreadsheet looks like:

Spreadsheet for applying for funding

Get Organized

As you start thinking more seriously about which funding opportunities you want to apply for, you should add more details about application requirements. Some additional information you should include include:

  1. Duration or time constraints 
  2. Length and format of your project statement
  3. How many recommendations are required + where they should be submitted
  4. Whether you will need to submit transcripts, if they need to be official, + where to submit them

There can be considerable variation between funding applications and the materials that they require, so it is really important that you keep track of what you’ll need. Here’s what it looks like on my spreadsheet:

It may be helpful to you to include the names of your recommenders in your spreadsheet.

Getting yourself organized early can go a long way. It will help you start planning out when to request your transcripts (and budget for how much it might cost to get official ones), when to ask for recommendation letters, and how much time it will take for you to write your proposal.

Use Your Network

One thing that can often be overlooked is the network of people around you. Some of those people have definitely applied for the same funding opportunities as you. We are too often trained to believe that we have to do everything ourselves and that collaboration is taboo.

If you’re starting a funding application and have no idea where to start, use your network. Ask your colleagues if they’ll share their application materials with you. This way you’ll get an idea of how to structure your project proposal, budget, abstract, and other materials. In most cases, people are happy to help you out.

In my program, we made a shared Google Drive application materials that people have been willing to share. You can also do this on a smaller scale if you have a more intimate support group.

Start Early

This point is simple: don’t wait until the last minute. Start – thinking about and planning for – your applications as soon as you can.

Take it from me, working on multiple applications in less than a month isn’t ideal, even if the application materials are all roughly the same. Use the list you came up with using the tips above to answer the following questions:

How many applications are you applying for and when are they due?

How many recommendation letters will you need, and do you know enough people to ask to write them?

Are there any supplemental materials that will require planning (e.g. a budget, itinerary, and/or object list)?

These are just a few things to have in mind when deciding how early you should start working on your applications. My biggest challenge has been finding more than two people to write my recommendation letters. You may have one or two people who know you well and can write good letters for you, but you should be more intentional about expanding your professional network in the event that you need more than one or two recommendation letters.

If you start thinking about your applications early, you’ll have plenty of time to cultivate those new relationships, among other things.

For a template you can use to start organizing your funding applications, click here!

What things do you wish you had been taught about applying for funding?

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