Women In Academia

Women in Academia: External Funding Edition

Last week, we talked about some of the university and departmental funding options available to graduate students. This week, we’re moving outside of the campus and into the wild, wild world of external funding. I can’t go through every single packet of cash lying around, but I’ll do my best to cover the types of money you might find without having to reach into your own pockets.

This week, it’s going to be easier to break these external funding options into two large categories: small awards and large fellowships.

Large fellowships ““ Generally these are government awards, coming from a wide variety of institutions and foundations, such as National Institutes of Health or Department of Defense. They cover tuition and provide a stipend ““ the pay’s on par with being a TA or RA, if not better. These awards are available for both Master and PhD students, with more awards being available to PhD students. While they do not generally last for the entire time required to complete a PhD, they’re a pretty sweet deal, since their general goal is to promote research and getting the dissertation done and done.

All this sounds wonderful, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch: generally speaking, the student will have to do something in return. These certain somethings can be anything from having to take specific classes to providing yearly progress reports. Some of these awards prevent you from working as a TA, a tough pill to swallow if you’d like to work as an educator in the future. Further, as funds keep getting cut, these fellowships are getting cut, too. Not just in number, too ““ the benefits, such as travel grants, are getting chipped away.

The call for these fellowships usually goes out in September, so if you’re interested, keep your eyes open. If possible, get a group together and help each other with your applications. You know, read and edit each other’s essays and keep each other on track with deadlines and whatnot. There should be support groups within the institution set up to help with this kind of thing ““ universities are very motivated to have their students bring in external funding.

Small awards ““ Many professional organizations, clubs and groups offer awards for graduate students. These awards aren’t huge ““ usually in the 1K-3K range ““ but they’re still money. These awards are usually fairly specific about what research questions they’re interested in funding. This is both a positive (Yay! Less competition for me!) and a negative (Boo! Few to none of these awards are applicable to me!). Further, some may have very specific requirements on how the money is spent: some awards are just travel grants, others address publication fees, and still others are intended to be spent solely on research equipment and supplies.

While some of these awards may be advertised through departmental mailing lists, many of them will be found through Internet searches, networking connections, and just plain blind luck. If you are a part of any professional society, always look through their website to see if there are any awards offered. The calls for these awards can go out at any time in the year, so in the words of Mad-Eye Moody, “Constant vigilance!”

So there’s a quick rundown of your external funding options. Both in-house and external funding options vary from field to field, but the external funding options vary a whole hell of a lot. I could not cover every single fellowship and award, but I hope that the broad overview at least gets you thinking about some of things that are out there. I hate to admit it, but I was particularly slow on the uptake when it came to smaller awards ““ I often ignored them in favor of pursuing larger prey. This is a mistake. I mean, sure, prioritize, but these smaller awards can end up making a big difference.

What’s your experience with external funding? Do you have any tricks on how to put together a good application? Are you sitting on a chair made from money eating from a gold plate? If so, what’s your secret?

Next week: out-of-pocket expenses and budgeting! Whee!

One reply on “Women in Academia: External Funding Edition”

I have external funding through the NIH. The only requirements that make this not “free” money were the application process, which is obviously a pain in the butt, and in my case lots and lots of paperwork to do animal and human studies and annual progress reports (not a big deal though). There are more awards available if you’re an underrepresented minority, so that’s something to keep in mind.

When I applied my PI told me that their choice is 1/3 me as an applicant, 1/3 my boss/lab, and 1/3 my institution. They care a lot about your training environment, moreso even than the science you plan to do (provided it fits the scope of the given institute). Pre-doctoral fellowships are more about your potential as a future researcher than anything else. Indeed, my comments on my application were more about mt PI’s seniority and my training environment than my science. That being said, every institute is different, and certainly good writing is necessary, so I recommend taking a grant or proposal writing course before submitting an application for a competitive fellowship like this.

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