When I was working on my M.A. I felt overwhelmed most of the time. I remember one day in particular. In early spring, I was running with a friend in my cohort and we were talking about applying for various forms of funding. She mentioned the various fellowships and grants for which she was applying, and the other awards for which our friends were applying and I felt entirely lost. I had applied for exactly zero. Although I eventually scraped together one application (and was awarded a fellowship), it felt like a huge stretch.
So when I graduated and moved to Minnesota for my Ph.D., I promised myself that I would apply for anything and everything that I could. The first application was horrible and took days, but afterward the process got a lot easier. Not only was I able to write an application much more quickly, but applying for fellowships also helped me make contacts at the University, refine my ideas about my project, examine the available literature… I could go on, but you get my point. Even thought I didn’t win a lot of the awards, the process itself was helpful. Now I actively seek out and apply for funding pretty regularly. I’ve also been able to use pieces of my applications in other ways (even when looking for jobs). Through it all, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks:
- Make a list of fellowships and awards. I have an Excel file that I update as I hear about awards. It lists each award, the approximate deadline, details about its requirements, the amount of the award, and other things. That way I know I won’t “lose” information on a little-known award if I can’t apply this year. There are plenty of awards that are only for writing your dissertation, or for travel, and that may not be relevant today, but it will be in a few years.
- Keep a “short list” of recommenders. I have a few people that I ask for award letters over and over again. My advisor, of course, is at the top of that list. I try to keep everyone in the loop and talk about how things are going, what I’m planning on applying for, etc. That way, when I ask them for a letter they’re not surprised. Additionally, give your recommenders plenty of time to write a letter. The more time you have, the better. Don’t wait until the last minute to ask. The last thing you want is a frustrated recommender.
- Update your CV and keep it updated. Most of the awards I’ve applied for require a 2-3 pg. CV, so I try to keep at least one long-form version that includes everything, and a shorter version. Every time I am accepted to present a paper or have a journal article accepted, I immediately update my CV. Now whenever anyone asks for my CV (or I’m applying for something), that piece is already done.
- Scan your transcripts. Many times you don’t need an official transcript until later, so go ahead and scan copies of each (your undergrad, your M.A., etc.) and then you’ll be ready.
- Write a general cover letter and get feedback (even if you’re not ready to apply). When I applied for the very first fellowship I got feedback from my friends and advisor. Now, although I have to adapt things, I have a good working draft that explains my research and plans for the next year. Since this can be the hardest part, it’s nice to know that I’m not starting from scratch.
- Don’t apply for teeny national awards. Think about it this way: How much money do you need? How much time will you spend on the application? How much is that money worth per hour? If you’re applying for a $500 fellowship and competing against 1,000 other applicants, it might not be worth your time.
- Do apply for smaller departmental awards. The narrower the audience, the more competitive you are.
- Plan ahead for big awards. The full-funding, $30,000 fellowship is going to take some time. Years, if you think about it. A lot of larger awards are determined, in part, based on your research productivity and publication record. So, if you plan to apply for something like that, make sure to keep it in the back of your mind as you go through your program. At my university, there is at least one award where you won’t even be considered without a single-authored article.
How do you manage your “professional portfolio”? Any other helpful tips and tricks?