14 November, 2007

Seeking Out Funding, Part the First

Welladay, I've been blithering on about my SSHRC application for quite a few posts now, and I'm starting to feel some sort of obligation to make this blog useful to others because God knows, I would LOVE to be able to read a blog like this right now. There's so much about going overseas and grad school in general to keep up in the air, and I'm a cruddy juggler. Having someone else offer suggestions and tips would be awesome, and while Excellent David is (natch!) an excellent source of info, his is ten years out of date.

Grad school is expensive, and international grad school is even worse. Most of us, by the time we get to grad school, are already deeply in debt and old enough to start having thoughts of settling, having a family, and doing it all without declaring bankruptcy. As a result, we need all the free funding we can get.

So. First in a series of informative posts about finding funding.

The Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Council offers scholarships for both Master's and PhD students (as well as funding for more established scholars). Winning a "SSHRC" is a moderately big deal in a status way, and an even bigger deal in a funding way.

Master's SSHRCs are valued at $17,500 for 12 months, and I've been told they receive fewer Master's applications than PhD so your odds aren't bad. PhD SSHRCs are valued at $20,000/year for up to 48 months. Also administered under the auspices of SSHRC is the Canada Graduate Scholarship, affectionately and awedly known as the "Super-SSHRC." The CGS is valued at $35,000/year for up to 36 months, and all SSHRC applications are automatically considered for the CGS as well (no separate application necessary).

The numbers alone should tell you these awards are worth applying for.

The application process is as full of red tape as you would expect. In addition to the 9 page online application form, which must be filled out absolutely correctly, you are responsible for getting two reference letters and writing a plan of study. I discussed the plan of study in an earlier post, but there's always more to say.

  • SSHRC is applicable to students studying outside of Canada.
  • Start early. Start writing your proposal early. SSHRC winners have been known to write upwards of 20 drafts, tweaking here and tinkering there. Your brain may get bogged down midway, so make sure you have time to put it on a shelf and take a break.
  • Answer all the questions I listed in the earlier post, and don't be afraid to be blunt about them. You only have two pages - no room to be coy! SSHRC is not looking for flowery writing. Point of fact, I've been told they generally despise it. "Creative" and "artistic" are not good adjectives for a solid proposal (not to be confused with your actual idea, which may be creative and/or artistic). They want to know, in two pages, that you are a serious scholar with serious research potential, and that your ideas are viable. Presenting this creatively doesn't make you stand out: it makes you look frivolous. You have to take yourself seriously to get them to take you seriously. This goes for the title of your project, too: concise and descriptive are better than catchy.
  • If you are at a school which offers a grant-writing seminar, GO! I can't stress this enough. I did it last year, and in four weeks I learnt an entirely new "voice." Writing a grant application is very different than other academic writing you may have done thus far, and having the experts at writing successful applications show you how to do it is beyond value. The UofT course includes one-on-one time with Writing Centre staff, all of whom won a SSHRC or CGS in the past. Because this award is so high profile and a major source of graduate funding, you may be able to find a SSHRC-specific course. GO.
  • What SSHRC is looking for is research potential. They don't care what you've done in the past or how awesome you are, except inasmuch as it proves your potential. If you can't say exactly how a past experience makes you a good researcher, don't bother including it.
  • Avoid impersonal pronouns. Never say "this proves I am great" or "I will do it." Say "this [specific thing] proves I am great" and "I will do [specific thing]." You have to be absolutely clear.
  • Invest in a writing guide. I have Academic Writing for Graduate Students and it is top-notch. Provides help and information for a variety of writing situations grad students will encounter, including grant writing.

Be aware of your deadlines. If you are applying through your current school, your department will set the deadline. You have to fight your way out of your department, who have a limited quota of applications they can forward to the school. If you make it past that, you have to fight your way out of the school, who also have a quota. If you are not currently at a Canadian school, you apply independently, and the deadline is usually somewhere around 15 November. You don't have to fight your way to get to SSHRC, which is kind of nice. Plus you have extra time, but don't let that fool you - it runs out fast!

That is SSHRC in a nutshell. It generally has the earliest deadline, nearly a full year in advance. Grants can be awarded in May as well as September, but most people aim for September. It is also very good for students facing a thesis proposal, because the same sorts of thoughts (minus the begging) are needed.

Good luck!

No comments: