Eleven Steps to Funding Success
1. Start to research opportunities early.
Many applications must be submitted nearly a year before the funding would be received, and writing a good application takes time. If you want funding for a specific academic year than the summer a year before that is a good time to do your research because applications will be due in the fall. Range wide in your research on opportunities and be creative. Review grant databases, and connect with colleagues in your department or other Penn students or alumni who may have already received awards and funding in previous years that you are also seeking. Using QuakerNet and LinkedIn to search for award names can be a helfpul approach.
2. When you identify an opportunity, make sure that you meet all the qualifications so that you don't waste time applying for things you won't get.
Reach out to grant managers directly. Part of their role is to help the right people apply for the right opportunities, and they can give you great insight in the priorities of the funding organization, and what they look for in applications. Unfortunately, you'll find that many fellowships require U.S. citizenship. If you're a foreign national and you don't offhand see any citizenship restrictions, it may be worthwhile to check with the funding agency and ask. Don't worry that you'll give them new ideas about restrictions. If they don't have citizenship requirements, they won't suddenly impose them just because you've asked.
3. Pick a reasonable number of applications to write.
You usually want to apply for several opportunities if it's really important to you to get at least one. On the other hand, you need to balance the requirements of quantity, quality and the other demands on your time. Each application should be tailored so that you can demonstrate how you meet the requirements and focus of the granting body.
4. Understand the criteria for awarding funding and who will be making the decision.
Many funding organizations will provide information about previous awardees and successful proposals. There's a difference between funding given primarily on the basis of a research project and funding given primarily on the basis of development of a specific candidate. If funding is based on the former criteria, applications will probably be read by scholars in the field. If on the latter, the group reviewing your application may be more mixed. This has implications for how you write your essays and proposals.
5. Make sure you're set with a group of people ready to recommend you.
When possible have recommenders write directly to the funding organization. This is not always possible, and so you might also want to explore using a letters of recommendation service like Vitae or Interfolio.
6. If the funding application requires a research proposal, think through the development of a good one.
There's a lot you can do cosmetically to make a good idea seem like a really exciting one . There's not much anybody can do when an idea lacks substance.
7. As you write, always keep in mind that, whatever else is asked, you must also answer the implicit, "Why should we care?" question.
Give a context for your research. Explain why what you are doing is important and how it relates to broader questions in your field. Give yourself plenty of time to write. Be sure specialists and non-specialists can understand what you are saying. Organize your proposal into sections.
8. Develop a good list of key words and use them.
From reading a funding organization's material and possibly looking through lists of previous awardees (and talking to them), you can get an idea of current funding priorities. Describe your research in the light of these priorities. This may mean that the vocabulary you use changes a bit from one application to another.
9. Make everything about your application perfect.
Follow directions, proofread carefully, and provide all information requested. If you're asked for a budget, plan it carefully so that it sounds reasonable.
10. Get feedback.
Show what you've written to faculty members, colleagues, Career Services advisors and anyone else who may be able to provide some input.
11. Don't get derailed by rejection.
Keep applying. It's often okay to get feedback from an organization as to why your application was not successful.