Applying for Grants & Fellowships

Securing funding through grants is an important part of any academic career, and the value of writing effective grant applications extends to one’s time in graduate school. This resource guide offers advice on both finding grant opportunities and writing a strong application.

Finding External Grants

The best way to find external funding is through databases linked on the library’s grants and funding research guide.

Grant Forward is worth a look. (Create an account using your GC email address, and set up a profile to begin receiving automatic grant recommendations based on your research interests. You must list The Graduate Center, City University of New York as your institution).

Pivot is a particularly handy database for scholars in all disciplines that allows users to set alerts for opportunities featuring keywords of your choice.

The Council on Library and Information Resources offers fellowships generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for dissertation research in the humanities or related social sciences.

The Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program provides grants to fund individual doctoral students who conduct research in other countries, in modern foreign languages and area studies for periods of six to 12 months. Projects focusing on Western Europe are not supported. Contact Rachel Sponzo in the Provost’s Office at 212-817-7282 or

If you do research in China studies, the American Council of Learned Societies has some grant opportunities.

If you are traveling for research, check whether research libraries at your travel destination offer grants to visiting researchers.

If you are traveling for a conference presentation, check with the conference organizers for travel funds. Many professional organizations offer travel funding to graduate students and/or contingent faculty. Applications for such grants are usually announced shortly before the conference, so keep your eye on your email. Sometimes, you won’t learn till after the conference whether you’ve secured any funding (or, if so, how much), so keep all of your travel-related receipts, as many grantors will want to see these.

Finding Internal Grants

Students can also win internal grants provided through CUNY.

GC students can apply for conference presentation support of up to $300 once a year from the GC. Applications are usually announced by email, so keep your eye on your account. Know that you will need to follow certain requirements for international travel under the auspices of the GC.

The GC also offers Doctoral Student Research Grants (scroll to “Doctoral Student Research Grant Program) for students in their second through sixth years at the GC; these grants can be up to $1,500.

CUNY Academy for the Arts and Sciences offers Adjunct Faculty Travel Awards for up to $500 for academic conferences (travel, conference registration and/or lodging). This award is for part-time faculty at any CUNY college.

If you are a member of our union, the Professional Staff Congress (join!), and you are teaching six or more classroom hours, you may be eligible for PSC/CUNY Adjunct Professional Development Grants of up to $3,000.

Writing Grant Proposals/Abstracts

Once you’ve found a grant to apply to, you’ll need to write a grant proposal or abstract to win the grant. Proposals are submitted to grantors, who typically award funding based on how you present your research in your proposal.

Grants proposals are unique genres of academic writing. Just as academic genres such as conference proposals, conference papers, and journal manuscripts have their own specific generic conventions, grant proposals have unique conventions as well.

Of course, the exact shape of each grant proposal will depend on your discipline and the guidelines given by the grantors. Social science, natural science, and humanities grants have unique twists on grant proposals, so you should familiarize yourself with your discipline’s grant conventions by talking to colleagues in your department. Obviously, you should follow the word limit, formatting, and any other specifications listed in grant guidelines as closely as possible. The specific guidelines you receive for each grant should trump any other inclinations you have to approaching the proposal.

But despite the inevitable uniqueness of each grant application, here are basic guidelines to follow when writing grants in most disciplines.

Most grants typically follow a pattern:

  • an introduction in which you state the topic
  • the problem your research seeks to answer, and your hypothesis
  • a background section in which you review prior relevant academic literature on your topic or research problem
  • a methodology section, in which you lay out the steps you will take to gather data that answer your research question
  • a researcher bio, in which you describe your qualifications to undertake the proposed research
  • a budget to justify the funding being sought
  • and a statement of the broader impacts your research will have within your discipline, or for the public at large

Often your introduction, in which you state the topic and your research problem, will work together with your background section to form a “gap statement.” Typically grant writers begin the grant with an observation about the conventional wisdom or current state of knowledge in your field. But then they transition to a gap or a mystery that has yet to be solved. For ex: “Currently x-ray technology is used to solve X, Y, Z problems, but a successful application for Q problem has not yet been demonstrated.”

Identifying a gap early in your grant allows you to position your research problem as a solution to the gap in knowledge. You can then smoothly transition into your hypothesis as a potential answer to solve the gap.

This grant writing strategy implicitly lays out the stakes of your project. Grantors likely understand the inherent value in filling a gap in the field. After all, if they didn’t care about increasing the knowledge about a topic, they wouldn’t be distributing research grants.

Don’t be afraid to make the implicit value of your project explicit. While a gap statement will likely make a powerful argument for your project, you should also feel comfortable making the stakes of filling the gap explicit to entice your readers.

However, a clearly defined gap and research problem are not enough to win grant, even if grantors see the value of filling the gap. While gap statements and research problems are important to get readers interested in the stakes of your project, they do not necessarily mean your project is worth investing in.

Your grant also needs to be researchable and answerable in the time allowed by the grant. Even if you gap is important to fill, if it would take years to solve or be impossible to answer, the grant will not be successful.

Many successful grant writers rely on the SMART acronym to ensure that their projects are doable.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound

Having specific parameters for the project (for ex: Whom will you interview? What do you want to get out of your interviews? How do you know they will talk to you? How many interviews must you do?) will go a long way to making your grant proposal seem more realistic and answerable and thus more likely to be approved.

Similarly, it is important that you develop some metric for measuring the success or failure of your project. In the social sciences, this is related to the idea of operationalization, or turning abstract ideas into measurable data points (for ex: developing a coding system to measure “charisma” for a psychology project). While operationalization is a social science concept, the idea can apply to other fields. The important part is to turn as many vague, abstract ideas into measure issues that you can collect data on. Again, this will make the project seem measurable and doable.

Using SMART principles in your methodology section will help justify why your project takes the shape it does. It will also go a long way to show that the project is serious and can be completed, not a vague wish to answer a gap.

Using a gap statement, a research problem, and SMART methodology to show the feasibility of your project will serve you well in almost any discipline while grant writing.

Of course if you have more concerns, don’t be afraid to contact the grantors themselves to ask question.

And certainly feel free to stop by the GC writing center for more help.

Further Resources:

  • Northwestern University has strong materials for grant writing here. Though undergraduate grant writers wrote these examples, the principles exemplified here will work well for many graduate students.
  • Wisconsin University also has strong advice for grant writing here.
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