“Getting That Grant,” UNL History Department Workshop Notes

These notes are from a workshop I attended yesterday on the subject of grant writing. It was a lot more informative than I expected it to be, with some of the best content coming from the Q & A session. I’ll definitely begin delving deeper into funding opportunities for my dissertation research. Apologies that the formatting is a bit clunky here. I’m looking into ways to make it more aesthetically appealing and readable.

Department Workshop on “Getting that Grant”


  • Friday, December 9th will be the last workshop on “Getting Hired”
    • will focus on the interview and new forms of interviewing being done now, in the changing market

Dr. Amy Burnett

  • very first paragraph in the grant is the most important → why your research is important enough to be funded
    • need to consider the audience here
  • grant is similar to writing an application for a job → reviewers are very busy, taking time out of their schedules to read your application
    • may be from your field but may not (often are not in your field)
    • already have an idea in their mind of what a strong proposal is → tailor your proposal to what they are looking for – enter the first paragraph
  • first paragraph– make your thesis clear immediately
    • explain what you are doing to someone outside your area
  • follow directions – mistakes are an easy way for them to eliminate you
    • instructions generally up on their website
    • make the reading of your grant as easy as possible – make it easy for them to find things with headings; don’t use jargon
  • if you are going to go through the time to write a grant proposal, apply for as many grants as possible (tailoring, of course, your proposal to each grant’s specifications)
    • ask advisor, friends, and colleagues for information on what grants are available to apply for
  • consider what kind of grant you are going to apply for
    • residential fellowships – spend a semester or two working someplace (beneficial in making connections to other scholars)
    • Fullbright grants – away from home, many different countries to apply to; should speak to people who have had Fullbrights in those countries
    • dissertation grants – UNL offers some as do other academic organizations
    • NEH summer seminars for research; grants-in-aid to work in a state historical society or a research library (lots of small grants out there that people don’t know about) (also a good stepping-stone on your c.v. for getting larger grants)
  • need to think about when to apply for grants
    • major versus small – many major grants are only for the last year of your studies
    • give yourself enough time to gather all of the information you need
    • see ACLS guidelines for writing grants (online)
    • a “good proposal should take a couple of months to write” → write several drafts, approach it as you would a paper (EXCEPT keep your audience in mind); give it to other people to review
    • line up letters of recommendation (says using conferences as a way to get to know senior scholars at conferences that can later potentially write a letter for you)
    • give the letter writers plenty of time (and be sure to give them a copy of your grant draft and c.v.)
  • don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get anything → in the humanities the odds are very low
    • always consider revising and re-submittting the next year AND submit to other grants

Kelly Buford (PhD candidate)

  • winner of the Fling Fellowship (through UNL), $20,000 to research and write her dissertation
  • google to find out what is out there
  • believe in yourself and take a chance to apply for something (everything that you can)
    • know “your own significance” → needs to be clear that you understand why your work is significant
  • look at your audience as scholars looking to invest in a person and a project that will give them big returns (e.g. at a research one university, she emphasized research and publishing)
    • tell them how, exactly, you will “pay them back” for their investment in you → recognizing your responsibility to your investors and being specific about what you will do in the future with their investment
  • agrees that the more fellowships you get, the more you will get in the future
  • How do you get stellar references for applications? → “be stellar yourself”
    • seize all of the opportunities that you can
    • ask which references will stand out the most

Q & A session:

  • How did you prepare your c.v. for the Fullbright?
    • a lot ask for a shorter c.v. → remove the excess and leave the most impressive (peer reviewed)
  • How to find grants?
    • find the best ones by talking to other people
    • reading the Graduate Newsletter UNL puts out; e-mails that are sent out; google searching (for “dissertation grants” – go figure); H-NET; look in the front and back of journals for yearly awards and dissertation fellowships
    • let your advisor know that you are looking – they often have access to resources you don’t (or that you aren’t aware of)
  • Dr. Will Thomas confesses to being a dissertation fellowship application reviewer and states that, at a national level, your audience generally IS within your field
    • true for NEH and ACLS
    • Dr. Thomas notes that, as a reviewer, he is also more alert to applications that come from different places (e.g. UNL as a public, research one university stands out from applications from Harvard, Yale, Princeton)
  • Kelly Buford notes that she included a schedule of research in her statement of purpose and emphasized the importance of interdisciplinarity in her research
    • states that each person needs to evaluate the tone of their application to be sure they are not overstating the significance of their research (another reason it’s good to get multiple people to review your application)
    • your c.v. is important to this process as well – will let the reviewers know your skills even before they get to your statement of purpose (be sure to bump most impressive achievements to the top of your c.v.)
  • PhD student notes that should also state in a statement of purpose why one needs the funding, agrees that should have multiple people, from multiple perspectives read your application
    • try to narrow down what your research is within one sentence, then can move on to articulating this within a paragraph → Dr. Tim Borstelmann calls this “telescoping” and thinks it is a good exercise to talk to others about what you do (especially non-academics)
    • Kelly Buford adds that one can try talking to oneself as a way to practice articulating what it is you do (good for comprehensive examinations as well)
  • Dr. Will Thomas returning to my question about how to find out about grants
    • visiting websites of foundations you are interested in and requesting regular e-mails about funding that they have available (something that was not possible even 10 years ago)
    • PhD student Mikal Brotnov recommends getting to know the archivists you work with; the archivists talk to one another on a regular basis; send thank you letters to archivists who help you
    • Dr. Jeannette Jones states that she always looked at the bulletin boards, doors of colleagues – can often find out about things you missed from H-NET or other listserv that you aren’t aware of → subscribe to the listserv of your particular discipline (what they send out is often mostly for graduate students); going to conferences and visiting booths of certain organizations (historical societies, academic societies) and sign up for their e-mail lists – same for librarians
    • Dr. Tim Borstelmann – think about who you would like to be most like (your colleagues, your advisor, your professors, large people in your field) and pay attention to their c.v.s to see how they started, what fellowships they received
    • Dr. Alex Vazansky says should also pay attention to opportunities outside of the U.S. EVEN if you do U.S. history – there are still many institutions and organizations that are interested in U.S. History (and many times they are less competitive)
    • Dr. Parks Coble notes that Perspectives on History and the Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Review of Books (all available, per Dr. Thomas, for grad students to read in 607 Oldfather) → all have information about fellowships in them
  • Dr. Tim Borstelmann notes that an announcement about the Fling Fellowship will go out in January; the application is due in February
  • Dr. Jeannette Jones suggests looking at short-term fellowships now to see what you can apply for in the spring
    • Dr. Will Thomas notes that the endowments for historical societies and libraries are actually getting larger – some in the thousands of dollars now; not just hundreds of dollars (e.g. Virginia Historical Society)
  • Dr. Amy Burnett states that it is also a great idea to write to libraries and archives you know have resources you need and seeing if they have anything
    • Dr. Tim Borstelmann urges consideration of presidential libraries
    • Dr. Jeannette Jones brings up New York Public Library

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