“Identifying and Applying for Grants and Fellowships in the Humanities” workshop notes

Below are my notes and several handouts from a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Office of Graduate Studies-sponsored workshop I attended last week geared toward offering tips for locating and writing successful grant and fellowship applications. The workshop was led by panelists Katherine Walter (Co-Director of UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and Professor and Chair, Digital Initiatives and Special Collections), Margaret Jacobs (Chancellor’s Professor of History, UNL), and Colin McLear (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, UNL). Each panelist began with a brief introduction of themselves and their entry into grant-writing, then the workshop progressed into discussion of specific prompt questions, and concluded with a Q & A session.

Identifying and Applying for Grants and Fellowships in the Humanities

Dr. Jacobs: applied for first grant not long after getting her first job, had small children, a 3-3 course load, no time to write at length (book chapter, article) BUT had time to write a grant proposal

  • started small & local –> great way to gain experience, build the resume, less competition than a national grant, university = eager to help one of its assistant professors with international travel for research
    • small grant won, helped build knowledge to write better applications for larger grants
    • rarely get a large grant the first time –> be persistent, rejection isn’t the end, revise, be attentive to reviewer comments, and resubmit

Dr. McLear: first grant = a Heidelberg exchange grant

  • admits he “didn’t plan very well and did everything last-minute” & learned this is not a good idea
    • e.g. Fulbright application takes about 18 months of advance planning
  • get to know people in other departments –> there may be something that comes up elsewhere that can help you with your research

Dr. Walter: first grant = not a university fellowship, was related to urban planning and based on federal guidelines

  • this grant required her to help administer smaller grants –> showed opportunities for funding in other places

Prompt question: What are some of the hallmarks of a successful grant/fellowship application?

Dr. McLear: don’t start late, plan ahead, learn to communicate with non-specialists effectively –> why is it important? make this clear in your application. what projects can you pull out of a dissertation?

  • network – especially with host institutions or persons –> can help if you are in good standing with the people behind grants/fellowships
    • can even e-mail them “out of the blue” or make contact through another party

Dr. Walter: working well in teams is crucial

  • Does your research fit the category? If you aren’t sure, call the grant specialist
  • echoes McLear’s recommendation to start as early as possible –> give yourself more time for dealing with snags (getting in touch with people you need to ask questions of, your letter writers, …)
  • pay attention to the various components of a grant too –> narrative isn’t the only important part
  • let other people read your grant
  • if rejected, read reviewer comments and reapply!
  • if get a grant, be sure you do all the required follow-up work (very often a component of federally-funded grants)

Dr. Jacobs: served on NEH panels reviewing applications

  • good applications = crystal clear in the 1st paragraph, written in non-specialist language (resist theoretical jargon) –> be straightforward
    • show that you have a realistic plan –> don’t overstate what you can do in the time given
    • how does your work engage with other scholarship? –> be humble and respectful of other scholarship, show yourself as a collaborator, give credit to the shoulders you stand on
    • demonstrate that you have the skills to accomplish the work –> reference specific examples from your c.v. in your application

Prompt question: What advice would you offer to graduate students writing their first grant proposal?

Dr. Walter: Jacobs’ suggestion to start small = good

  • also look at the UNL library website under e-resources for a section on further advice for grant/fellowship applications
  • keep in mind that often you must request reviewer comments –> do so
  • work with faculty on grants when you get the chance, suggest it –> gives you experience to propel you forward

Dr. Jacobs: “show, don’t tell” when you write –> model these things in your grant proposal

  • be sure you write impeccably
  • find ways to make yourself stand out & then quickly move into what you are doing, why your project is important
  • YOU know how important you research is, but others don’t: show the readers why your work is important – don’t just state it

Dr. McLear: know who, in your department, is/has been successful in writing grants (especially in your area, but outside too)

  • they = your most likely draft readers & they’ll know about the process
  • be prepared to revise your proposal several times
  • be aware that the norms of writing conference proposals, journal articles, dissertation proposals = very different from successful grant-writing
    • in some ways, you must learn to live & communicate in two worlds

Q & A session:

Tips for figuring out more about the audience for your proposal/application? Concerns about backgrounds of different reviewers, academics versus funders, investors, members of the business community

  • Dr. Jacobs: pay attention to their mission, language
  • Dr. Walter: federal agencies won’t tell you a lot, other than reviewers = from a lot of general disciplines
  • Dr. McLear: look at and e-mail award winners from previous years

Tips for how to choose the best letter of reference writers?

  • Dr. Jacobs: people who know you really well, dissertation advisor = really important, want the letters to be very specific, long-term relationships are important
  • Dr. McLear: people who know you and your project very well
    • give your writers a copy of your proposal so they can integrate that into their letter (+ this = a good way to show potential writers you will follow through)
  • Dr. Jacobs: agrees with McLear –> make it easy for your letter writers and it will pay off

Handout, “How to Win a Graduate Fellowship”

Handout, “Grant-Writing Tips for Graduate Students”

Handout, “Preparing Fellowship Applications”