How Five Graduate Students Funded Their Degrees

May 4, 2023

Dear Graduate Students,

I was recently at a fellowship program’s graduation ceremony in Reid Park. As the evening light goldened, I felt privileged to see the fellows invited to the front of the ramada and hear about the work they have done and have planned for the future. What a wonderful time of year. We love getting invited to dissertation defenses and hearing about next steps for graduates. But many of you are in the middle of a program, and some of you feel considerable anxiety about how you will continue to fund your graduate work. Our office focuses on external fellowship opportunities, but I’ve never known a graduate student to fund a graduate degree exclusively through external fellowships; they are only one piece in the funding puzzle. We list all of the options for funding a graduate degree on our website, but what does the funding journey look like in practice? 

We reached out to five graduating students to discuss how they funded their degrees. We share their experiences so that you can learn about some funding opportunities and reap the benefit of hindsight from their advice. 

Allison McGraw is finishing her doctoral degree in the Department of Planetary Sciences.  

  • Allison funded her first year of graduate school with a research assistantship through her advisor’s NASA grant.  
  • The following year, she was awarded the NASA Space Grant Arizona Graduate Fellowship. 
  • For her final years of graduate school, Allison was awarded the Future Investigators of NASA Earth Space Science and Technology (FINESST).  

Advice from Allison: Apply to a broad range of scholarships and grants. Though not all your applications will be successful, applying will open your eyes to the range of what proposals require. No perfect formula exists, sadly. However, I can tell you that the art of writing truly lies in re-writing.

Bethany Kasprzyk will soon complete her MPA in the School of Government and Public Policy (SGPP). 

  • Prior to starting her graduate degree, Bethany applied for the Valdez Fellowship through the SGPP program. The Valdez Fellowship provided a paid internship and a scholarship that covered her first year of program fees. She also held a 0.50 GAship that covered tuition and insurance. For travel during her first year, she received a GPSC grant. She used an AmeriCorps education award to cover program fees and books for her second year of graduate school.  

Advice from Bethany: Check out what your professional associations offer. My relevant associations, the International City/County Management Association and Arizona City/County Management Association, have general academic funding (for things like tuition) as well as so many travel/conference awards. I feel like these are underutilized and have the bonus of fairly narrowed applicant pools. 

Connie Sun will complete her master’s degree in Computer Science.  

  • Connie received the four-year National Merit scholarship when she started undergrad; because she did an Accelerated Master's Program and finished undergrad in three years, the National Merit from her undergraduate degree carried into her graduate school year. In addition to working as a Graduate Resident Assistant (compensated with room and board), she held two 0.25 GA positions on campus. She also applied for and received the Betty B. Chastain APASA scholarship through Scholarship Universe.  

Advice from Connie: Apply to as many scholarships as you can! And try to not let rejection faze you.

Katherine Giordano is completing her doctoral degree in Clinical Translational Sciences, College of Medicine.  

  • For her first year of graduate school, Katherine held a graduate research assistantship funded by her program.  
  • The following year she was a graduate research associate funded by a faculty’s grant from the Arizona Alzheimer's Consortium. 
  • Her remaining three years of graduate school were supported by an NIH F31 predoctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.  

Advice from Katherine: Apply to everything! Small local grants open the doors to large national and international grants. Discuss funding and funded projects with potential PIs during graduate school interviews and during rotations. Before committing to a graduate program, discuss first year funding with program directors. Just be aware of funding situations and opportunities from the very beginning and begin applying to grants and fellowships as soon as you can.

Sonia Dalphin-Perez recently defended her dissertation in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment.

  • Sonia funded her first year of graduate school with a fellowship from the Graduate College. For the rest of graduate school, she also did some combination of research and teaching assistantships, which offer tuition benefits.  
  • During her second year, she pursued and was a awarded a variety of funding opportunities, including the Ervin H. Zube Scholarship, Tinker Field Research Grant, Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (SW CASC) Natural Resources Workforce Development (NRWD) Fellowship, First Rufford Small Grant, and Tinker Tuition Scholarship.  
  • In her third and fourth year, she received a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Fellowship as well as the Tommy Lee Hart Memorial Scholarship. 
  • Finally, in the fifth year of graduate school, she held the Ervin H. Zube Scholarship and William McGinnies Scholarship, a CALS general scholarship, and School of Natural Resources and the Environment Graduate supplemental funding award. 

Advice from Sonia: CALS has many options for its students, including international students. I would encourage everyone to apply to their departmental and college scholarships every year. Also, ask other students from your program! They’re likely aware of some options you’d also find relevant.

I salute these five students. Congratulations to all of you. And to all of you who are graduating. Some of you finished your degree while working full-time, raising children, managing a health condition, or helping parents. You may have felt overwhelmed even thinking about submitting a fellowship application, but you finished and that is what matters. We salute all of you.