Spotlight on Megan Mills-Novoa

May 2, 2017
Megan Mills-Novoa

Dear Graduate Students,

In the coming few months, the GradFunding Advice will come from your fellow graduate students across campus. When considering whom to invite to write an article, I’ve asked students who I believe will have something valuable to say to other graduate students across campus. Meg Mills-Novoa has been persistent in looking for and applying for funding; her efforts have paid off. 

I am Meg Mills-Novoa, a PhD student in the School of Geography & Development. As a human-environment geographer, I am interested in how people shape and are shaped by our environment. My research examines how climate change adaptation projects, funded by the newly formed climate change adaptation financial structures within the United Nations, are reshaping environmental governance in the Andes. I am particularly interested in how highland indigenous communities both leverage and resist unfolding adaptation projects that seek to reconfigure water management systems and agricultural landscapes.

Like most graduate students, I spend quite a bit of my time fundraising via and external grants and fellowships that support everything from research trips to my rent.  Most of us didn’t become graduate students because we were passionate about grant writing, but in order to be successful we need to cultivate (a perhaps grudging) respect for how important this skillset is to our success. In this spirit, here is a couple of my stories of failed and successful fellowship applications with some hard learned lessons.

In 2012, I applied for the Marshall Scholarship, which would have paid for my graduate education in Britain. I was a finalist for the fellowship, but ultimately wasn’t not chosen. While I definitely didn’t enjoy not receiving the getting passed over for the scholarship, I ultimately realized that my application didn’t fit the candidate profile that the scholarship was tailored toward. I hadn’t thought to look at who had been successful in winning the scholarship. In hindsight, I could have reframed my application in a way that better echoed the priorities of the funder based on the projects and people they had chosen previously.

On a more positive note, I applied for a NSF graduate research fellowship (GRFP) in fall 2014. I was initially hesitant to apply because it was early in my grad career and I had vague/non-existent ideas about my future research. After a lot of encouragement (and some goading from my advisor), I chose to apply. It was a painstaking process of working through drafts, discerning my research ideas, and compellingly placing that research in the context of my professional and academic trajectory. The GRFP application taught me that proposals are about more than simply justifying your work to funders. They are also an opportunity for you to discern your research, get feedback on your project from advisors and colleagues, and find ways to explain its merit and impact. I drew on my GRFP proposal for countless applications, abstracts, and projects in the following year. It served as an important foundational document that remains a guidepost in my graduate work. 

One of my key pieces of advice for students applying for fellowships is to share your application with other graduate students who have applied for the same fellowship to get their feedback. Let them know what kind of feedback would be most helpful to you based on where you are in the process. After folks read your work, reciprocate by reading others work.

Receiving and providing feedback makes you a stronger grant and fellowship application writer.  Being part of a vibrant and generous learning community is the reason I have been successful at attaining external and internal funding during my time at UA.

The GradFunding Newsletter is a service of the University of Arizona Graduate College, Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement. You may reuse this article but please acknowledge Shelley Hawthorne Smith and the University of Arizona Graduate College Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement.

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