Staying Motivated to Apply for Grants in Uncertainty

Nov. 15, 2021

Hello Graduate Students,

As someone who completed graduate school almost ten years ago, I have incredible respect for all of you who are persevering through your graduate program now. For most people, the pandemic created multiple disruptions in life, and you are continuing. Seriously, my hat off to you. A key part of applying for funding is planning ahead, and that can feel difficult these days. Rachel Small gives three excellent tips below for moving forward with funding applications in this time.



Hi, I am Rachel Small, and I am currently a PhD Candidate in the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies in the Department of History. I’ve had a lot of experience during my program with grant writing, both before and during the pandemic. I have received the DAAD, the Student Fulbright, and the Bilinski. I know first-hand how much more daunting the process of applying has become since March 2020. But I’m here to urge you to keep applying for funding. My key tips for staying motivated to keep writing, editing, and submitting applications during uncertainty are creating and using a support network, creating backup plans, and applying for as many grants as possible.

Support Network

An important step in keeping motivated is to identify and utilize various support tools. In most cases, you should ask your advisors or mentors for feedback and guidance all along the grant application journey. There are also many resources on campus to help you at any stage of the process. The Grad College’s Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement, the Honors College’s Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships, and the College of SBS’ Social & Behavioral Sciences Research Institute have been key to my personal successes with grants—the people with whom I’ve worked gave helpful advice, detailed feedback on drafts, and priceless guidance in finding funding through their workshops, information sessions, and writing programs.

Getting a second (or more) pair of eyes on your applications can be immensely motivating. Not only will having someone else read your work hold you accountable to drafting a complete application, you will likely also receive helpful feedback in return! And consider reaching out to past recipients of the grant to which you are applying—I’ve found that many on campus are happy to read over an application or give some advice.

Create a Plan B (and C)

One of the biggest hurdles many of us face when grant writing is getting around the mental block of drafting a proposal for a project that is taking place during the pandemic. There are so many unknowns about changing case numbers, travel restrictions, and potential lockdowns.  My advice to cope with this struggle is to create a workable Plan B, and have backups for your backup.

Depending on your grant proposal, for example, you’ll want to think about backup travel plans and dates as well as considering how you will conduct research if you can no longer travel to your research site. And most importantly, how will the proposed grant funds support you in this? Some grant applications now require that you include a short description of your backup plans for how you will utilize funding to complete your research. But even if your applications do not require contingency plans, they are a great tool for helping you feel more secure in your future plans.   

Apply, Apply, Apply

An integral part of your backup plans for any grant should be… (drumroll, please) …the other grants to which you also applied. There are many internal and external grants and fellowships out there, and generally, you can apply for as many as you want (but do consult with your advisors and with the grant administrators before you accept multiple grants). To avoid the extra anxiety that comes from relying on one grant to fund your project, you can apply for several smaller grants that, together, can fund your entire project. I know that applying to more grants seems like a counter-intuitive method to motivate you to write and apply, but the more you apply for grants, the higher your chance of receiving one becomes. Not only will you have more irons in the fire, but your applications will also improve with practice.

The process of writing out your research plans, along with describing your project and where it fits in your field, can be very beneficial. Writing successful grant applications takes most of us a lot of practice, and the easiest way to get practice is through applying to many calls. Most importantly, you can reflect on the feedback you receive from both losing and winning applications. Reviewer feedback is invaluable, as it can greatly improve your future grant applications. If you learn from the process, all applications can be considered successful. And once you discover the keys to successful applications, the next applications and future research proposals become much easier to write.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Let’s not forget about the main motivator: receiving a grant. While receiving financial support is fantastic, remember that there are other benefits to being a grant recipient. Oftentimes, awards provide support for you to expand your network and to reach some of your personal and professional goals.

And, finally, when you need a little extra motivation, take some time to care for yourself, recharge, and then, come back at it again. This is my most important piece of advice: have fun engaging with your project and always remember that you amount to so much more than the number of grants that you receive. Be kind to yourself.