Why Apply (Again) for Fellowships?

July 21, 2013

As we approach the fall semester, I hope that many of you have plans to apply for funding opportunities.

However, in the busy life of graduate school, students often start to wonder if taking the time to apply for fellowships and grants is worth the effort. Graduate students are generally successful people, so after being rejected once or twice, some give up applying.

While it is true that some lucky graduate students get funding the first or second time they apply, most successful applicants are those who persist. In the Graduate College we have many stories of students who were successful on their third or fourth attempt at a fellowship.

Of course, the most compelling reason to apply for fellowships is to get funding. But I want to point out several less tangible reasons to submit applications. Applying for grants and fellowships can be an incredibly valuable part of your graduate education.

Applications give you an opportunity to:

1. Speak to an audience outside of your field.

As a graduate student, you rarely have to make a compelling argument for your work to people who are not familiar with your field. Your professors and your fellow graduate students already understand the basic principles underlying your work and the larger implications of that work. Part of brilliance is being able to articulate the most complex concept in a compelling way to the least informed person; applying to fellowships can help you move towards simplicity and accuracy in your explanations of your work.

2. Clarify your project.

As you speak to an audience beyond your field, you might find that this audience has questions that your professors or fellow graduate students do not ask. For example, when I read proposals for dissertation research, I am often not sure if a student’s research methods will provide adequate data to answer his or her research questions. Discussing this question with the student often leads to a clearer explanation of his or her questions or methods.

3. Practice a skill you will likely need in the future.

University faculty are generally expected to know how to apply for fellowships and grants. And in the private or government sector, grant writing can be an equally valued skill. Even one or two small fellowships or grants on your resume can demonstrate that you have the basic knowledge to apply to grants.

SO, with this in mind, talk to professors and use the wonderful database Pivot (see “Finding Funding” from February 2013 for advice on using this database) to make a plan to apply to at least one or two funding opportunities this fall.


Shelley Hawthorne Smith, PhD
University of Arizona Graduate College
Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement
Administration Building, Room 322