Most graduate students will work as part of a grant-funded project led by a faculty member during their degree program. Major grants can be very complex and involve a large team of researchers, assistants, and grant managers to make sure every step of the process is followed correctly.
So how do you as grad student find — and more importantly procure — funding for your own projects?
Fortunately, there are many sources available to help students pay for a PhD and research if you know where to look. Continue reading to learn where you can find the right sources of funding and assistance to support your research while getting a doctorate.
National and International Resources
Grants.gov is the primary online resource for all U.S. government-funded grants, including those from the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation. However, graduate students may have better luck through the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which directly supports students in the STEM fields at both the Master and Doctoral levels. Since the 1950s, the organization has funded over 50,000 fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants, many of whom have gone on to become Nobel laureates and members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.
If you want to go beyond the United States, there are organizations that provide funding for students who want to conduct their research abroad. For example, for those seeking opportunities in Germany, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) hosts a database of scholarships and grants available to foreign students. They also provide funding to help graduate students attend conferences or conduct long-term or short-term research at German institutions. Students might have to make connections with a university before applying for some of these grants, so it is good to explore your options in advance to see what may work for you.
Sponsored Programs Information Network (SPIN) supports the world’s largest database of current federal, non-federal, and international funding opportunities. Universities pay for a subscription and students can use it to locate travel awards, scholarships, and grants that are specifically available to their discipline. Perhaps just as helpful and even more accessible, UCLA hosts one of the most comprehensive lists of graduate and postdoc funding. You can filter your search to find awards, grants, and internship opportunities by discipline, academic level, and eligibility.
Oftentimes, professional organizations share student funding opportunities at conferences and on their websites. For example, the American Chemical Society hosts a page on their website to notify students of both external and internal awards. Similarly, the American Statistical Association also has a page on their website to announce internships and fellowships specific to their discipline.
If you haven’t already, visit your professional organization’s website to see if any such resource exists.
You may not have to look very far to find relevant funding sources. There are likely industries in your area that are looking for community researchers like you to help advance the work that they do.
For example, in the Dallas area, graduate students have access to the Texas Space Grant Consortium, which has awarded over $2 million to students who are interested in contributing towards NASA’s mission of gaining a better understanding of our planet and the universe around us. If your city is known for work in a certain industry, investigate if there are similar organizations who aim to support local research.
Even if you’re looking for a small grant, you likely will need some assistance to put together an effective proposal. The best place to start looking for help is your school library. Most university libraries will have information about where to find possible funding for your specific area of interest as well as tips on how to successfully prepare grant proposals or write a management plan.
The campus library should also lead you to more focused resource offices on campus. Most research institutions hire professionals who can meet with you one-on-one to work to help you through your grant application. They are there to help you at every stage of the grant project, all the way from determining which grants would work best for your project, to writing proposals, to helping you manage your grant project through a well-crafted plan.
At SMU, for instance, our Office of Fellowship and Grants works directly with students to help them identify relevant grants and fellowships, such as the Fulbright Program or Rhodes Scholarship, and assist them through the application process. Our Office of Research is also a great resource for those who need help understanding the full process for major grants, particularly those associated with government organizations.
Conducting your own research at the graduate level takes a good amount of money but also a good amount of thoughtful planning. Knowing how to navigate and find your own funding sources as a student will not only help take your research to new heights but will also prepare you for your career post-graduation.