Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020...1:56 pm

SSHRC Alert! Grant writing tips and tricks

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By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

Photo of a calendar on a desk that reads "grant writing season" with pens and books scattered around it

Seeing as it’s already November, I think it’s safe to say that Grant Writing Season has officially started. For all of you who are in the process of applying for a major grant like SSHRC, OGS or NSERC, Gradlife has got you covered. I interviewed three current award holders on their experience applying for grants, and their advice for everyone going through it right now. While our award-holders took different application journeys, and are in both research and professional streams, their main piece of advice was the same: Apply even if you don’t think you’ll get it, because you probably have a better shot than you think.

Our award holders

Sara Eng is in her first year of her MSc of Urban Planning (MScPl), and holds a SSHRC CGS-M award. Sara Wasim is similarly in her first year of her MScPl degree and holds an OGS award. William Layng is doing his MA in English literature and is a SSHRC CGS-M recipient.

What did your application process look like?

Sara Eng: I’ll start by saying that I wouldn’t recommend doing what I did because I actually didn’t find out about the SSHRC until around November 20th from an undergrad Professor. So I started my application a week before it was due. For me, one of the hardest parts was thinking of something to write about, but since I was doing some research with an undergrad prof I was able to tailor my research proposal to that.

Sara Wasim: I started my process by looking at the MScPl Departmental website and the School of Graduate Studies to see what grants were available, and what I would qualify for. Then I started working on my applications and looking at the other things I might need, like references, transcripts and other relevant documents so that I wouldn’t need to rush things at the last minute. I also made a general outline for my research proposals so that I would be prepared when I actually started to write them.

William Layng: Even though I had already graduated from my undergrad degree, I reached out to the English department at U of T and asked different professors if they had any advice, and everybody was super receptive. They gave me samples of previously successful applications which was a huge help. Once I started my research proposal, editing it was the big thing. Writing the first terrible draft was really easy, but I edited my proposal more than 10 times.

How did you feel while you were working on your application?

Sara Eng: Well I did my application in a week and that was not fun at all. I was really stressed out the whole time and I kept on thinking to myself “is this really worth it?” and I really didn’t think I would get a SSHRC at all. But two of my profs just kept on telling me that you never know what will happen and to just apply. Honestly, if it weren’t for them telling me to do it I wouldn’t have; I needed that encouragement. I’m guessing a lot of students will probably get stressed out about applying, but you might as well try because it doesn’t cost anything.

Sara Wasim: In general, working on applications can be stressful, but I find that starting them early and managing my time really helps to ease that stress.

William Layng: Despair. Genuine despair. I was very worried about being successful in my application not only for the SSHRC but for graduate school and I was thinking to myself, “man, what if I don’t even get into graduate school and I just wasted all of this effort?” What was nice about the application process though was I felt like I was getting a lot of very serious work done that could then make my grad school application better.

What was your biggest challenge when applying for grants?

Sara Eng: For me, the most difficult thing was deciding on what thing to focus on for my research proposal, and trying not to cover a million things at once.

Sara Wasim: For me the hardest part of the entire process was just getting started. I think it can seem like such a daunting task, but getting started is definitely half the battle.

William Layng: It took a tremendous amount of reaching out to clarify what my application should look like. Don’t get me wrong, the people I reached out to were very willing to help, but the amount of clarification I had to ask for was pretty big because the instructions on the website are so minimal.

What advice would you give to students writing grant proposals right now?

Sara Eng: As one of my Profs told me, a SSHRC is basically an investment by the government, so make sure your proposal is relevant to today’s issues. Another really helpful tip I got was make sure you are using language that is readable to anyone, not just the people within your discipline. 

Sara Wasim: Definitely don’t be afraid to reach out to upper year students or TAs who have experience with the grant you’re applying for, or material you’re writing about. The more feedback you get, and the more you edit your application, the better it’ll be. As well, even if you don’t think you’re going to receive an award or grant apply anyways. I know for me personally, I wasn’t expecting to receive OGS so lesson learned.

William Layng: A huge thing professors mentioned to me was to make sure that you’re engaging with current scholarship. And contact professors in the department who are specialists in your field of research to make sure your proposal is relevant.

A big thank you to Sara, Sara, and William for taking the time to answer my questions. Still have some of your own? Drop them in the comments below!

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Did you know that the School of Graduate Studies has a Fellowships and Awards office? Check out their website here to learn more about funding opportunities and how to apply.

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