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It’s that time of year when students should begin writing scholarship grant applications. Most external scholarships at the master’s level are heavily weighted on academic merit. This is particularly true for the Canada Graduate Scholarships (CGS) such as SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR, which attribute 50% of the application to academic excellence, 30% to the proposal, and 20% to interpersonal skills.
If you are a strong student, be sure to apply! Scholarships are beneficial, they:
- help students financially (CGS scholarships are valued at 17,500 per year)
- provide students with the flexibility to pursue research that is of interest to them
- provide students with the luxury of focussing exclusively on their studies
- provide a great boost in confidence, and
- look great on a CV!
Last week, the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ottawa hosted an information session on scholarships available to students interested in pursuing graduate studies, and invited the Institute of the Environment to attend. We identified 6 practical tips for writing scholarship grants that we want to share with our prospective students:
1. Apply to the relevant granting agency
This may sound basic - but knowing which granting agency to apply to is not always evident. This is particularly true when you are doing interdisciplinary research that combines environmental studies and environmental science. Does it fall in the realm of the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering (NSERC), or in Health (CIHR)? Can’t figure it out - talk to a professor! Professors are constantly applying for external grants, and many have received these grants themselves. They can help guide you. If even they aren’t sure – send us your project description (envirograd@uOttawa.ca) and we will try to help as well! Remember, universities want students who get these awards!
2. Start early
These applications can’t be written on a weekend. You need to obtain official transcripts, find referees to write your letters of recommendation, and create a strong proposal. The best advice we can give, is to start early!
3. Read the instructions carefully
You don’t even want to know how many applications don’t make it past the initial screening because something in the application is missing. In the age of paper copies, administrators could glance over applications and say, “Hey, you forgot to include the official transcript for the exchange program you did!” These days, with everything being done online, the responsibility lies completely with the student. Read the instructions carefully to make sure you have all the necessary documents, and email us if you aren’t sure. Having the best GPA and the best proposal in the world won’t get you an award if your file is incomplete!
4. Sell your project!
Brian Ray, Vice-Dean of Research at the Faculty of Arts said that there is a very simple formula for your proposal to get ranked in the top 25%:
Choose a topic that you are excited about and explain it well. When you are writing a grant proposal, you are trying to sell your project. And nothing is easier to sell than an idea that you are passionate about. Don’t just pick the topic you studied in your undergraduate because it’s easy – choose something that interests you, that will captivate your audience, and that you will want to study for the next two years!
Propose something feasible and explain your plan clearly and without jargon. Most people can come up with a really interesting research proposal. What you need to do is demonstrate:
_ that there is a need (a gap in the literature),
_ that your project responds to that need, and
_ that you can complete the project within your given timeframe.
Lastly, make it easy on those individuals who are reviewing your proposal - use clear concise language to sell your arguments and eliminate all jargon!
5. Ask for help
Grant writing is a skill that is developed with experience. Ask for help. Have one or more professor review it (more than once) and appreciate the red ink that splatters the pages instead of shying from it. This is a skill that professors have, and that you will develop over time if you ask for help.
6. Master the art of proposal writing – it’s a good skill to have
If you are going to do it (and invest your time into it) – you might as well learn to do it well. Writing grant proposals is a valuable skill to have when you are looking for employment. If you win an award, that also speaks to your skills.
The above tips were imparted by the following three speakers:
Brian Ray is the Vice-Dean of Research at the Faculty of Arts and a member of uOttawa’s Geography Department. One of his many responsibilities includes helping researchers to submit grant applications by providing information and logistical support. He has sat on numerous adjudication committees for external awards.
Claire Farley is a doctoral student at the University of Ottawa who was awarded the Ontario Graduate Scholarship and a SSHRC grant for her master’s degree at Ryerson University, and a SSHRC grant for her Ph.D. at the University of Ottawa.
Paul-André David is the Awards and Admission Officer at the Office of Graduate Studies at the Faculty of Arts. Paul-André has 19 years of experience at the University of Ottawa and has been organizing information sessions on graduate scholarships for the last 6 years.
Learn more about Awards and Financial Support available to graduate students applying to the Univeristy of Ottawa. Find out if you are eligible and to which awards you should apply.
Authored by Kaitlyn Innes, Assistant Director (Graduate Studies) at the Institute of the Environment.