From The APA Science Student Council

Graduate student funding: How to find and apply for grants and awards

Take a systematic approach and be persistent.

By Jason Fuchs

In the current climate for science funding, it is more important than ever for students to find their own sources of funding. Not only do these funds help to cover travel and research costs, they also demonstrate to advisors and future employers that you are able secure extramural funding. Obtaining extramural funding early in your career will demonstrate competency and the ability to produce high quality work. While a travel award by itself may not help you land your dream job, it may impress the reviewing committee for a larger and more prestigious award. 

APA Scholarships, Grants, and Awards database

The American Psychological Association's Scholarships, Grants, and Awards database is one great resource for locating potential funding. It includes an extensive list of awards sponsored by the APA and affiliates and allows users to narrow down their search efficiently, by focusing only on awards that are pertinent to their demographics, area of research or funding mechanism. Search results are narrowed by checking off the appropriate boxes under Award Topic, Award Sponsor Type, Award Type or Award Recipient Type headings. For example, by selecting the graduate student and dissertation award options under Award Recipient and Award Type, respectively, you only will view dissertation awards that graduate students are eligible to apply for. If this list is too long and you are interested in awards that are more relevant to your research area or division, checking off the appropriate research area(s) under Award Topic can also help narrow the search.

Listed below are some major awards for which you might be eligible.

APA-sponsored awards

Early Graduate Student Research Award

Applications for the Early Graduate Student Research Award are reviewed by the Science Student Council. Students who are early in their graduate school career (within first three years) and have demonstrated motivation for high-quality scientific research are eligible to apply. Successful applicants show considerable achievement within their first few years of graduate school through publications, outstanding research and scholarship, and by strong recommendations from academic or research advisers and other faculty. They have well-defined research goals that are informed by previous research and have the potential to contribute something novel and important for psychological research. This award can be used either for conference travel or to cover research costs. The amount of the award is $1000.

APAGS Basic Psychological Science Research Grant

The Basic Psychological Science Research Grant, which is sponsored by the American Psychological Association for graduate Students (APAGS) is awarded to graduate students conducting research in the areas of cognitive, cognitive neuroscience, computational, developmental, experimental or comparative, industrial/organization, neuropsychological, neuroscience, perception and psychophysics, personality and individual differences, psycholinguistics, physiological, quantitative and social psychology. This award is based on the quality of the research proposal and may be used for masters, dissertation or other graduate student research. The award amount is $1000.

APAGS/Psi Chi Junior Scientist Fellowship

The APAGS/Psi Chi Junior Scientist Fellowship is designed to provide funding for a first- or second-year project. Graduate students in their first year or beginning of their second year of study are eligible to apply. Funds from this award may be used for direct research costs only. Feedback to applications for this award can also be used to improve one's application for the National Science Foundation Fellowship (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award. Funds for this award are $1000.

Non-APA awards

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program

The NSF GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students conducting masters or doctoral level research within the NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics research areas at accredited U.S. institutions. It is important to demonstrate strong research potential as an individual and broader impacts for your research. The NSF favors research that is interdisciplinary or innovative. Funding for this award typically lasts three years, with a $32,000 individual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the institution.

Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) for Predoctoral Fellows

The predoctoral NRSA fellowship provides tuition and stipends for promising graduate students who are in their last few years of graduate school, working on their dissertations. Your research proposal should align with the mission of one of the branches of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and must be sponsored by one research mentor at your institution. Importantly, this funding mechanism is dependent upon a parent grant, such as an R01 obtained by your faculty sponsor/mentor. Proposals for this award are sent to the NIH for grant review and may go through multiple reviews. The funds available for this award vary.

Applying for funding

An article published in the September 2011 issue of GradPsych (“Apply smartly, reap benefits”) offers helpful tips for applying for different awards and scholarships. Some of those tips are summarized below:

Do your homework: Use resources provided to you to gather as much information as possible before you apply. Use the awards database discussed above, or contact the award committee responsible for reviewing the applications to learn exactly what they are looking for.

Follow the rules: Make sure you understand all the application requirements, including page/word limits. If you don’t follow the rules, your application may not even be reviewed.

Demonstrate need: Make it very clear to the committee reviewing the application why you need this award and why you deserve this award over all of the other applicants. If it is a dissertation award, clearly demonstrate the significance of your research so that readers from different areas of research will understand.

Proofread: By proofreading your work before you submit, you make sure you put your best foot forward. After you have done your homework and written excellent essays, do not let distracting typos take away from your award-winning application.

Have a mentor(s) proofread your essays: By having your mentor (or mentors) read your essays, not only will you get a second set of eyes on your writing, but you will have someone who is established in the field give you their opinion about how your writing will be received.

Be persistent: If you are not chosen, seek feedback from the committee as to why you did not receive the award. Apply again, and use that feedback to enhance your future applications. Additionally, contact people who did receive the award and politely ask to see their application. This will give you an idea of how you can reconstruct your writing and writing themes. If awards allow a resubmission, keep trying to win those awards. Persistence will often pay off.

Jason FuchsJason Fuchs is the behavioral neuroscience representative to the APA SSC. He is a fourth year experimental psychology graduate student at the University of Vermont.