Other students, however, enter doctoral programs with 4-5 years of guaranteed funding – often in an assistantship with tuition, stipend, and access to health insurance in exchange to 10-20 hours of work per week. Students with generous departmental support may believe they do not have to apply for funding outside their department during graduate school, because they already have support. Students may also feel that spending time applying for additional funds is time they could spend getting research done. However, there are several benefits to applying for external support even if you don’t financially need it. So, before you write off getting funding external to your department (whether applying within or outside your university), consider the following.
- Money. You may not need money to support you, but it’s rare that graduate students feel so financially comfortable that they would turn down extra money. I’ve never heard a grad student say, my stipend is so generous, I really don’t know what to do with all this money. When we have scholarship competitions (not for huge amounts of money), I’m surprised at the small number of students who actually apply. Who wouldn’t want extra money, even if it’s for more flexibility for going to the movies or out for dinner, or for your savings account?
- Dissertation research. You may have funds to support yourself, but what about funds to do the dissertation (or other) research project you really want to do? Students often use their mentor’s, another faculty member’s, or publicly available data. But is there a research project you really want to do during graduate school, and could a couple of thousand dollars provide support to complete that project? Grants can support a range of research expenses, such as participant payment, access to measures or software, travel, and other research costs.
- Build your CV: Demonstrating you have successfully secured your own funding positions you well for many jobs. If you are interested in a tenure track position at a top research university, demonstrating the ability to secure funding can be critical. There are other jobs with similar expectations – e.g., soft money jobs at medical schools (though sometimes you can demonstrate this ability after you start the position and start off paid on others’ projects). In addition, many people who work at research institutes have to secure external funding to support various projects. When I received a tenure track position at Penn State right out of my PhD program, I was told the only reason they considered my application was that I had gotten an F31 from NIMH. I know that was 20 years ago, and it’s even harder now to get tenure track positions without doing a post doc first, but whenever you go on the faculty job market, demonstrating your ability to secure funding is highly valuable.
- Practice: For many different careers (tenure track faculty at research-oriented university; faculty at medical school or other soft money position; research institutes), part of your job will be to obtain external funding. This need isn’t limited to researchers working at large universities and institutes. Many smaller local agencies and organizations survive on grants and contracts. So, you might as well get started as a graduate student when the stakes may be lower, and you have built in mentors to help you with the process. Also, habits you form in graduate school often stick – make yourself the person who applies for funding now, and you’ll consider it part of your job for the rest of your career.
“ Why you should apply for fellowships and grants during grad school first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on October 4, 2018.”