It’s not particularly common to hear about members of the university-educated population who have to beg for money. That is, unless the population being referred to are potential graduate school students.
With rising costs of graduate and post-graduate studies across the country, more and more students are looking towards universities and government to help make advancing their educations a little less costly.
As a senior undergraduate student here at Memorial, I find myself in the centre ring of the grad school funding circus, with thoughts constantly swimming in my head of statements of purpose, reference letters, and how I plan to contribute to the “advancement of knowledge.”
As any prospective or current graduate student will tell you, SSHRC and NSERC are acronyms that can plague your academic career for years on end.
The Social Sciences and Humanities and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Councils are the federal government’s primary way of getting funding to the best and brightest grad students our home and native land has to offer.
However, because the number of eligible students who apply vastly outnumbers the amount of funding available, applicants must go through an intensely rigorous selection process during which one mistaken checkmark may mean the difference between whether or not you receive funding for your graduate program.
There’s a lot of nitty-gritty detail involved with these agencies, and for good reason: the Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship for masters students, the lowest level of funding available from SSHRC, is valued at a cool $17,500 for one year – enough for a masters student at Memorial to live comfortably while studying without having to seek employment on top of the responsibility of grad school.
With such dollar amounts on the line, it’s no wonder that selection committees across Canada use academic achievement as the primary indicator for who will receive funding.
GPA combined with the less tangible perception of “academic excellence” over your last two years of university accounts for 60 per cent of the selection criteria at the master’s level, meaning that it really does pay off to do well in your undergrad program.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the funding application process comes when writing about your proposed research and program of study.
At least for me, it’s tough to suddenly transport myself a year into the future and look at precisely what I’ll be studying and why. I still have a full two semesters left in my current program, two semesters that could potentially introduce me to new concepts and ideas that I had never thought of before.
In applying for SSHRC or NSERC funding, you’re trying to convince the selection committee that you will use the money given to you to make a sizable and original scholarly contribution to whatever field you study, even though you may not know at the current moment what that contribution will be.
Like any other application process, it’s all about marketing yourself and making your application package stand out in the crowd – to go beyond just being average.
If what I’ve learned so far is any indication, applying for graduate funding is more than just having a great transcript.
It’s an exercise in showcasing your strengths to your faculty, department, and university – an exercise in learning the valuable lifelong skill of selling yourself as extraordinary.