I am enjoying my first Newfoundland winter with the snow up to my neck!

Happy New Year and new semester everybody! As someone who is from Southern Ontario, I thought I had seen a lot of snow in my life but it turns out I was wrong! With all this snow, my mind drifts more and more to summer field work and conferences in warm places. I am particularly hoping to attend the World Seabird Conference in Hobart, Tasmania this year. I am also looking forward to the next field season and thinking about my study birds who are probably somewhere along the coast of Africa right now.

I have big plans and aspirations for my graduate degree, but all of these things require funding. I have been very fortunate to have a lot of help in the grant applications department from the time I was in high school. I connected with a scholarship coach: a woman who worked directly with me outside of school to find and apply for scholarships. She taught me to apply for every scholarship that I can, so I continued to develop my scholarship application skills into my undergraduate degree with the help of my professors and mentors. All of this help that I have received was out of the kindness of others, so to pay it forward, I try to share what I have learned with as many people as possible.

Choose which awards to apply for. The answer to this one is easy: ALL OF THEM. If you are not directly disqualified from a specific award (e.g. it is for women and you do not identify as a woman), then apply for it. A huge amount of scholarship money goes un-awarded every year due to lack of applicants. The donors established these awards for a reason, and they want to award the money to someone, so why not you?

Plan your application schedule. If you are in grad school, chances are you’ve applied for funding sometime in your academic career. Even so, navigating the overwhelming number of grants that are available can be tricky. Bookmark those that you want to apply for and work the deadlines into your regular schedule, treating the applications as an assignment that is a part of your graduate studies. I like to think of applying for funding as a part-time job.

Make a CV. Make an exhaustive CV of everything you have ever done. Some grants may apply to one part of your life or the other, so it helps to have an exhaustive document to draw from. Although it has a bit of a learning curve, the Canadian Common CV is a convenient place to organize all this information. All applications will accept this format of CV and some applications require that you use it (like NSERC/SSHRC/CIHR). Include activities that display things like:

  • Leadership
  • Academic excellence
  • Humanitarian efforts
  • Environmental sustainability efforts
  • Contribution to community/school
  • Inspiration for future career choice
  • Mentorship
  • Collaboration
  • Etc.

Do your research. Some applications require essays that have vague questions. Research the institution or the people who are granting the award to find out what they value. If the institution has a motto, try to include aspects of that motto in your essay to show that you represent the granting institution well.

“Tell us about yourself. Why are you deserving of this award?” These are my most dreaded questions. How can one possibly get across their life story in so few words, while impressing them but also sounding humble? While there is no perfect answer, I like to structure the answer to these kinds of questions like this:

  • How have you demonstrated academic excellence? (GPA, tutoring/teaching, awards, presentations/publications, research jobs)
  • How have you demonstrated leadership? (pick activities that relate to the award in question but also try to show some breadth in your leadership roles)
  • How have you contributed in a meaningful way to your community? (Discuss the impact that your activities have had on your greater community, but also on yourself. How did you grow as a person from the role you held?)
  • What are your future goals? (related to the context of the award, show how you will continue to be a leader in your field)
  • How will this award help you to achieve these goals? (not always necessary but be specific if the application asks this)

Edit, edit, edit, recycle. Make sure to edit your applications. Ask your supervisor, your committee members, your roommate, your mom, whoever is willing to give it a look over. Different perspectives will help you to write in a humble way while still getting your many skills and accomplishments across. Once you have written an awesome, edited-to-death essay, you can reuse it for future applications. The essay that I wrote with my scholarship coach back in high school is still the outline that I use when writing applications today. Although I have added to it, the skeleton is still the same.

I wish you all the best for another semester of your graduate program and good luck on those applications!