As a doctoral student you can apply for research grants to finance your research. There are a variety of different grants available, for full and partial time work, ones for a specific purpose, such as travel or equipment purchase. Do note that there are also supportive grants that are given regardless of your income from any other sources, as a reward for good work or a research plan. You can also decide yourself how to use a supportive grant, while reporting the progress of your dissertation work is often the only requirement.
This document does not try to describe the process of applying grants, but gives few tips for effective application. Preparing grant applications for different foundations also helps you in outlining your own research plan. By asking your colleagues to comment your application you will improve the chances for success and clarify your research plan. Do remember to return the favour!
Research grants are mainly applied from numerous different foundations supporting research in a variety of fields. For example, the University of Turku, Finland maintains a list of different foundations, each of which has its own unique criteria and application process. As a general advice, more applications you send to different foundations, higher the chances are for obtaining a grant. Nevertheless, foundations often wish to support young researchers that are capable of coming up with results, and whose research may have a positive influence to the surrounding society. Even if you are a more mature person, do apply when possible as there are foundations that are interested in supporting researchers of all ages. It is always worth applying, even at the start of your doctoral studies, as applying will improve your research plan and you can never be sure when you will be successful.
The central aspect of your application process is your own research plan. You may need to slightly modify your research plan for different foundations, including the length and focus of your plan. It may be wise to target the description of your research to fit the criteria of a potential foundation.
As a rule of thumb, maintain two parallel research plans to enable effective modifications for different foundations:
4 pages (main version)
1 page summary (often the most vital part of your application)
Research plan structure
- Introduction – describe the subject matter of your research, and who benefits of your work (target foundation specifically)
- Description of the current state and future progress of your research
- Description of the realisation of your research and potential results
- Research questions, methods, etc.
- Description of financing your research (other grants, or other finance)
- Schedule for your research
- Your existing publications, if any (as evidence that you do get the work done).
When writing your research plan, pay special attention to clarity and readability. Aim to describe the benefits and results as clearly as possible. Do not write overly scientific descriptions, but aim to write for “wider public”. The foundation representatives are not necessarily specialists in your specific field, and he/she receives hundreds of applications. The recipient also wishes to understand in a limited timeframe to whom he/she believes the money should be given. One needs to easily see the core aspects of our research plan.
Bring forward the progress of your work clearly, together with any obtained results, both in your research plan and in grant application. It is important to show your progress to the date and assure that you can progress swiftly with your research and will complete your dissertation. You can give this indication, for example, through listing your publications.
Update your research plan frequently, at least in the pace of common application deadlines, 2-3 times a year. In the field of engineering, the main application deadlines are roughly during winter (January-February), spring, (May), and autumn (September- October).
One important aspect for receiving research grants is letters of recommendation. Do ask your supervisor to write a recommendation letter (supervisors usually are happy to do this). These recommendations have a significant role when deciding who gets the grants.