Show Me the Money

Show Me the Money

Show Me the Money: Why graduate students need funding

Successful grant writers are persuasive, convincing and succinct. Well-written grants clearly state the hypothesis, effectively highlight the significance and innovation of the work, and outline a feasible research plan – all in just a few pages.

The ability to write competitive grants is an important skill that graduate students should develop during their graduate careers.  Successful grant writing can open many doors for students, and may allow students to pursue new research directions. By applying for grants in graduate school, students can begin to build a track record of funding.  Expertise in grantsmanship can benefit graduate students in a variety of future careers, from faculty positions to non-profit directors.

Students who have received their own funding in the past have an edge when applying for subsequent funding.  The Office of the Vice President for Research annually sponsors the Support to Promote Research and Creativity (SPARC) Grant Program, which is competitive and peer-reviewed, for graduate students. Below, several former SPARC Graduate Research Grant recipients reflect on their experiences with the SPARC Program. While these comments are specifically from SPARC recipients, their comments highlight the general benefits of receiving a grant at an early stage in their careers.

Rebecca Reid (Political Science) received a SPARC Grant in 2013, and she is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. Regarding the SPARC grant experience, Rebecca said “It introduced me to grant proposal writing which was immensely helpful in terms of learning and practice but enabled me to have a head-start in several grant proposals my first year as an Assistant Professor. I have no doubt that it made me more competitive on the job market.”

Brittany Walter (Anthropology) received a SPARC Grant in 2015, and she is currently completing her dissertation. After receiving her SPARC grant, Brittany received funding through the NSF Dissertation Award for Biological Anthropology.  Brittany says “Submitting the SPARC grant allowed me to experience and become familiar with the grant submission and review processes. Most importantly, the SPARC grant provided me with the funds to conduct pilot research to show the review panel for larger grants that I had already secured funding from another source, which is extremely important for a competitive national grant proposal.”

Ali Ashgari Tabrizi (Civil Engineering) received a SPARC Grant in 2013 and he is completing his dissertation in in Civil Engineering. Ali states that receiving a SPARC Grant “gave me a powerful motivation to actively pursue my goals. I wrote 4 more proposals after I won the SPARC fellowship and 3 of them were awarded.”

When you receive a grant though a competitive process, it is exciting to know that a sponsor is willing to support your work. Regardless of whether or not your proposal is funded, there is great value to going through the process of submitting a proposal and then receiving reviewer feedback.  Even the most outstanding researchers have experienced the rejection of a proposal! The important thing is to learn from the process and reviewer comments, and then use that experience to make your next proposal stronger.

Beth Herron is the Associate Director of Research and Grant Development at the University of South Carolina. Lauren Clark is the Research Program Manager in the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of South Carolina.

{Don’t miss our next #GRADprofdev webinar – Grant Basics with Beth and Lauren – on December 2, 2016 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Registration is required. Register at:}

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at

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