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Application Process and Tips

First time writing a grant proposal? The tips below (adapted from writing tips from the Office of the Vice President for Research) are useful for in applying for any grant, including the Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Read on for writing tips, including some that are specific to the URF process.

I. Researching the Funding Opportunity

  • Find the right sponsor for your idea. By reading through the sponsor’s funding priorities, you can determine whether or not your study is a good fit.
  • Are you eligible to apply? Sponsors may specify requirements about an applicant’s citizenship status, year of study, economic status, etc.
  • What outcomes does the sponsor expect? If you’re unable to meet a sponsor’s expectations, don’t apply for funding from that sponsor.
  • Know your sponsor’s timetable. In most cases, you will not know immediately if your project will be funded. If, for example, you must complete your research within six months, but the application review and decision cycle takes nine months, you should consider looking for another funding source with a quicker turnaround.
  • Get help. If you don’t understand the sponsor’s guidelines, find someone who can help you decipher them.

II. Getting ready to write

  • Identify a mentor who can shepherd you through the process and help you refine your research idea.
  • Have a great, original idea. Sponsors will not pay you to learn how to do research by funding a study that has already been done by someone else.
  • Start early, so you can draft your proposal and have enough time to receive feedback from peers, mentors, or editors.
  • Prepare a timeline to help you make the best use of your time.
  • Revise! A successful application is one that has been written and reviewed several times before it is submitted. Each time you re-write the application, you have an opportunity to detect errors you didn’t see before, strengthen your proposal, and get feedback from mentors.

III. The proposal

  • Be concise and clear. Wordiness is not helpful!
  • Avoid jargon. Reviewers don’t necessarily know the jargon for your topic.
  • Check spelling and grammar. A reviewer does not want to be distracted by poor writing.
  • Get feedback on your proposal to ensure that you are conveying your ideas clearly to an external reader.
  • Stick to the format and do not exceed page limitations. If a sponsor’s guidelines state you only have 10 pages, do not think you can convince them to give you an extra page.
  • The flip side of that coin is not writing enough, so be sure to provide sufficient information. If you have 10 pages and only use five to describe your study, the description of your previous experience or methodology may be lacking.
  • Be realistic when assessing the work you can do while funded. If you propose more than what can be accomplished during the funding period, a reviewer will know you are not capable of judging reasonable research goals and will not recommend you for funding.
  • Send in your best work the first time. First impressions are lasting, and reviewers serve on review panels for years at a time.
  • If it is apparent that your study requires a research team, then you need to bring on collaborators and mentors. A sponsor will not fund a researcher who is set up for failure.
  • Support your proposal with citations.

IV. Preparing the application

  • Does the sponsor require a letter of intent? If so, send one in by the deadline.
  • Does your sponsor require letters of recommendation? If so, obtain them well before the submission deadline.
  • Gather all the requisite materials from your faculty mentor before the deadline.
  • The abstract is one of the most important pieces of an application. Sometimes, reviewers decide whether or not an application merits further consideration on the strength of the abstract.
  • Prove to reviewers that you have the necessary resources, qualifications, facilities, and collaborators to conduct the study. Prepare thorough biographical sketches of all key personnel and provide a thorough description of what institutional resources are available if any.
  • When considering your budget, estimate costs fairly and as accurately as possible. Do not pad your budget to protect yourself against a budget cut. A reviewer can tell when a budget is inflated and has the authority to recommend a reduction in your budget.
  • Request what you need. Do not try to be competitive by asking for very little money. Reviewers will know that you cannot successfully conduct the project with insufficient funds.
  • Be complete. Do not leave application questions unanswered. Applications can be rejected due to blank fields.
  • Only budget for appropriate expenses. How well you estimate your budget speaks to your ability to plan and conduct a study. Do not include items in the budget that are expressly prohibited by the sponsor.
  • Obtain all necessary departmental and/or institutional approvals in a timely manner.

V. Submitting your proposal

  • Find out the method of proposal submission (electronic, e-mail, fax, postal mail) and plan accordingly.
  • Deadlines are real – do not think you can beg your way back in. It is rare for a waiver or extension to be granted.

VI. I didn’t get funded. Now what?

  • Don’t be discouraged! Even experienced researchers have to submit proposals multiple times.
  • If you choose to resubmit your proposal, during the re-write address all reviewer comments, or justify why you have chosen not to follow certain recommendations.
  • Be professional in your response to reviewer comments. Do not send a heated letter to the review panel charging that they did not read your proposal or that they did not understand your proposal.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute. Due to heavy demand on deadline day, servers may go down and can affect your ability to submit.
  • Persistence pays. Be sure, though, that each submission is an improvement over the last. Again, you don’t want to be remembered as mediocre or non-responsive to comments that reviewers have provided.

VII. I still have more questions about the URF.

  • For more tips on writing a research proposal, you can ask a librarian, consult a research proposal writing guide, or ask your research mentor for help.
  • If you don’t yet have a mentor or supervisor for your project, you should attend an OUR info session, refer to our online guide to connecting with research projects, search the EUREKA database, or consult the “Find a Researcher” website.
  • Check the eligibility and evaluation criteria before applying.
  • The URF process is competitive: from 2014-2017, on average 212 applications were received per year, of which 63% were funded. Some URF proposals are only partially funded (either due to limitations in available funding, or due to budgeted expenses that are not allowed).
  • “Independent research” is eligible for the URF, which means that the thesis for your project originated from questions posed by you. In other words, you are responsible for the project’s inception, development and conclusions. Sometimes such projects grow out of a research assistantship under a professor, but unlike a typical assistantship, the student has the primary intellectual stake in an independent project.
  • You may apply for support of your project if it is part of an independent research course, such as an honors thesis course, or another upper-division independent research course. The URF cannot support study abroad programs.
  • There are two URF competitions each year: one in the fall, another in the spring. Application deadlines are at the beginning of each semester and award notifications are sent about a month later. URF funds, once awarded, don’t expire until the end of the fiscal year (8/31), or the student’s graduation date (whichever comes first). A report is due to OUR a month after the end of the fiscal year, in September.
  • Multiple students in the same lab, or under the same supervisor, can apply for a URF, but each URF application must include a unique, independent project, and supervisors may be required to rank the projects.
  • The proposal template is designed to help you structure your proposal. In instances where this format does not apply, such as in a fine arts project, feel free to use a different format, but make sure your objectives are clearly stated, and the process for accomplishing your objectives is well defined.