Someone once teased that all I seemed to do was cough and suddenly grants rained down for one project or another. I wish. Money doesn’t grow on trees, and it certainly hasn’t started to fall from the skies either.
Here are some useful tips to get some extra funds to achieve your goal, no matter what it is; school, research, artistic project…the list is endless.
Many applications will also require someone to vouch for your character and abilities. It’s good practice to always have a group of people who know you well and can give a good account of your work. Typical examples would be your current/former professors, supervisors, bosses, or senior colleagues. If you already have some people in mind, feel free to skip to the next sub-section.
Finding a Referee:
So, maybe you don’t have anyone you can ask for a letter of recommendation just yet. That’s okay! This is why you’re starting a year in advance. Find people who can be good references for you—role models within your field like teachers, bosses, and senior colleagues—and get to know them. I know it sounds intimidating, but ask if you can meet in their office and be specific about why and for how long you want to meet e.g. “I see that you’re an expert in X, I would like to branch into X field as well, and wanted to ask you about XYZ for about twenty minutes.” If you can, try and do this about once a month, so that you get a chance to learn from them and also to tell them about yourself and your plans. Be sure to impress them! Don’t just talk, show them you’re serious as well—if they’re your boss or professor then make sure you’re doing well in class or at work. If they seem supportive, and when it feels right, ask if they’ll write you a reference.
Requesting a Recommendation:
Don’t be afraid to ask. Most people got to where they are now because when they were in your position someone helped them by writing them a reference, and they’re likely eager to pay it forward and help someone else. So, remember, you’re not bothering them. You just need to have proven that you’re worth helping.
So, how do you ask? You can usually do this over email or in-person.
Be sure to give your referee enough time to do this for you. If this is the first time someone is writing you a letter, give them at least 4-6 weeks notice. Once they’ve written you a couple, you might be able to cut this time down a bit.
Send them information about what you’re applying for: a brief description with a link for more information, and a clearly stated deadline. Also include any information about yourself and your project that you think will be useful as they write the letter.
Be prepared for a no: maybe he/she feels they don’t know you well enough to write an honest letter for you, or maybe they’re insanely busy and just don’t have enough time. Sometimes when you ask for a reference, your answer will be no. Be gracious about this; just because he/she can’t help you this time, doesn’t mean they may not be able to write you a letter later on, so don’t burn any bridges out of bitterness.
After the Recommendation:
Don’t forget to say thank you to your referees immediately after. You can send an email, but a nice handwritten note and chocolate wouldn’t hurt either.
Keep them informed. Whether you get it or not, once you hear back be sure to let them know what the outcome was and say thank you again. It may be awkward if you got rejected, but they helped you apply so they deserve to know. If you do get it, it may also be nice, midway through whatever program/project you’re doing, to send your referees an update on how everything is going.
If you know anyone who has applied successfully to similar funding bodies before it may be a good idea to reach out to them. They may not always be able to forward you a complete copy of their application, but at the very least you may be able to get some tips about what the process was like for them, and what they think made they’re application stand out.
Most opportunities will also have a contact email on their website—if you have any specific questions about the application procedure, don’t hesitate to make contact and ask.
Then apply (and interview) and hope for the best!
By Nnenna Onuoha
Nnenna is a twenty-something Ghanaian-Nigerian with a passion for words and moving images. Her areas of expertise include indecision, LOTR, side-eyes, and 2048. She is currently studying towards a degree in professional people watching. Nnenna has successfully raised over $60,000 from various research grants, fellowships and prizes.