Funding Forum, Part 1

Featuring: Kelebogile Zvobgo, Doctoral Candidate, University of Southern California and Rachel Torres, Doctoral Student and Graduate Instructor, The University of Iowa


HL: How did you find out about the funding opportunity you applied for and what did the application process involve?

KZ: My Director of Graduate Studies brought the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) to my attention in the spring semester of my first year in USC’s political science and international relations Ph.D. program

RT: Initially, I found out about it from a mass email sent to undergraduates in Political Science, which is when I applied the first time. The application was straightforward- submit your research statement and three letters of recommendation to the program director and then just wait. I applied twice, I was outright rejected the first time, then waitlisted then accepted the second  time.


HL: How long did it take from the time you decided to apply until you had the funding in hand?

KZ: I decided to apply for the fellowship in June 2016 and received the award in March 2017, with funds disbursed starting in August 2017. I spent about 5 months working on the application.

RT: Quite a few months. There was some time between applying, hearing I was accepted, and then receiving the funding. Since I was already a University employee, getting the funding to me was a bit of an easier process for me.


HL: What did you use your funding for and do you think that was the best use of the funds?

KZ: The NSF GRFP is a three-year fellowship which essentially ‘buys out’ fellows from their graduate assistantships so they can focus on research, accelerating their publications.

RT: I used it to purchase a new work laptop and then stuck the rest in savings. At the time, it was a great investment, since so much of my academic life revolves around my laptop. I’m glad I saved so much of it however, because the process of quitting my job, moving to Iowa for my graduate program, and finding a new place to live was extremely expensive. That funding gave me a safety net during a very stressful and uncertain time. Looking back though, I would have bought a less expensive laptop!


HL: If you apply for and receive funding again, what are two things you might do differently?

KZ: The next time I apply for funding, it will most likely be for conducting field research. Writing grant applications is quite different from writing fellowship applications, so I will seek out example materials from colleagues who have received fieldwork research grants and appropriately tailor my applications.

RT: I wish I had utilized all the resources that come along with a grant, alongside the funding, a bit more. At the time I remember thinking “oh I shouldn’t take advantage of all of this” which is ridiculous. Those resources are given to you for a reason!

I sometimes also regret not using some of that funding to help pay-off a few of my students loans. But these are small changes.


HL: What advice would you give to grad students thinking about their financial security?

KZ: Whether we like it or not, access to resources dramatically shapes prospects for conducting research and subsequent publications. Going into the field costs money, implementing surveys costs money, hiring research assistants and enumerators costs money. The list goes on. The earlier and more frequently you apply for research support, the better able you will be to produce cutting-edge research using original data and applying novel methods. In addition, funding attracts funding. Fellowship and grant reviewers take into consideration your previous success in securing funding; if you have received fellowships and grants in the past, you are a ‘safer bet’ for them to invest in.

RT: Think long term. What are ways to utilize your funding that will help you after the actual money is gone. Don’t be afraid to tuck some of it away for a rainy day if you can. You never know what curveballs life can throw at you.