Successful Academic - Dissertation Coaching

Inside this issue: Get Funded Early and Often


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“Money alone sets all the world in motion.” -- Publicus Syrus (42 B.C.)


“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” -- Woody Allen



Professor S. Joseph Levine’s Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal is a great site to help you structure your grant application. He also provides my favorite site for Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation.


F R E E Dissertation Consultation

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During the month of May, Successful Academic Coaching is offering a limited number of fr*ee initial consultations for graduate students who would like help with the dissertation process.

Request your consultation today.

Twelve Tips for Getting Grants

If you want to become a successful academic, you need find outside funding for your research on a consistent basis. In the sciences, grants are a necessity. In the social sciences they are indispensable. In the humanities, grants and fellowships are increasingly important. To get tenure, and then gain a national reputation, you must follow the money.

Here’s how to get funded:

  1. Start Early – It is never to soon to seek outside support. From the first years of your graduate school career, apply for fellowships, awards, travel funds and small stipends to fund your research. The amount of money may be small, but you’ll gain grant writing practice, confidence in your ability to generate ideas, a track record to impress future funders and tenure track lines on your C.V.

  2. Start Small - Don’t just hit up the big guys. Major sources of support, such as the NIH, only fund about one in ten proposals, and this percentage is likely to decrease as government funding levels continue to drop. Look for small foundations or seek funds from within your university. The big guys are much more likely to give money to someone who’s already conducted a funded pilot study.

  3. Be Realistic – Begin with small projects and pilot studies. The most common criticism of beginners' grant proposals is that the aims are over ambitious. As you describe your project to collaborators, colleagues and mentors, always ask whether the project seems feasible.

  4. Speak to Your Audience - The most important part of proposal writing is developing an idea that matches the goals of the foundation. I can’t emphasize this point enough. The goal of your written proposal is to convince the funding agency that your project will fulfill their mission.

  5. Get Feedback – Show your grant to as many colleagues as possible. Seek mentorship to write the most fundable proposal possible. This is where procrastinators fail: in their frantic scramble to meet the deadline, they miss the chance for feedback from senior researchers.

  6. Find Role Models – Talk to the people in your department who are most successful at getting research money. Look at their grants. Ask if they’ll read drafts of your proposal. Do they have pointers for you?

  7. Keep it Short – The more succinctly you can explain your plan the better. Reviewers tend to be top people in your field who are very busy. Make sure that each sentence is written clearly and to the point.

  8. The Bucks are in the Details – Of course, any misspellings, grammatical mistakes and awkward sentences are distracting and unprofessional. Read each section aloud to make sure that it flows. Have someone with a copy editor’s eye for detail read through your final version. If you are a non-native English speaker, get an editor.

  9. Follow Instructions – If there is a page limit, stick to it. Don’t try to sneak by with tricks like eleven point type. Most grant proposals follow very specific formats. Make sure you follow the rules to the letter.

  10. Get Help and More Help – Most new grant writers are most intimidated by planning the budget and determining appropriate statistics. There are people at your university who can help. Find them. Having a savvy statistician on your grant can be invaluable, and most tier one universities have staff to help with grant writing.

  11. Become a Copywriter – Use section headings to highlight your plan. For example, instead of the headline “Subjects,” write “Subjects: Pregnant women who are HIV Positive.” Instead of “Rationale,” write “Rationale: Reducing maternal-fetal transmission of HIV.” Take advantage of the opportunity to create compelling “headlines” in your proposal subheadings.

  12. Expect Rejection – Most proposals are turned down the first time, even those submitted by the most experienced and successful people in your field. In my experience, the difference between successful and unsuccessful academics is their resilience in the face of setbacks. When you are rejected, read the reviewers' comments carefully. Then read them again. And again. Take advantage of the insights and suggestions of your senior colleagues. Then resubmit, resubmit and resubmit.

Go For It!

Mary McKinney, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
Academic Coach


"On Writing Well" by William Zinsser, is a classic book on writing non-fiction that you should read and reread. After "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White, it may be the most important resource to help you use clear, compelling language in your grant proposals.

Buy this book at