Whether you’re a grad student or a post-doc, the decision to apply for external funding should be a no-brainer. It is in both your boss’s and your own interests to do this and will undeniably help you in future career pursuits.

But before you even sit down to write, it’s important to do your research and know the steps involved. Here are some useful tips for applying for funding:

Choose the right funding source

Is it a good fit?

Obvious! No one is going to bother applying to a cancer agency if they actually do psychiatric research. But it is worth taking time to research funding opportunities that are most relevant to you. Consider how basic or clinical your work is and whether that fits with the funding objectives of the agency. Look out for smaller grant opportunities that may fund your specific disease of interest – philanthropic trusts or charities are a great place to look for these.

Are you eligible?

My advice is to always check out the eligibility requirements to begin with! There’s nothing worse than spending weeks on a grant to find out that you need to be a three-legged Martian to fulfill eligibility criteria.

Joking aside here are some top things to check for:

  • Do you need to be a citizen (or resident) of that country to apply?
  • Are these opportunities only available for members of the Commonwealth or European Union member states?
  • Does it matter if you obtained your PhD within that country or even research institute if you’re trying to return there?
  • How many years out of your PhD should you be? There are often strict cut-offs for early career and mid career stages.
  • Are there demographic limitations? Use this one to your advantage if you can, for example, women in science or indigenous researchers.

Make use of the resources

What help can your institute provide?

If you are based in a university or large research institute, chances are there will be specific (and free) resources available to students and researchers. Find out if there is a research grants office and go and see them! These people are paid to provide advice on different funding opportunities and may be able to give helpful pointers – go to them early on and ask for help, that is what they are there for.

Also check out if there are any online resources available through your institute. Some universities have up-to-date research funding databases, which can be a good starting point.

Talk to your peers!

Remember that your colleagues are also chasing research funding. Use this to your advantage – if they’re in the same field they’ve possibly applied for the same grant or award in the past. Ask them for their advice – whether or not they were successful. They will probably be happy to share their experiences and any inside info on the particulars.

Attend information sessions

There are often workshops or information sessions available for those looking to apply to the larger funding agencies. While these sessions can sometimes be dry, a carefully chosen one can be a meaningful use of time. Look out for workshops that provide specific details about the funding body you’re interested in and even better, the actual award or fellowship you want to go for. You may pick up helpful insight into the goals and priorities of that agency, directing you to the best strategy for success.

Be organized

This point is almost too obvious to include here, BUT remember that university research office I mentioned earlier? They will likely have their own pre-submission deadlines, often up to a week before the actual agency due date. The research office will want to check over your submission for irregularities and will highlight any glaring errors or even identify formatting problems – which some funding agencies can be very picky about. So it’s worth getting your proposal to them on time!

Go for the small awards

Especially if you are a grad student, any grant at all will look fantastic on your CV and demonstrate that you are willing and able to seek out some of your own funding. This will be particularly attractive to prospective post-doc supervisors!

These could include travel grants to conferences, or to another institute to give a talk in your field or to spend some time in a collaborators lab learning a new technique.

Research institutes will often have one or two awards to give out every year to students and post-docs for this purpose. Likewise, most of us are members of a scientific society which usually have a pot of money set aside for travel awards. Small philanthropic organizations are also a great source of funding and are very keen on supporting mobility for early career scientists.

Finally, consider applying for funding that may not benefit you directly but those around you. For example, if you are organizing an event, such as a workshop, symposium or seminar series look for sponsors, more often than not they will say yes! Don’t be afraid of asking. This type of initiative will really set you apart from the crowd in your future endeavors.

Last of all, good luck!