Funding

Funding…

To be really clear: what follows is a very particular take on graduate funding, and one that emerges from (and speaks to) the social sciences. Every university and every college (within each university) handles things differently: what’s normal for me, in political science, is a world away from graduate students in physics, law, religious studies, and medicine! So, with that caveat in mind…

I’d venture that after finding the right program and the right mentor for you, obtaining funding at a reasonable cost to you is the most important factor in having a positive experience as a graduate student. Resources are scarce, graduate education is very competitive, and graduate students are very insecure; collectively these factors can make the scramble for funding an awful annual experience if you’re not careful. Here’s three thoughts on funding in the social sciences:

• Make sure that you can: (1) either afford to pay for seven years of tuition and your own living expenses—whether by loan or personal fortune (and you’ve definitely got a fortune if this is your path!)—or; (2) you have a guarantee for a certain amount of funding for a certain number of years before accepting an offer to join your program.
• Take seriously, very seriously, the search for funding for the entire course of your graduate career. If/when you’re funded by your department and have a steady stream of income it is easy to lose sight of what comes next. You should bear in mind two things about this ominous “next”: (1) eventually your funding will dry up; what comes then? (2) your ability to obtain external funding communicates to potential-employers both that you take your career seriously and that you have managed to convince a funding agency that your career is promising…
• I’d suggest spending at least 40 hours a year (only the equivalent of a work week, right?) searching for funding—and be methodical in how you keep track of the resources you uncover. Personally, I’ve developed a spreadsheet of funding sources that are germane to my work; I’d suggest considering something along these lines. Two implicit, but important, benefits of researching funding are: (1) you’ll also get a sense for which types of projects receive support and, (2) you’ll be compelled to think more clearly about your own work, which is always a useful endeavor!