Looking for Scholarship, funds, grants? Seven unconventional advice that will maximize your chances of winning

ImageYou might have been told as a student that you have to study hard to make good grades, so that you will win scholarships for better education. It is true, academic records are usually the deal breakers when it comes to winning scholarships and grants. However, there is more to winning scholarships and grants than being a straight-A graduate. Anyone (regardless of their grades and academic status) can use the following uncommon and unconventional advice to maximize their chances of winning!

  1. Get the calls

This seems obvious and direct forward, but one of the common requests I get from friends and students is ‘can you send me a link to a scholarship?’ I found such repeated requests a bit annoying.  If you are serious about applying, you need to get the call when it is new, so that you will have enough time to organize your resources and make application on time. The best way to get relevant and timely calls is to subscribe to scholarship portals, or any website that provides lists and manages scholarships. Most portals are general purpose and may overwhelm you by sending too many lists irrelevant to you. There are however, specific purpose and very organized ones which will only notify you about the most relevant and pertinent calls.  The following are some of the scholarship and other academic information portals that I am subscribed to.  These are specifically for the fields of environment, agriculture and development, but the point is that you can get subscribed to as many portals and directories as possible in your field and get relevant calls on time.

  1. http://www.terravivagrants.org/ (TerraViva grants directory)
  2. http://www.tropical-biology.org/information/bulletinboard.htm  (tropical biology association bulletin board)
  3. http://paepard.blogspot.com/ (Plat form for African-European Partnership for Agricultural Research Development)
  4. http://www.researchresearch.com/  (this is usable only be if your institute or your company is subscribed, but contains one of the most comprehensive funding database with tools for locating and searching the most specific scholarships.
  5. http://disccrs.org/career#Funding (contains timely opportunities on climate change and current global research issues)
  6. Create Google alerts for specific requirements on specific issues for example Quota PhD scholarship Agriculture
  7. Find the web pages of organizations or foundations that provide scholarships. and then like them on face book, or follow them on twitter. Every time these organizations post something new, you will be able to see them on your pages.

2. Apply to as many calls as you can.

Applying to a scholarship/fund takes a lot of time, mental and physical resources that people usually get frustrated and end up not applying at all. Someone once said that ‘If I want to achieve one thing, then I need to do ten things’.  This means that it is only logical to expect a positive response to your application after you make multiple applications.

However, the problem with this advice is that you may not be able to get as many calls in your field as you may have wanted, but you can solve this problem by practicing my sixth advice on being professionally flexibly adaptive

3. Pay attention to little details

Scholarships, funds, and grant application evaluation committees are at first glance looking for someone who is ‘really’ interested in getting the opportunity and someone who takes the opportunity as his or her only chance for success. Therefore, at the beginning they look for someone to reject, someone who seemed to have applied for the sake of applying. They usually know this by the level of care and assiduousness the applicant show or do not show in the application. Make sure you followed every bit of instruction and detail requirements even those that seem trivial such as number of words, font types and sizes, dressing code at the interview etc.

4. Motivation letter is about you

One of the common problems I see in applicants who ask me to edit their motivation letters is that they write too much about their field of study, the problems in their countries and other general issues in their field of specialization. Do not get me wrong, I think these issues should always be part of motivation letter, however, the evaluation committee probably know more about your field of study than you do. They are not looking for an explanation on why your profession is important to your country. They are looking for why it is important for you to study this particular field at the particular university you are applying to. They want to know if you have personal reasons that are strong enough to enable you to persist with interest, commitment and determination though out the scholarship, grant or fund time.

Therefore, even if, why your specific profession or research question is important to your ‘poor’ country should be part of your motivation letter, you definitely have to devote most part of the motivation letter for showing your personal reasons for applying to a specific course or fund. In the end everyone knows that the loss of a close friend or relative to heart attack is a stronger reason to peruse a research profession in cardiology than an increasing global trend in the number of deaths to heart attack.  Therefore, next time when you write your motivation letter try writing ‘I always wondered why the green lush mountains that I used to watch when I was a kid are no more there…..’ than saying land degradation has reached alarming rates in my country.’

5. Get to know your Fund sources

Before starting to fill the application forms, read the ‘about us’ sections of the scholarship, fund and grant sources’ websites. Read about past graduates, alumni and even staff member professional profiles. You can even get an email or phone number of the alumni and ask about something you can’t understand or get from the information given in the websites. It is actually helpful to read the FAQ sections than it appears to be. Get the enquiry email and ask question you still have after exploring the websites and asking some alumni.

Getting to know the scholarship or fund sources will help you to ‘speak’ their language and fit into their domain. For instance, you might have earlier worked in an office or organization which works on forestry, but if the scholarship requires experience on community based natural resource management, then you can try to emphasize and illuminate, the part of your previous job where community based management has been practiced. You may also deliberately (specifically) list courses you took related to community based natural resource management.

I can understand that some people may find manipulating your experiences and professional profile as unethical, but I believe emphasizing part of your experiences and skills, so that, you fit to certain required domain is a smart way of selling yourself without lying about yourself. In a nutshell, I am trying to say that you should be flexible in terms of the specificities of your professional specialization and inclination. This takes me to my next advice on professional flexible adaptability.

6. Be professionally –flexibly adaptive

We are in an age where complex global problems such as climate change, economic crisis necessitated favoring multi and inter disciplinary professionals over scholars with narrowly closed specialist professions. Therefore, you might have better chance of being selected for a fund or other opportunities not directly related to your own professions, if you are able to show and establish the connectedness of your skills and experiences to other professions.  The larger the domain of fields you are able to establish connection to yours, the better your chances of getting opportunities. 

This way of thinking will not only broaden the opportunities of funds and scholarships to which you can apply, but will also increase the horizons of your professional domains, helping you to think of your knowledge and skills in new dimensions.  For instance, are you a mathematician, then there is nothing wrong in applying for a scholarship in political science, as you can perfectly do modeling of human political behavior with little help or reading on political science and human behavior. Are you an economist, then a scholarship in development and environment could be for you, as you can work on economic theories explaining human use of resources and thus effect on environment.  Are you a historian, then why not apply to a scholarship in pedagogy? May be you can bring new dimension of knowledge by comparing historical pedagogic models with contemporary ones. All in all, I believe there is no limit to the type of profession you can relate to yours, as all sciences are ultimately meant to serve human beings, and in some way or another have common objective.  

7.  Care for your digital identity

Whether you like it or not, in this digital age, most people have dual identity; the real identity (who you really are) and the digital identity (who you appear to be from what you share online).  Since more people have access to the internet than access to you in person, then your digital identity is way too famous than you really are. In other words, your digital identity is what many people think who you really are.  

Scholarship, fund and grant applications evaluators, and companies are being increasingly dependent on the internet to know more about applicants. For instance an applicant may have excellent resumes, credentials etc., but if he/she shares racist, offensive, politically wrong, unethical and other irresponsible  contents in their online accounts, then the evaluators may develop reservations about selecting that individual despite the impressive paper evidence. I know most people are not so bad online, but your digital identity can be used to maximize your chances of winning a scholarship or any other professional opportunity.  

Therefore, you might as well start to make your digital identity (be it Facebook, page, twitter etc.) look more professional and write responsibly. If you really are interested in the field you are applying to, you may also start to comment on articles, blog posts, etc. related to your profession. Don’t you think it would help if you had given a professionally interesting and valuable comment on an article written by one of the people who are evaluating your application?  Establishing your professional digital identity means that you have to use your real name, adding or following or befriending people and organizations on your field of study and interacting with them responsibly.

I know a lot of people use Facebook or many other online accounts for personal interests. It is okay, you can still continue to use it for both, but if you think your personal interests are too personal to  share with those you want to connect professionally, you might need to create a separate account. I personally found it convenient to use Facebook for personal and general purpose connection while using twitter for more professional stuff. 

Good luck with your applications. Please feel free to comment and ask any question regarding scholarships and application.  I would be glad to share more advice from my colleagues who also have extensive scholarship and fund application experiences.

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African Academic/Researcher

Science and Research by Africans for Africa

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