This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on how to find a mentor as a young academic.

When you’re in graduate school, the expectation that you’ll have a mentor is built into the system: you can’t file a dissertation without an advisor. When you’re a newly minted faculty member, you may be assigned a mentor by your department. But grad students may need guidance from faculty members who aren’t their advisors (advisors vary in quality, after all), and new faculty may not click with their “official” mentor. How can young academics find a mentor? Here are some steps to take.

See mentorship as a natural development in a relationship.

You can’t just email somebody and ask if you can be their mentee. (Well, you can, but you might not get the results you want!) Instead, start by figuring out ways to work alongside the person you aspire to be your mentor. In academia, this might look like collaborating on a panel for your field’s annual meeting or) choosing to serve on the same committee, if your prospective mentor is at your university.

Stay in touch.

If there’s somebody you’d like to have a mentoring relationship with, try to find ways to connect with him or her. If they seem open to it, arrange informal coffee dates or send update emails. Working with them on a project (see above) is also an easy way for them to see your skills in action.

Be helpful.

The relationship between you and your prospective mentor should be a two-way street. Of course, you have been told that “having a mentor” is important for YOUR career, but you should also try to make yourself useful—within the bounds of appropriateness, of course.

Don’t pick up dry cleaning. Do offer to contribute your expertise when you know they’re working on something in your wheelhouse. Looking to someone more advanced in their career for advice does not mean you aren’t bringing something to the table—possibly a new research or learning method—and so you should find ways to showcase your knowledge and skills, too. Remember, take the time to make sure this relationship is worthwhile (and helpful) to both parties.  

Read the signals.

Try to get a sense of whether your possible mentor has the time and energy for additional commitments. Timing can be essential!  The best mentors will be excited to invest time into your relationship and be responsive to your inquiries. Always be respectful of their time, of course!

Be clear about what you need.

Once you’ve established an ongoing, productive relationship with your maybe-mentor, see how you feel about asking for more. Be specific about your hopes for the “next step” of your relationship. Don’t say “Will you be my mentor?” but think about approaching the conversation with “Would you be willing to introduce me to people at our upcoming conference?” or “Would you be willing to give me advice on navigating x, y, or z dynamic within my department?” Clarity will be valued by your prospective mentor. And, if they don’t have the opportunity to work with you on this project, remember–stay in touch! This conversation is the beginning of an ongoing relationship–whether as official mentee to mentor or simply colleagues.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on how to keep your career materials current.

You don’t want to find yourself in the position of needing to rustle up syllabi, statements, CVs, teaching evaluations, and reference letters when you’re in the throes of applying to a job. Do your future self a solid and try to keep an updated archive of those materials in between searches. Here are some ways to do that.

Keep it all together.

In 2019, it probably makes the most sense to maintain your career materials in digital form—with ample backup on hard drive and in the cloud, of course. (Using a third-party system like Interfolio’s Dossier service makes this easier.)  If you have some items in paper form, scan them. A bit of annoyance now can save you from a lot of confusion later—not to mention a strained back from carrying those files up and down stairs.

Consider using tags or folder structures to categorize materials.

Depending on where you’re keeping your documents, you might want to enlist metadata to help you remember which documents would serve for which purposes. The most basic way to do this is to create a folder structure that stores documents by type, by subject matter, etc. If you use a system that offers tagging, take advantage.

Start a habit of scheduled maintenance.

Pick a few times when you’re under a little less pressure at your job—possibly the end of the semester, between grading and travel?—to survey your career documents folder and make sure everything is up to date.

Keep a checklist:

  • Have I published any new articles?
  • Have I taught any classes with student evals, and do I have the results here?
  • Did I change my syllabus, and if so, do I have a copy of the new one here?

Take a moment to update your CV, too, even if you’re not using it to apply to anything at the moment.

Note contacts you might want to ask for a reference later.

Maintain a little list of people you meet along the way who might be good candidates for letter-writing in the future. Set a goal to develop those relationships; make notes in this list to indicate your progress (“November 2019: Read her chapter and offered feedback”). That way, if and when you do ask a contact to write a letter for you, you can consult your notes before you write that email asking for the favor. An email that says exactly why you think your colleague would be the best person to write the letter, and suggests which areas of your relationship you think the letter-writer could address, is far preferable to a generic ask.

Take notes for your future self.

If you don’t feel like writing a new teaching philosophy statement (for example) while you’re happy at your current job and not planning to move, try to leave yourself a little help. Jot a few things down at the end of each semester, during your scheduled maintenance times, that you think might make good additions to your next version: stories about student responses to projects; observations about discussions that were particularly successful. Human beings are forgetful; your notes will make it a lot easier to add color and depth when you do end up updating that document.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on how to constructively define a faculty mentorship.

Philosophy professor Kevin Richardson’s recent Twitter thread on the lack of clarity around faculty mentors had many academics nodding along. There’s huge asymmetry between the support given to mentors in the academy (and the accountability demanded from them), and the importance of mentors to graduate students and new tenure-track faculty. Sometimes, these relationships work out; sometimes, they become toxic; sometimes, they start with a well-intentioned coffee and peter out into nothingness.

So, how can conscientious faculty members who find themselves in the position of becoming mentors to graduate students or younger colleagues change this dynamic? There are a few ways.

Make your plans for mentorship clear to your mentee

The mentor-mentee relationship is often extremely unstructured, and that puts some mentees at a disadvantage. “Many minority and first-gen folks find it especially difficult to navigate these informal mentor-mentee relationships,” Richardson points out. It helps to be very specific about what you can do to help the new student or faculty member succeed. Strive for an ethos of transparency, rather than untouchability.

Act like a coach, not a guru

In an Inside Higher Ed series on mentoring new faculty, Kerry Ann Rockquemore, a specialist in faculty development, argues for for more coaches and fewer gurus. The “coach” mentor performs the functions of a good teacher, who tries to help students figure out how to direct their own learning and progress.

  • A “coach” can break down tasks with his or her mentee, keep them accountable for finishing those tasks, and ask provocative questions to help them reframe problems.
  • A mentor for a new faculty member, for example, could help that faculty member strategize ways to continue to research and write during the semester, and then check in (in person, or over email) to make sure the mentee is on track.
Think about where you’re both coming from

How does your prospective mentee’s background compare to yours? Are there things about their biography and history that you think may affect the course of their integration into your program or institution? Do you feel equipped, for example, to advise a new tenure-track hire from an underrepresented group when they’re trying to determine how much diversity- and inclusion-related service they should do? Do you feel equipped to advise a young parent on the department’s policies around sickness and school snow days? You might not be! But they still need that help.

Figure out how to get them connected

Rockquemore argues that mentors should be helping mentees build a network, rather than simply answering their questions when they arise. Part of the mentor’s job should be to identify what help the mentee might need, and to strategize ways to connect her with it. Consider the examples above. If you’re not from an underrepresented group, you may want to suggest that another faculty member who is could be a good person to ask about this particular issue. Provide contact information, and suggest angles of approach. The goal is to provide your mentee with a distributed base of support in your institution, rather than trying (and, usually, failing) to give them all of that support yourself.

Resist the urge to wax anecdotal, or pontificate

This temptation can be strong, especially when somebody younger is looking to you for wisdom! But your own experience, or the experience of your advisor, or the experience of your graduate cohort, may or may not apply in this different time and place; your opinions on departmental and university politics may or may not be relevant. Try to stay humble, and helpful, when you can.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on how to mindfully take care of yourself during the holidays (especially if you’re on the academic job market).

How in the world is an academic job seeker supposed to enjoy the holidays, when departments are calling some candidates for first-round interviews, applications for late-deadlined jobs, VAPs, and fellowships are due, and well-meaning relatives want to know what’s happening in your life? Here are some tips for self-care in the middle of the madness.

Try to clear the decks.

This may be late-breaking advice, but if you have free days between the end of the semester and the beginning of the holiday, try to hit some of your late-December or early January deadlines early. Even if you can’t finish those applications before you travel, try to at least “break the seal” on them:

  • Review the requirements
  • Take a pass at an essay
  • See what old materials could be repurposed to suit

Getting a head start is key so that you aren’t faced with a huge amount of psychologically challenging work to do as your family is eating cookies, drinking eggnog, and playing games downstairs.

Identify a few people to be your sounding board.

Is there someone in your family who you think will be able to listen to you talk about the job market without reacting anxiously to your own worries, or giving you unnecessary advice? Try to get some one-on-one time with them, then lay out everything, including the seething mass of feelings you’re surely experiencing. It can really help to know that at least one or two family members know the entire story.

Figure out how to avoid unhelpful conversations.

For lots of people, the holiday is full of encounters with nosy uncles and family friends, who will want to talk about your employment status. These polite interactions can be deeply demoralizing, especially if your conversation partner knows nothing about academia, is superannuated, or both, and offers all kinds of advice that’s useless (“Why don’t you call up the department at [desirable institution] and find out if they’re hiring?”) You might find it helpful to deputize an ally who can come save you from these conversations when you flash a (discreet!) sign. Or, prepare a script for yourself and repeat it: “I’m hoping for the best. I’m trying not to dwell on it too much over the holidays!”—and then change the subject.

Cut yourself off from the parts of the Internet that make everything worse.

The Academic Jobs Wiki is an obvious place to start. If your field is very active on the wiki, you’ll know how terrible it can feel to see that a job that you’ve coveted has started emailing candidates for first-round interviews, and you haven’t made the cut. This isn’t actionable information—if you are going to be interviewed, you’ll be contacted—so try to stay away from the site. If you can’t make yourself do it for the entire vacation, give yourself the gift of 24- or 48-hour stints without wiki-checking.

Similarly, if you find that social networks make you anxious—maybe your online friends are in your field, and they’re into job-market gossip—try to be minimally present on Facebook and Twitter. Consider deleting the apps from your phone, and checking them only on desktop; that’s an easy way to make sure you’re not fixating on the latest news while you’re out sledding with your kids.

Be kind to yourself.

All the standard self-care advice still applies. Get enough sleep. Try to get exercise. Take time during the day to get immersed in a novel or a comic book—something completely unrelated to your research. Eat as well as possible, given the constant presence of peppermint bark. We’re all rooting for you.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on how to step back into the academic job market.

You emerged from the academic job market with a position, you’re coming to the end of your first semester of your first tenure track-job, and… it’s just not working. Although the idea exhausts you to the core, you’re considering going on the market again. What should you do now, early in your first job, to prepare for your next search?

First, take time over the next year or so to make sure you’re thinking of leaving for the right reasons, and that those reasons are your own. Today’s academic job market is rough (understatement), and there are a lot of older academics out there watching their favorite students take jobs they consider subpar. Don’t leave a job you like on your mentor’s advice, because it’s not prestigious or doesn’t offer enough time for research. Maybe you’ve come to realize you don’t mind a perceived lack of shine, or you prefer teaching anyway.

As Eric Anthony Grollman advises in an essay on his own decision to stay in a job despite the expectations of others, you should try to keep an open mind in your first year and see how you feel. “Starting a new job is hard,” Grollman writes, and “the job market takes up a lot of time.”

That said, if you are truly dissatisfied—your partner or spouse doesn’t have a job, or any prospects of one; you are too far from family; your department is toxic; the conservative politics of the town you’ve ended up in make you feel unsafe—start making plans now.

Here are some tips for how you can approach the search when you already have a job.

Publish, publish, publish.

You may feel disillusioned and unmotivated, especially if finishing your dissertation was a slog, but keeping your publication record new and shiny will put you in the best position to leave. If you’re in a book-oriented field, get your book proposal in shape, and get going on finding a press.

Get teaching experience, and keep track of it.

Start thinking about your teaching as possible fodder for future job letters and teaching statements. Keep personal files of everything:

  • Good assignments you gave
  • Student evaluations
  • Syllabi

A couple times a semester, jot down some reflections on how the course is going. When it comes time to write applications again, you’ll have a much easier time of it with these documents to jog your memory.

Figure out when you’ll go on the market.

Most people do this in their third, fourth, or fifth years in their new jobs. Karen Kelsky advises that people with very good publication records and teaching experience can “consider leaving around the third year, from a position of strength.” In the fourth or fifth year, you probably have your dissertation book all tucked away in press, and you will be able to focus on looking for another job.

Try to suss out what your current department will think of your ambition to move.

Are you anxiously imagining that the department that hired you will hate you if they find out you want to leave? It might not be the case. Kelsky writes, “The important thing to realize here is that every department, and every departmental culture, is different.” Get the confidential advice of a senior mentor who can transmit the institutional memory of what happened in the past when people tried to leave, and operate accordingly.

Stay positive, and low-key.

In all of your communications with your department about your desire to move, give reasons that aren’t “I hate everyone here and I’m miserable in this town.” Foreground more neutral rationales—your partner’s need for a job, you yearn to be closer to your parents—even if you are secretly furious at every single one of your colleagues. It’s good practice, because when you do prepare job materials again, you’ll want to be similarly close-mouthed about anything negative concerning your first employer, sticking to the positive reasons why you want to jump ship to your second. If you must vent, cultivate a confidante completely outside of your department’s ecosystem—be they mother, partner, friend, or dog.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on searching for (and finding) teaching inspiration.

Whether you are a new instructor or a seasoned professor, you can find yourself in search of inspiration for your class structure or the latest trends. Depending on your institution and its culture and expectations, it can be difficult to find people to talk with productively about the philosophy and the daily practice of teaching.

Enter stage left: the Internet to the rescue!

If you love thinking about pedagogy, and especially if you’re interested in teaching with digital tools, the Web is full of like-minded people. They are sharing their assignments, syllabi, and ideas openly for all to see. Here are a few places you can find them.

The Pedagogy Project

HASTAC, a digital humanities collective based at Duke University, hosts The Pedagogy Project on its website.

“More than 80 projects and assignments to shake up your syllabus!”

Examples of posts from professors include explanations of collaborative digital projects, multimedia projects, and in-class activities. The material is designed to be used at the beginning of the semester, when you’re writing your syllabus, or even in the middle, when you need new ideas for a given class day.

Open Pedagogy Notebook

This site’s materials are tied together by a philosophy of “open pedagogy”: a democratic approach to teaching that emphasizes student autonomy and the relationship between students and the teacher.

Posts in the “assignment” category come from professors who have created class projects where students have contributed articles about history to Wikipedia, written multiple-choice questions in order to understand concepts in social psychology, and created a genetics worksheet using the National Library of Medicine’s Genetic Home Reference.

Hybrid Pedagogy

This is an open-access journal covering college teaching. Articles run the gamut, and most combine discussions of theory and classroom practice.

For example, you can find:

The journal has a podcast, too, if you’d find it helpful to have the option of listening rather than reading.


College teachers regularly share ideas and hash out problems on Twitter. It may take some poking around to find the places where the conversation is happening; start by following accounts of pedagogical groups, like @HybridPed and @DigPedLab, and build out from there, following the people they retweet.

Spontaneous acts of pedagogical sharing happen often on Twitter. For example, the Twitter account for the Southern Historical Association’s Graduate Council recently asked its followers to describe good first-day activities, generating a great thread. And a hashtag, #twobookpedagogy, started by a professor who wanted to know which books inspire college teachers most, yielded a rich reading list.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on making the most out of a research assistantship.

So you’re one of the lucky professors who’ve secured funding to hire a graduate research assistant. Finally! Somebody to help you hit fast-forward on the slow process of picking through archives, working on a digital project, or crunching data. But for some academics, especially those working outside of the sciences, the relationship between the professor, the graduate research assistant, and the job can be nebulous. Here are some tips to make sure everyone gets what they need from your research assistantship.

1. Be clear about your expectations, with yourself and your assistant.

This may be harder than it sounds, especially if your project is more open-ended in nature, or your department doesn’t set many guidelines for the relationship. Think about it ahead of time, and then talk it out with your assistant.

2. Decide on the skills you want them to come away with at the end of your time together.

In your initial meeting, discuss the experiences you think are possible to gain from the assistantship, and see which ones your assistant thinks would be more helpful for them to have under their belt when applying for grants and jobs in the future. Some of the work you need them to do will not be negotiable! But if there are choices they can make—”It would be better for me to be able to put ‘has built sites with Omeka’ than ‘fluent in Excel’ on my CV”—find out if you can tailor the work they’ll be doing, so that they come away with experience that helps them as well as you.

3. Find out where they are, and meet them there.

It’s not fair or helpful to set your assistant loose at the archives, when they have never used a finding aid. Talk about what their experiences with research have been; if they don’t have the level of skill you’d like, start them small, tell them how to do things, and help them work their way up.

4. Be transparent about the amount of time you expect the assistant to work, and what structure that work will take.

We’ve heard informal reports that some professors expect more work from their assistants than the number of hours per week that the job officially specifies. Try not to do this—and try not to expect assistants to do last-minute, “emergency” work on holidays or weekends. There may be a culture of exploitation of graduate students in the academy, but there are ways you can avoid being part of it.

5. Let them know how they’ll be evaluated.

Graduate assistantships can feel like a mentoring relationship, which they are, but they’re also a job, and your employee will want to know how they’re doing. Does your department have a structure you can use to evaluate the job performance of graduate research assistants? If so, let your assistant know what it is. If not, you might consider instituting an informal process—perhaps a chat in the middle of the assistantship to review how things are going.

6. Try to help them use the assistantship as a stepping stone.

Wherever possible, introduce them to archivists, colleagues, and staff; mention their work, and talk them up to help them get traction in your field. Recommend conferences, and if your field allows for it, collaborate on a publication, and give them fair credit.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on requesting letters of reference for non-traditional pursuits.

Once you’ve decided you want to apply to alt-ac jobs—that is, not-quite officially academic jobs but those that still have a scholarly scope, such as at nonprofits, libraries, museums, newspapers, high schools, or in business—you may wonder whether you need to seek out reference letters at all. Some of these jobs (like a high school teacher at a private school) will certainly want you to have academic recommendations. Others may not require it, but may be open to receiving letters that attest to your readiness to step into the kinds of non-academic positions you want. If you can collect such letters now, while the people you worked with in grad school remember you best, do it.

Here’s how to go about getting the best alt-ac recommendation letters possible, whether you want to ask for a standard letter or one tailored to a particular position.

If it’s still early in your grad career, cultivate people outside of traditional academia who can speak to your good qualities.

Standard advice for preparing for a faculty job search is to spend your grad-school years seeking out collaborations and relationships with people who may be able to write letters for you when the time comes. On an alt-ac track, you should do the same, but it may be a little bit less obvious who to target.

Ideally, throughout your grad school years you’ll have sought out a variety of experiences:

  • Internships
  • One-semester assistantships
  • Tutoring positions

They can all help you develop skills you think you might like to use in an alt-ac career. Then, when it comes time to apply to jobs, think broadly about the kinds of letters you could request. Just because you aren’t applying to work in a library doesn’t mean that your supervisor from that year of work at the archives couldn’t speak about your organizational skills or your sense of initiative. And the fact that you had that experience in the first place shows that you are interested in a number of different work settings, and can function well outside of a traditional academic context.

If you’re already at the end of your years at school, and it’s too late for all that, consider asking friendly academic advisors for an alt-ac letter.

Some grad students or recent grads may be wary of requesting alt-ac letters from their academic advisors. This is because—unbelievably, considering the state of the academic job market!—there is prejudice in some departments against students who openly air their alt-ac ambitions. You may fear losing access to departmental resources if you’re out of the closet (so to speak) when it comes to the alt-ac path. And given the fact that a requirement to submit letters may not be as standard for alt-ac jobs as for faculty job searches, you may not want to risk it.

However, if you do think you can go ahead and ask advisors for a letter, do it. They may be well-placed to testify to the ineffable qualities you hope to translate into an alt-ac position. If you have been your advisor’s research assistant, he may have a great sense of your diligence, organization, and resourcefulness. If you were head TA for her big lecture course, you were effectively her employee, and you proved your own managerial skills, punctuality, and attention to detail.

As with any other letter you request, make sure to tell your academic advisor as much as you can about the position(s) you’re seeking.

They may be a little bit less confident of their ability to write a letter for a position that (unlike Assistant Professor) they’ve never held, so it will be good to be extra-specific in your request.

If you’re going for a particular job, include the job ad, and let them know just how you think your experiences will fit the bill, so they can hammer home the point in their letter. If you want to have a letter on hand for the future, tell them what kinds of jobs you might be seeking, and what qualities you want to highlight for employers. That should make the process easier on them, and result in a better letter for you.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This post continues our series—begun last fall during faculty hiring “high season”—by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on how to make the most out of student evaluations.

Student evaluations of teaching can be terrible.

  • So say a growing number of professors who are tired of feeling like their careers hang on the whim of students who have taken a dislike to them.
  • So say researchers who have found that students evaluate women and people who aren’t “hot” as worse teachers than men and the attractive.

But, as Kevin Gannon recently wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, despite every flaw of this system, “students are experts on what they experienced and learned in a course, and they ought to have a voice.” Most institutions continue to agree.

So it is with some ambivalence that we recommend some things you can do to make this process as painless—and maybe even helpful?—as possible.

Leave plenty of time for students to complete evaluations.

A cynic might point out that there are a number of things you can do to manipulate the situation so that your students perceive you kindly at evaluation time. We’ve heard everything from “Don’t hand back an essay or a test right before giving the evaluation” to “Bring in brownies or cookies on evaluation day.” We have no comment on these tactics, but one thing you should definitely do is make sure students aren’t filling out forms in the last five minutes of the class, with backpacks half-zipped and one foot out the door.

Make clear the stakes of the process.

Don’t be desperate or get weird about it (it’s never great to beg), but do let students know how their evaluations will be used, on the job market or in seeking promotions. Also let them know that their feedback will be used to improve the class in following years. If possible, you could give an example of something you’ve changed after reading feedback from their predecessors, to show you’re serious.   

If you can, elect the option to give your students evaluation questions that are specific to your class.

This may or may not be possible at your institution, but if you are able to select particular questions, or to make up questions of your own, do this. This goes a long way to mitigate the institutional feeling of the Scantron sheet. Your students will get more of a sense that the evaluations are connected to the class they took; you will get better feedback for improving the class next time; and the evaluations will be more meaningful for assessors reading results.

Know how student evaluations are used at your institution.

The research on student evaluations shows that there are better and worse ways to use them in assessing a faculty member’s effectiveness.

  • Will your tenure committee know to consider patterns of response, instead of individual negative comments from bitter students?
  • Will they take the difficulty of your class into account?
  • Does your school know about the research into student bias, and will assessors integrate it into their process?
  • Will the student evals be combined with other ways of assessing your teaching effectiveness?

The more you know about the process, the better—and if the process is antiquated and unfair, investigate ways to change it. (We know, we know—in your free time, right?)

When you are presenting evaluations for promotion or to get a job, try to put them in context.

If you’re given space to do so, embed your evaluation data and students’ written comments into a narrative. You can let your reader know what kind of class you were teaching, what kinds of assignments you gave, and any other information that would help them understand why you got the scores and comments that you got.

And, last but not at all least: Try not to take any individual bad evaluation too personally—summer is just around the bend.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This post continues our series—begun last fall during faculty hiring “high season”—by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on where to search for and find grants.

Applying for grants and fellowships to cover the costs of your education and research can be an exhausting prospect. (Can you say “neverending deadlines”?) But if you land one funding opportunity (or more), the benefits are huge.

  • You can include the honor on your CV
  • You may get to meet and hobnob with new people outside of your institution who administer the award
  • You get money!

And once you’ve landed one grant, other grants tend to follow. So you should start building a record of success sooner, rather than later.

But how do you know which grants to apply for? Here are some ideas to get you started.

Tap the resources of your institution.

Find out if your home university has an existing system to help grad students apply for grants. Offices of Grants and Fellowships are an obvious place to look; if you’re unsure about this, ask faculty or staff in your program to direct you. The staff in an Office of Grants and Fellowships will help you figure out which institutional opportunities might fall in your wheelhouse.

A few opportunities may be available such as:

  • Small pots of money for professional development such as conference attendance
  • Short-term research fellowships to fund trips to archives or field sites
  • Year-long dissertation fellowships

See if your institution can help you think outside of the box.

Some scholars pursuing certain projects may be able to find money from granting agencies that aren’t giving their funds solely to academics. The organization, The non-profit, nationwide Foundation Center maintains several databases, some of which are targeted to non-profits and other agencies who want to apply for grants to support their institutions. For example, their Foundation Grants to Individuals database collects listings relevant to students, artists, and researchers. Access is paid, but your institution may have a subscription. Check with the people in the Office of Grants and Fellowships—they will be able to help you figure out how to target your search.

Read the acknowledgements.

When you’re reading a book, or looking at an article or paper, especially when it’s by an author whose work is similar to yours, check the acknowledgements section. The author will thank the funding agencies whose largesse made their research possible. Google the fellowship, and put it on your list if it feels like a good fit for you.

Don’t forget the bigwigs.

There are some organizations that will be top-of-mind for everyone in your field.

These may seem like long shots to you, but applying for big, prestigious grants is very good practice. If you score one, it’ll add luster to your CV and help you get more money in the future.  

Hit up databases online.

A definitive universal database of fellowship and grant opportunities for grad students doesn’t exist. Here are a few good links to favorite and follow.

  • The NIH has a page listing non-NIH funding opportunities for researchers.
  • The website ProFellow, run independently by consultants, maintains a database aimed at a mix of undergrads, graduates, and professionals. You have to create a profile to browse.
  • PIVOT offers listings for a range of types of academic funding (not just for grad students).
  • Search the listings of H-Announce for notices of fellowships, grants, and prizes for humanities scholars.
  • The McNair Scholars page, run by the Department of Education, offers a list of opportunities, segmented by subject matter and specialization.

At the core, finding grants and other funding opportunities is a chore. But if you know where to start your search, it can make navigating the process a little easier.

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