GradFund, based in Rutgers-New Brunswick is the Graduate School-New Brunswick’s fellowship and grant application development service. Originally known as CHaSeR (the Center for Humanities and Social Science Research), when it opened its doors in September 2000, GradFund grew out of a social science research support office that had been housed in the Sociology Department for many years on the Livingston Campus of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Founding Director Teresa M. Delcorso Ellmann quickly expanded the mission and scope of GradFund to include all of the graduate disciplines based in Rutgers-New Brunswick as she began the work of systemically cultivating a graduate student culture grounded the best practices in grantsmanship for the graduate programs.
At the time, the notion of a comprehensive office dedicated to the support of research endeavors was new to Rutgers. The university’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP) provided the pre and post award support to facilitate the processing of applications and award set up. Housed within research centers, bureaus and institutes, there did exist pre and post award support, which included proposal development and editing services. However, most faculty and graduate students did not have access to support services to assist them with the essential foundational activities that ultimately lead to securing external grant and fellowship funding: guidance on how to identify appropriate funding streams, effective planning and development of research ideas and funding applications and effective proposal and application development.
Prior to joining the Graduate School New Brunswick as the founding director of GradFund, Assistant Dean Teresa Delcorso Ellmann held posts as a program coordinator in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and then in the Sociology Department. While in the Bloustein School, Ms. Delcorso observed the positive impact that a research affiliation with CUPR could have on the early research career of graduate students. Later, as the research coordinator in the Sociology research support office, she could see first hand the transformative impact that individualized guidance on the best practices in grantsmanship could have on a graduate student’s scholarly development.
During its first year of operation, Assistant Dean Delcorso established a graduate student centered service, housed in the Graduate School New Brunswick, in service to all graduate programs. The greatest demand for assistance came from the social science and humanities doctoral students, who at the time, had the greatest need for external funding to support dissertation research that required travel to an off-campus research site. GradFund services focused on three areas: individual assistance, programming and resource development.
The ability to provide expert, individual assistance to a graduate student, regardless of program affiliation, ensured that all graduate students had the opportunity to access expertise in the area of proposal development. Graduate students were offered individual appointments to help them understand and assess their funding options, plan out a round of applications and to develop competitive application materials, working collaboratively with their faculty mentors and GradFund.
To expand the outreach to graduate students and cultivate a culture of grantsmanship, Assistant Dean Delcorso developed a workshop series of proposal writing workshops. The workshops ranged from an overview to writing intensive and were interdisciplinary. In addition to learning about proposal writing, the students also had the opportunity for sustained engagement with graduate students across the disciplines; a new and novel experience for Rutgers graduate students in the early 2000s.
Early on in the development of GradFund services, Assistant Dean Delcorso realized that one of the greatest barriers to graduate students securing grants and fellowships was their limited access to reliable information and their belief that they were not competitive. To that end, in the early 2000s, before the pervasiveness of Google and before the advent of web 2.0, we created a website that functioned as an on-line reference and resource for graduate students applying for grants and fellowships. As a part of the innovation, in order to provide graduate students with high quality, comprehensive information, the CHaSeR website was developed to include extensive documentation and information along with an award database which quickly became the definitive source of information on graduate student funding, with over 2000 merit-based research grants and fellowships catalogued.
The initial response by the graduate student community, to the service offered by GradFund was strong. A proactive but small group of students sought out the advice and guidance offered by Ms. Delcorso and these students became the early GradFund success stories. Through these early successes, news of GradFund and it's helpful services spread through the graduate student community. Soon the demand for graduate the services offered by CHaSeR exploded.
GradFund’s mission is to assist graduate students throughout the process of applying for external fellowships and grants. From helping students to navigate the world of funding and learn about the opportunities available to them, to providing feedback and support as they craft their most competitive funding application, we are guided by a deep respect for the intellectual work and professional ambitions of Rutgers graduate students.
Our goal is to normalize and demystify the process of applying for funding, and to empower Rutgers graduate students to pursue external fellowships and grants. The process of applying for funding, while challenging, can have a profound effect on the professionalization of graduate scholars. When students are successful in their applications, being awarded external funding confers both distinction and financial benefits, both of which can have a transformative impact on their graduate scholarship and future careers.
Admittedly, applying for graduate funding can be an intimidating and overwhelming task. There are thousands of funders and awards, wading through the information and identifying the awards a student is eligible to apply for at a particular moment of their graduate career can be time-consuming and confusing. Additionally, a student may become disheartened to realize that in the end, they are eligible to apply for only one or two opportunities or conversely, the student may be overwhelmed by the many options available to them. Applications can be lengthy and challenging, and must be submitted up to a year in advance of when funding becomes available, making it challenging to plan ahead and incorporate these applications into busy graduate student schedules. The particularities of funder goals, review procedures and audiences, criteria and cultures necessitate careful framing of research projects in ways that are often foreign to graduate students.
GradFund provides support for all of these tasks. By clarifying available funding options for graduate students and helping them to understand the goals and criteria of each funder, we help students to decide which funding opportunities are the best fit for their goals, timeline, research interests, and professional plans. By working to plan application timelines, we support graduate students as they carve out time to apply for funding and think critically about the ways they plan to progress through graduate school. By providing constructive non-disciplinary peer feedback on funding applications, we help students to make critical decisions about their self-presentation and the communication of their research in a supportive environment. Our focus is on giving graduate students the knowledge and support they need to make critical decisions about applying for funding and to empower them to write competitive applications for awards that will best serve their professional goals and needs.
As an office of the Graduate School-New Brunswick and a part of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, a key part of our mission is to empower and aid graduate students whatever their background, experience or goals. By contesting narratives that reserve prestigious fellowships and grants for students with more privileged backgrounds, and simultaneously working with students on smaller grants and fellowships, which also serve their needs, we seek to democratize the process of applying for funding. By teaching grant-writing as an explicit skill to all graduate students who come to us, we enable all graduate students to make their best possible case for their intellectual promise and research contributions.
Our online database of funding opportunities and extensive online guidance for writing applications further democratizes access to the funding application process.
Graduate students, whether seeking careers in the academy or outside of it, benefit from the acquisition of grantsmanship skills. Crafting competitive funding applications requires graduate students to describe their research in ways that will resonate with different review audiences, and to speak to the operational concerns and review criteria of various funders. Doing so challenges graduate students to hone their ability to communicate their research beyond the highly specialized audience of their dissertation committee and to make connections between their research and the wider world. These communication skills will be vital, whatever their career path.
The process of applying for funding also requires graduate students to present their research approach, contributions and graduate study plans with confidence and clarity. Doing so can help students to understand themselves as professionals and scholars earlier in their graduate careers and to build a regular practice of seeking out and applying for the grants and fellowships that will support them throughout a distinguished academic career or allow for professional advancement outside of the academy.
Given the benefits of applying for funding, both as a professionalizing and empowering process and, when successful, as a mark of distinction and financial support, one of our key goals is to encourage all graduate students to understand applying for fellowships and grants as a normal and recurring part of their scholarly careers. By normalizing funding applications as a part of graduate life, we can further empower all Rutgers graduate students to understand that they can be competitive applicants, and continue to build an institutional culture that is supportive of their aspirations.
GradFund serves the Rutgers graduate student population by enabling them to, as professional graduate scholars, find and apply for the funding that best fits their needs and plans. By respecting the plans and the intellectual work of graduate students and their advisors, and helping graduate students to communicate that work to diverse audiences, we teach our graduate students valuable skills for their future careers and help them to obtain the external funding that can have such a transformative impact on their careers.
Helping a student build their professional development toolkit and to cultivate scholarly communication skills motivates GradFund's work. Securing extramural funding is a critical goal but it isn't the only goal. We encourage graduate students to engage in the process of develop competitive fellowship and grant applications in order to secure valuable research support and to bring prestige to their early scholarly careers but most importantly to learn how to communicate their scholarly ideas to a variety of audiences.
GradFund offers more than critical writing advice and guidance. We work on a peer mentoring model that trains graduate students to read across disciplinary lines and to offer critical feedback to peers and graduate student mentees benefit from insightful feedback and offers a perspective that takes the student beyond their disciplinary silo. GradFund advising informed by best practices in fellowship advising, peer mentoring, and grantsmanship which includes a robust knowledgebase and deep intelligence on funding trends in graduate education and detailed profiles of specific fellowship and grant competitions.
Our praxis takes a dual approach, first centered on the graduate student and their ownership of their graduate career and the decisions they make about their scholarly development and second rooted in engagement on the graduate program level. Engagement on the graduate program level reflects the GradFund philosophy that our advice and guidance should complement the work that a student does with their faculty mentors and our goal to encourage graduate students, their faculty mentors and graduate program leadership to take a holistic view and encourage students to integrate the practice of applying for funding into their graduate career.
Our work is regularly assessed and evaluated. We actively seek student centered feedback to guide and shape our service offerings. Student and community feedback is considered in conversation with quantitative data that includes service statistics, funding trends and competition outcomes.
Rutgers Graduate students have a strong tradition of excellence and success in prestigious external fellowship and grant competitions, and GradFund is proud of the role that we have played in supporting students throughout the application process. At GradFund, we recognize success as being about more than winning prestigious funding competitions. We are especially proud of the roles that we have played in the professionalization of graduate students and the outreach and educational activities we have done both within the Rutgers community and for the general public.
From multi-year fellowships to small archival grants to international travel awards to scholarships for language training: Rutgers New Brusnwick graduate students have been successful in some of the most prestigious competitions in the United States, and have been awarded funding that has had a lasting impact on their graduate careers.
To see the recent successes of our students, visit our Success Stories page.
GradFund plays a dual role in the professionalization of graduate students. By working with graduate students to help them find funding opportunities, we help them develop a plan and timeline for their graduate studies, and support them as they develop and carry out a concrete plan of action that will integrate funding applications into their graduate careers. When working with students to revise and refine their draft applications, we help them to develop valuable, transferable grantsmanship skills.
GradFund works with graduate students throughout their graduate careers, from the time they matriculate into a graduate program and are looking for early graduate fellowships or predissertation research support, until they graduate and need support through the process of applying for nationally-competitive postdoctoral fellowships. At all moments in this process, we meet with graduate students to help them understand and assess the funding opportunities available to them, and to support them as they make decisions about which applications will best fit their plans, interests and timelines. In doing so we help to facilitate planning discussions with their advisors that can bring much-needed clarity to our students.
Grantwriting is a valuable skill, whether graduate students are planning for careers in the academy, or in the public or private sectors. We help graduate students learn how to understand the priorities and expertise of the audience they are writing to, and help them tailor their description of their work to that audience. By helping them to describe both the big picture and the rigor of their work in a way that is clear and compelling to the audience they are writing to, we provide them with a valuable transferrable communication skills that will be of use whatever their career ambitions.
Ultimately, whether students are successful or not in their applications for external funding, working with GradFund will help them to develop important planning, self-advocacy, and professional communication skills that stay with them over their careers.
In addition to our one-on-one work with individual graduate students, GradFund plays a key role in providing educational presentations and material about external funding opportunities and grantsmanship to the Rutgers community and beyond.
We work closely with New Brunswick graduate programs to provide their students with the information they need. By offering tailored presentations, award lists, online courses, and other educational materials, we have been able to incorporate education about graduate funding and grantsmanship throughout the graduate careers of many students.
We also closely collaborate with graduate program leadership teams and individual faculty to help them most effectively guide and mentor their students through the grant and fellowship application process.
Our extensive online presence provides valuable and timely information to the Rutgers community and to the general public. We offer exclusively to the Rutgers New Brunswick community our proprietary self-paced mentoring programs Knowledgebase of award information. Our website, which has been recently redesigned and relaunched, offers a unique database of awards that support graduate study. Unique among our peers, our database interface allows students to intuitively describe their situation and funding needs through a series of drop-down menus. In addition to facilitating useful search queries, this interfaces serves an educational purpose by teaching users about the ways that funders classify and target their awards. Our frequent newsletters offer up-to-the minute details about upcoming deadlines for major awards, announcements about our program offerings, and guides to our services. GradFund is a major clearinghouse for targeted and timely information about graduate student external funding.