ISSR and OPD Triple Header Supporting Graduate Student Scholars

This Spring, ISSR partnered once again with the Graduate School’s Office of Professional Development to offer seminars designed to help graduate student scholars put their best feet forward in the search for funding and employment. These events are just one more expression of the Graduate School’s investment in ISSR’s mission of advancing research excellence at UMass, alongside its support for training and tailored advising delivered throughout the year by ISSR’s Methodology Consultants.

On February 28th, ISSR Methodologist Laras Sekarasih and OPD Assistant Director for Higher Ed Careers Johanna Yunker moderated a lively panel discussion on the academic CV. As a packed auditorium of students from across the university posed one nitty-gritty question after the next, even the panelists seemed surprised with how much there is to know about building a compelling CV in a competitive job market. Michael Morgan (Communication) quipped that his first response to the question of what makes a strong CV was “publications, publications, publications,” but that the varied nature of jobs within and beyond the academy, as well as the particularities of different disciplines and career paths make the choice of how to present, and what to present, much more nuanced. Recent hire Jamie Mullins (Resource Economics) balanced lessons from his own relatively recent job searches with new perspective as a member of UMass hiring committees. Kathryn McDermott (College of Education and CPPA) stressed the value of the cover letter as a place for adding individuality in what can feel like a very constrained CV format. Lightly tailoring the CV for each job can also ensure that your most relevant accomplishments make it to that all-important first page. Tatishe Nteta (Political Science) drove home the importance of knowing your audience, and keeping in mind the flood of applications that any hiring committee may face today. “If there are 400 applications, give them no reason to put yours in the wrong pile.”

In mid-March, ISSR joined with OPD to invite graduate students of color to learn about research funding opportunities and strategies aiming to support them in particular. OPD Assistant Director for External Support Heidi Bauer-Clapp pointed to resources and guidance available at OPD, flagging the GrantForward database’s ability to search a wide variety of funding opportunities, and Cornell University’s Fellowships database which filters by citizenship.  Professor Manisha Sinha (Afro-American Studies) circulated a list of funders supporting graduate studies in history, and urged other Graduate Program Directors to develop similar resources, to support incoming students in planning ahead.  She urged participants to “start early and apply often,” a message which Doctoral candidate Micghael Alvarez (Communication) echoed in his remarks. He advised students to consider sources off the “beaten path” of NSF and other prestigious sources, and to stay positive in the face of rejection. He used his own rejections and critical reviews to gain feedback that strengthened his applications – and leading to large and small grants, including the highly competitive Soros Fellowship for New Americans.  

Finally, this week Dr. Bauer-Clapp joined forces with ISSR Grants, Personnel and Budget Manager Karen Mason to demystify the often-dreaded budgeting and time-lining elements of grant submissions. Mason shared strategic tips and lessons learned about categorizing the key cost items in a proposal budget – including the variation in grantee allowances for travel-related expenses and institutional indirect cost recovery. Bauer-Clapp urged participants to consider expanding the timeline presented to donors to include all key pre-award milestones that demonstrate readiness to complete the proposed activities in the grant period.  Both presenters emphasized that, as with all aspects of funding proposals, the most important step is to know the specific expectations and requirements of each funding agency, and to start early enough to get the information and support you need for a successful submission. For proposals routed through UMass (such as the NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant), internal review processes that begin with submission via ISSR can take a minimum of two weeks before clearing the departmental and central Office of Research & Engagement checks necessary before UMass submits to the grant sponsor. For peace of mind, it is best to contact ISSR or OPD to start the ball rolling at least a month before your sponsor’s stated deadline.

Those who attended any of these sessions gained valuable insights and – perhaps as importantly – encouragement to help them access the resources and opportunities they seek. We hope to hear of many successful applications as they pursue funding and employment, and look forward to supporting graduate student research careers in the weeks and months ahead.