bookmark_borderGrant Applications – Tips & Tricks 

In November 2022, I embarked on the journey of applying for my first research major research scholarship. While I had previously applied for scholarships during my undergraduate degree, this was my first time applying for something that was research-based. After attending the School of Urban and Regional Planning’s research grant information session in October, I felt ready to start working my way through writing applications for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS). This was an intimidating process that involved asking a lot of questions, talking through ideas with my lab and classmates, and spending many nights crafting my proposal. Yet, the end result was very much worth it! I was successful in earning both the SSHRC and OGS grant, opting to accept the former this past June.  

Thinking back on this process, I wanted to share some of the things I found useful as I navigated my way through writing my application. I have asked some fellow Pop Place members who have also been successful with research grant applications to provide some input as well. No matter what grant you are considering applying for, I hope that this post provides some helpful tips to guide you on your way. 

Finding Your References: 

  • Ask professors who know you best. When you are beginning to think about who the best person might be to ask for a reference letter, ensure that you are choosing people who know you. Did you get a good mark in a particular class? Did you take multiple classes with a certain professor? Perhaps, you worked as a research assistant? Someone who has a good sense of how you work will have a much easier time providing a good reference letter. 
  • Provide ample time for writing. Standard practice is to provide at least two weeks’ notice when you are making a reference request. It is important and respectful to ensure that your reference has enough time to gather the necessary information and write your letter at their leisure. This will also ensure that as the deadline approaches, you are not stressing about getting everything submitted on time.  
  • Share helpful resources. When submitting a reference request, it might be a good idea to forward the recipient some helpful documents that can better inform their writing. This could include your CV, research proposal, relevant projects/papers that you have worked on and other necessary materials. It is good to ensure that you are providing your reference with sufficient background information so that they have an accurate understanding of your capabilities.  

Perfecting Your CV: 

  • Highlight relevant experience. CV templates can sometimes be quite constraining, especially if the grant you are applying for is requesting a specific format. While writing your CV, it is important to ensure that the experiences you choose to highlight, reflect your capabilities as a researcher. It’s a good idea to look through the grant website to see if they have specified what qualities and skills they are looking for in an applicant. From there, you can gauge what experiences you might want to discuss more in depth in your application. 
  • (Rachel Barber) Get involved! Many research-based scholarships consider your previous research contributions, such as publications or conference presentations. If you know you’ll be applying for a scholarship well in advance and already have some research completed, consider submitting an abstract to a conference, or collaborating on a manuscript. Research contributions are great, since they remain on your academic CV forever – this is especially useful if you’re expecting to apply to other scholarships in the future, or if you’re planning on pursuing an academic career. 

Crafting Your Research Proposal: 

  • Think big, be practical. Writing your first research proposal can seem like a daunting task. There are so many possible routes that you could take. A great way to approach this is to think big. Get all of your ideas out, no matter how far-fetched they may seem. Then, sit down, and figure out what would actually be practical given your time and resource constraints. Is your idea feasible to complete within the scholarship timeframe? Do you have access to the people, tools, and skills you would need to undertake this research? 
  • (Rachel Barber) Have your draft reviewed by as many people as possible. In the earlier stages of your draft, consider having it reviewed by your supervisor, previous winners of the scholarship you’re applying to, or other professors, as they can provide useful insight into the structure of your proposal. As you are finalizing your proposal, ask a few people outside of your field of study to review it, such as colleagues, friends or family members. Since selection committee members come from various backgrounds, it is important to ensure the proposal uses terminology that is understandable to those who don’t work or study in your field. 
  • (Ellory Vincent) Talk your ideas over. Writing your proposal is, by far, the hardest part of the process. Even though at this point you know what you want to research you now have to explain it to someone else, worse, you have to explain it to people who are reading dozens of other proposals for the same grant. You want to stand out but you also want to be able to communicate your research in a clear and concise manner.  It’s not easy. It is best to talk over your idea with someone you trust and whose opinion you respect. Make sure this is someone who will be able to give you honest and direct feedback. As you begin to revise your writing, make sure that your proposal stays true to what you want to study and conveys your genuine interest in the subject – a proposal that demonstrates charisma through writing is the strongest. 

General Advice: 

  • Leave yourself enough time. While it may seem like a small task, you do not want to leave this task for the last minute. You may run into challenges with articulating your ideas and scaling them down. It is also important to ensure that you have enough time to go through multiple rounds of editing with multiple people. In order to put your best foot forward and ensure your ideas are presented in the best way, leave yourself plenty of time to work with your writing.  
  • (Marley Gryfe) Seek out examples of successful or unsuccessful applications for the same grant. Consider reaching out to upper year students in your program or a professor/supervisor to get their input on what works well and what you might want to avoid. This is a great way to orient yourself before embarking on the writing process.  
  • (Marley Gryfe) Review all grants for which you might be eligible. The same application can often be used for multiple awards with a few minor tweaks, thus increasing your chances of obtaining funding! Even if you are unsuccessful with your first application, you now have a complete research proposal that you are ready to submit somewhere else.  
  • (Ellory Vincent) Stay cool and pursue your research, with or without the grant.  

As Ellory highlighted, the most important part of this process is your research. It is important to go into the scholarship-writing process with clear objectives and an open mind. If this scholarship doesn’t work out, you now have a polished proposal that, with some minor adjustments, could be submitted to a variety of other scholarship programs. While the process of applying for research scholarships and fellowships can be stressful, it is a great opportunity to start organizing your ideas and establishing your research goals. And, as Dr. Maxwell Hartt, Director of the Population and Place Research Lab likes to stress, make sure that you are having fun!  

bookmark_borderHow to Crush Your First Poster Presentation

This past November I had the opportunity to present at the poster session at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Conference in Toronto. When I received the email saying that I was accepted to present, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase our research to planning researchers and professionals from all over the world. With this being my very first poster presentation, I was nervous and unsure of where to start. I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for resources and hoping to find a tell all on how to make the best research poster possible. While there were a lot of great resources out there, I found they did not always apply to my type of research and the setting in which I was presenting. In this blog post, I will be sharing some tips that I found useful and that will help you crush your first poster presentation.

Preparing the Poster

  1. Know the requirements for your poster. The first step in designing a poster is understanding the poster requirements (size, orientation, content, etc.). In my case, this information was available on the conference website. Otherwise, you could email a representative from the organization to confirm the requirements prior to starting your poster.  
  2. Decide what story you want to tell and how you are going to tell it. Now that you understand the poster requirements, you must determine what information you want to include on your poster. Tip: keep the writing concise. A picture is worth a thousand words.
  3. Consider the software and applications you have available to you. You will need to make a decision regarding which software or application you intend on using to design your poster (e.g., PowerPoint, Canva, Adobe InDesign, etc.). When making this decision, you should take into account how much time you have to allocate to poster design. Should you use a program you are familiar with, or do you have time to learn something new? If you choose to learn something new, be sure to watch different tutorials and explore the software to determine what works best for you.
  4. Search for inspiration! Take some time to look at other academic posters that appeal to you to get inspired. You can create similar designs or search for templates to jumpstart the process. If your research is part of a specific project, consider using designs and colour schemes from past presentations to establish a more uniform and recognizable look.
  5. Get creative and do not be scared to change things up. Spend time playing around with different designs and layouts until you find something you are happy with. Some useful design tips to consider: (1) Ensure the font is clear and large enough that it can be read from six to ten feet away; (2) Select unobtrusive/neutral backgrounds that do not distract from the text and images in the poster; (3) Use images, colours, and other design elements to separate different sections of the poster
  6. Seek feedback. Ask your friends, family, and professor to look over your poster and provide you with some feedback. Having additional sets of eyes is incredibly helpful and they may notice things you did not. It is better to find mistakes now than to have someone point them out when you are presenting!
  7. Consider your options for printing. When researching different printing options, make sure to consider costs, turn around time, and poster finish. After seeing all the posters at ACSP, I came to the conclusion that a glossy finish looks much nicer than a matte finish. Do with that information what you will.

Presenting the Poster

  • Have a catchy pitch. Anyone can come up and read your poster, so you do not need to recite everything you have written. Think about how you can draw someone in to talk about your research in a more conversational manner. Tip: practice this beforehand! For me, I practiced with friends and family and even with other poster presenters in between presenting. This will help you build confidence and really master that pitch.
  • Take initiative. Do your best to start the conversation. Make eye contact, smile, and if they come closer, introduce yourself (be sure to exchange names and affiliations and shake hands if they are comfortable doing so). You can ask them if they would like you to walk them through your poster and if yes, it is your time to shine! If you need an idea of how to start your pitch, you could always ask “are you familiar with this field of research?” and carry on the conversation from there.
  • Present your research chronologically. You should discuss topics in the order in which they appear on the poster. Start with an introduction to your research and proceed chronologically through the remaining sections. This will provide the listener with a better understanding of your research topic/process.
  • Be prepared for questions. If you have followed these tips so far, chances are you have an awesome poster and people are going to want to talk about it. Allow time in between sections and at the end of the presentation for questions and feedback. Tip: bring a notebook to record any questions and feedback provided to improve your research moving forward.
  • Network. Poster sessions are about networking. You should take this time to make connections with people working in your field. Ensure you carrying business cards with you and if you make a connection, follow up with it after the event by sending an email, a message on LinkedIn, etc. Tip: attach some business cards to the poster for people to grab before/after the poster session when you may not be around to discuss your research in person.
  • Have fun! Most importantly, have fun. You have successfully made it through your first poster presentation, and you should be proud of yourself. So go have a good time at the event, you deserve it. Congratulations on crushing it.