Voices of Experience: TU humanities faculty share insights about their successful fellowship proposals

2013-05-01 12.40.54 2013-05-01 13.10.55

Trinity faculty Jenny Browne (English), Patrick Keating (Communication), Corinne Pache (Classical Studies) and Claudia Stokes (English) led a discussion today about applying for grants and fellowships in the Arts and Humanities.  The event was attended by faculty and staff from Classical Studies, Human Communication & Theater, Classical Studies, Religion, Sociology, Academic Affairs, the Center for Learning & Technology and the library.  Here’s a brief summary of the wisdom imparted:


  • Start early, at least two months before the deadline
  • Join a writing group and/or get feedback on your drafts
  • Whether or not you get the grant, request the reviewer reports.  These can be frustrating and contradictory, but sometimes they contain key insights there that can help improve your proposal for future submissions.
  • You never feel “ready’ to apply, but the process of applying is what makes you ready.  Proposal-writing is process for clarifying your ideas.  Even if you don’t get the grant, this process is valuable.


  • Proposal-writing is a genre to be mastered just like articles and manuscripts.
  • Often humanities research is diffuse and emerges as you go along, but the proposal-writing process can enhance productivity by forcing you to clarify your ideas.
  • When writing the proposal, make sure to emphasize that the funding is necessary to the project, that it could not happen without this support.  Demonstrate the stakes.
  • Be precise and explicit about your timeline, milestones and research process.
  • When you are in doubt about the project, it will show through in your proposal.  You have to really work on making the project concrete.
  • In your literature review, avoid disciplinary turf wars.  You never know who will be reviewing your proposal!
  • If possible, serve as a reviewer for funding agencies to get an inside look at the selection process.
  • There are a lot of opportunities in the Digital Humanities.  Think about how your project might connect to these initiatives.
  • Think well in advance about colleagues outside Trinity who might be able to write letters of reference.


  • Find ways of making yourself known to potential reviewers.  A few years ago I sent free copies of my previous book to important members of the field.  It turns out that one of those people ended up being on the Academy review committee that selected my proposal.  When I applied to the Ransom Center, I was confident about my chances because I had worked with people there before.


  • Let the administration know beforehand of your proposal plans, especially if your fellowship will involve a leave or course reduction.
  • Funders will want to point to the results of their investment, so think about ways of putting the work online.
  • When letters of reference are required, it can help to have them come from previous recipients of that fellowship.

Other advice:

  • Request copies of successful proposals from the program officers.  In some cases, we have such proposals on file in Academic Affairs.  Contact Claudia Scholz.
  • Take reviewer comments seriously, even if you disagree.  If you feel your proposal was misunderstood, perhaps you can examine your narrative for clarity.  Maintain a thick skin about reviewer comments.
  • Don’t forget about student fellowships.  Trinity’s Mellon and Murchison programs support student research assistants during the summer.
  • Request faculty development funds to build the groundwork for a grant proposal (e.g. to travel to an archive to assess its appropriateness, to visit a funding agency to learn about program priorities, etc.)

What Trinity can do to support faculty in applying for external funding:

  • Send more announcements about funding opportunities, especially targeting departments or individual faculty.
  • Maintain a list of fellowship and grant deadlines
  • Organize a writing/critique/support group around grant proposals.

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