CUR Summer Proposal Writing Institute

Chapman University – Orange, CA
July 7-11, 2013
Registration deadline: Friday, May 24, 2013

This Institute will bring together faculty and administrators interested in preparing proposals for submission to external funding agencies. The four-day institute will consist of one-on-one work with a mentor, writing, small group discussions, and critiquing of proposals. The institute has been developed to assist novice to experienced proposal writers in drafting complete proposals for submission.

Please submit your application by Friday, May 24, 2013.

Please visit the CUR website  to complete your application.

For any questions, please do not hesitate to contact MeLisa Zackery at or 202.783.4810 x 204.


Learning from rejection is part of applying for grants

Russell Olwell, of Eastern Michigan University, offers some sage advice in Inside HigherEd.

The ability to take rejection and use it to improve your grant writing practice is the difference between many faculty members who write one proposal and give up, and those who persist to become funded principal investigators (PIs)…

The first key to dealing with rejection and negative feedback is to plan for it in advance and build it into your schedule. If you are interested in being funded by a program, you need to commit to applying for it at least twice (if not three times). This does not mean that the first attempt is half-hearted, but that the plan is to apply, get feedback, and use that feedback to strengthen the proposal.

The article is definitely worth reading.

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

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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.

Related Posts

Applying for grants in the humanities

Russ Olwell of Inside Higher Ed offers 5 pieces of advice to potential grant applicants in the humanities.

Applying for a grant in the humanities or arts is a New Year’s resolution that often lasts as long as those to diet or exercise. For faculty in these less fundable areas, it is hard to work up enthusiasm for the hunt.

Read more:

Resource: The Art of Funding and Implementing Ideas

Arnold R. Shore & John M. Carfora. 2011. The Art of Funding and Implementing Ideas: A Guide to Proposal Development and Project Management. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

This slim volume, recently published by Sage, offers advice for developing ideas into proposals. The examples used throughout the book tend to be programmatic (archives, libraries, k-12 programs) but the general principles are applicable to research proposals as well.  Review questions at the end of each chapter challenge the proposal writer to examine drafts critically.  If it weren’t for the $30-40 price tag, I would ask that Trinity purchase this for all faculty, regardless of experience.  The author’s emphasis on starting with an idea, rather than a grant opportunity, is something most faculty need to be reminded of periodically.  The final section on project management (complete with gantt charts!) is potentially very useful for academics who generally don’t have extensive management experience. The book is written from the perspective of a mentor shepherding a new proposal-writer through the steps of brainstorming ideas, identifying outcomes and products of the project, developing budgets and time-lines, searching for funding opportunities, etc.

A few favorite quotes:

“A funding database search is an intellectual exercise, not a mechanical process” (27).

“As PI or PD, you are a CEO with all the rights and responsibilities.  You will be called upon to exercise leadership in a variety of ways” (50).

“… there is a discontinuity between training for academic work and training for the conduct of funded research… This, for us, is a thoroughgoing assumption; one that guided us at every turn in developing and writing this book” (74).

Resource: CUR listservs

Members of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) are reminded that they may sign up for one or more of the organization’s list-servs in order to keep up with news and maintain contacts with colleagues across the country. Listervs are available to communicate with colleagues in the general CUR membership, the Arts & Humanities, Biology, Math & Computer Science, and Undergraduate Research Program Directors.

All Trinity faculty may sign up for CUR membership free of charge because of our enhanced institutional membership.