Ask Dr. Grants

Letter From New York

How do I get a grant?

You first must get an application. Forget about those grants for which you cannot apply, such as MacArthur Fellowships, which are essentially designed for people already known, which is to say celebrities, or incipient celebrities.

Once you get the application, read its guidelines carefully to make sure you qualify and, if you do, then to organize your presentation. If you don't understand something in the guidelines, call or write the granting agency's administrators, who are required to give advice to applicants. Should you find them unhelpful or discouraging, you can either assume they want to save your time, or suspect that they are trying to lessen the competition, rather than increase it, in order to channel available funds to applicants who are administratively favored. Administrators, it should not be forgotten, are supposed only to administer, not to choose. The selection of winners is the responsibility of either the funding agency's board or an ad hoc panel convened for a particular competition.

Application forms fall into two groups: those for individuals and those for organizations. The former are customarily simple, no more than two pages in length, requiring minimal information: name, birthday, birthplace, current address and telephone number, "education," present employment, current income perhaps, as well as a brief professional resume. Individual applications customarily require...

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