SSHRC Grant Writing Tips

from Dr. Lianne McTavish

Categories of Evaluation

  1. Awards/Scholarships
  2. Professional Accomplishments (publications, conferences)
  3. Program of Research
  4. Letters
  5. Transcripts

Weighting is always a problem for committees, esp. according #3 sufficient weight

1. Awards:

  • Give reasons for importance – recognition by other institutions, show that a sshrc would be a good investment.
  • List everything in order of importance; included dollar amounts for big ones; if room, explain what they mean, whether grad or ug, specify if competitive, etc.
  • avoid high school or unscholarly awards

2. Professional Accomplishments

  • difference between refereed and non-refereed
  • cite fully, include page numbers, whether it’s a review or full article, single or joint authorship; brief explanation of the kind of publication for non-specialists in field.
  • be very specific about conferences and papers given. Again, refereed? Graduate conference or not? International, national, or regional? Receive funding to attend?
  • include paid work experience only if relevant to the academic world.
  • Develop a professional c.v. (Not resume) now; can copy and paste

3. Program of work

  • Still the most important
  • have a big picture. Understand that some referees will need to know why anyone would want to work on such a topic. Don't assume that the value of your topic is obvious. Assume a highly intelligent outsider may read it. Point is not to dumb it down, but to strive for clarity.
  • At the same time, don't be defensive about your topic. Also, don't trash others in your field (i.e. so and so has written on this but in an entirely superficial way, or only using literary theory not solid archival historical approach). Makes you look petty but also narrow-minded. What will the literary theorist think of your comments? Say what you are doing and why but in a positive way. Don't trash approaches that members of the committee might endorse.
  • be specific. Say exactly what you will argue. Outline each chapter if possible and names sources. Indicate methodology and say why it was chosen. Lots of information even if early in the program will be impressive. Big grandiose statements may be too ambitious and too vague.

4. Letters

  • strongest possible letters. Things like "best student in 25 years," that's your competition. Best way to get a good letter is for you to communicate with letter writer (letter writer you have selected carefully). Probably committee members, professors with solid publications and credentials (not friends or colleagues as at least one application). Show program of work, ask them to be as specific as possible. Did the advisor actually have a good understanding of the program of work proposed?

5. Transcripts

  • Judges will look for consistency, and completion in a timely fashion. Investment. Not much you can do about them if not strong. I suggest having them explained in some way in letters written by referees. Do have the option of writing about "exceptional circumstances" that referees should be aware of in order to judge your application fairly. Be very careful about using these...most important thing I learned from my experience on the SSHRCC pre-selection committee this year. Quite a few people included such a letter, some a good idea, some a very bad idea.
  • Excuse letters: account for taking a long time or large gaps; inconsistent grades or incompletes on transcript.
  • best ones turned potential negatives into positives (Despite having been in a terrible accident, paralyzed for the year, I completed such and such, although Bs instead of usual. As in rest of my transcript. but be careful because some have severed legs or had several children; those who write oh I had to work 20 hours/week look like whiners in comparison. Keep it short and simple, and positive. Woman who wrote about her political activities and arrests. In the end, this information worked neither for nor against her (not a great idea in my opinion; think about your audience). Why insert a potential negative aspect into your application? You may risk drawing attention to a negative that the reviewer might have passed over without much interest (LM: I had a C in one course because I hated the material and it was boring and the professor forced me to work on a topic I hated). One C. Whiner who blames others for their lack of success.