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PhD Unlimited Series Kicks Off With A Talk On Grant Writing

Photo Credit: DHI Undergraduate Assistant Alexandra Vieille

If you’ve heard about the Davis Humanities Institute’s PhD Unlimited meetings, but never attended them, you might be wondering what they’re all about. This article provides an overview of the first PhD Unlimited event and a brief preview of the next PhD Unlimited event happening on November 28th, entitled “What is Grad Slam, and Why Should I Care?” Those who RSVP to the PhD Unlimited Event on November 28th will have a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card. All RSVPs can be e-mailed to rjwilson@ucdavis.edu.

On Tuesday, October 31st, the PhD Unlimited Series kicked off with DHI Associate Director Molly McCarthy giving a talk outlining the ins and outs of the grant writing process before a large audience of humanities and social sciences PhD students and candidates. McCarthy’s grant writing tips did much to shed light on what can often be a difficult and convoluted process.

McCarthy began by outlining what one should do before starting to write a grant. This advice included keeping a calendar to track funding deadlines, finding readers outside of your field who are willing to evaluate your proposal, following grant rules very carefully, studying successful grant proposals, and thinking big about your research claim regarding what it might potentially contribute to your field.

Next, McCarthy guided us through the specifics of making a successful grant proposal. Among other things, successful proposals have strong introductions and a succinct research question introduced early in the proposal. They are also typically written in a highly rhetorical or persuasive fashion, with a section explaining the “so what?” or significance of the project.

Successful proposals also avoid the potential minefield of overusing academic jargon (such as “discursive” or “problematize”). And they tell the reader what you expect to find at the end of all of your research, that is, what you think the answer to your research question might be.

Finally, the best grant proposals provide readers with a project timeline, which will demonstrate that you have a good idea of where your project is going and when you expect it to get there.

In the question and answer session following the lecture, one PhD student asked about the extent to which letters of recommendation can make a grant proposal successful. The answer, according to McCarthy, is that letters of rec can help, but only if you coordinate with the people writing them. That is to say, if a letter of rec says something that your proposal doesn’t, or is much better at describing your project than your proposal is, grant reviewers are likely to hold that against you.

If PhD Unlimited sounds like something that interests you, be sure to attend the next meeting on Tuesday, November 28th, entitled What is Grad Slam, & Why Should I Care? Grad Slam encourages PhD students to hone their skills by requiring them to effectively outline their research in a three minute presentation.

Because the DHI wants to encourage more graduate students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences to compete in Grad Slam, they are offering $50 Amazon gift cards to doctoral students in eligible humanities and social sciences departments who compete in the campus qualifying round on Feb. 8, 2018.

For a full list of eligible programs and departments, please visit the DHI’s PhD Unlimited webpage. Gift cards are limited, so sign up early to attend the PhD Unlimited workshop on Tuesday, Nov. 28th. You can sign up by sending an RSVP to Becky Wilson at rjwilson@ucdavis.edu.

There are five PhD Unlimited meetings remaining in the 2017-18 academic year, and all occur on Tuesdays at Noon in Voorhies 228 (with lunch being served). Stay tuned for more information about PhD Unlimited events happening in 2018, including “Acing the Job Interview” on January 30th, “The Fundamentals of Networking” on February 27th, “Creating a Digital Identity” on April 24th, and “Exploring the Local Job Market” on May 29th.


– Nicholas Garcia, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral student in the Department of History


This page was last updated: July 26, 2018



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