August, 2005blank imageVolume 1, Issue 8

In This Issue:

So You Are Not Independently Wealthy?
Securing Funding for Graduate School

I am sending out a big hello to all of the sociologists who attended TADAís Masterís Thesis and Dissertation Workshop at the ASA conference in Philadelphia this past weekend.

As the summer winds down and we begin gearing up for the start of another academic semester, it’s time for many of us to begin wondering – and worrying – about exactly how to pay for that semester. Indeed, lack of adequate funding is one of the top reasons graduate students give for not completing their degree.

This month’s Finish Line addresses those concerns with some tips to help you find the funds you need to complete your degree.

When I got accepted to graduate school, I was not awarded any funding. As a single parent on a tight income, acceptance into a PhD program was bittersweet. To secure funding, I became proactive by visiting the campus during the summer prior to my enrollment and knocking on as many office doors as possible. I encourage anyone who needs funding to do the same!

Securing funding for graduate school differs vastly from undergraduate school. As an undergraduate, aid is based on the financial need of the student. Funding for graduate school, however, is often awarded based on a variety of other factors, including your GRE Scores, your undergraduate GPA and, most importantly, how well connected you are within your department. While some departments award funding on an annual basis, others make long-term financial commitments to graduate students for as long as six years.

Keep in mind that the type of funding you receive might also influence the length of time it takes you to complete your degree. Funding possibilities range from fellowships (outright stipends that do not require any work obligations) to traineeships, teaching and research assistantships that involve pay in exchange for work. According to the Summary 1987 Report by the National Research Council (NRC), students with the shortest time-to-degree (TTD) generally received some type of funding assistance in the form of fellowships, traineeships, or research assistantships. Those with teaching assistantships and other forms of funding – such as loans – took longer to complete their degree.

Networking and Visibility: Does Everyone Know My name?

In addition to your class attendance and participation, your attendance and participation in department activities, campus workshops, “brown bag” presentations and national conferences are important components to securing financial aid. Clearly, time restrictions require that you set priorities and make thoughtful choices about which and how many activities to include. But make no mistake: participation in these types of events gives you higher visibility and credibility with your advisor, committee and other individuals in your field. Moreover, your ability to network with faculty will definitely help when it comes to securing fellowships, assistantships and lab work opportunities, as well as recommendations for the future.

If your skills in these areas need work, take heart in the fact that networking is a skill that can be learned with time, practice and patience. I have known professors whose presentation skills in the classroom have been lackluster and dry … yet, they display a completely different personality during office hours, at department functions or conferences. Attending these types of functions allows you and your professor to get to know one another on a more personal level. Taking advantage of these opportunities will also help you build skills for the future because, as a professor, you will be asked to represent your department in various social settings, especially if you serve on hiring committees.

The Importance of Fellowships, Traineeships, Research Assistantships vs. Teaching

Even if you earn top scores on your evaluations as a teaching assistant, it is important to keep in mind that the PhD is a research degree. Many professors believe that the majority of your time in graduate school should be spent conducting research, because teaching is a task that can be learned over time with practice. And as a professor, your tenure and promotion will be based primarily on your publishing record. To prepare you for this "publish-or-perish" academic environment, the faculty focuses primarily on developing your research skills.

As such, securing a fellowship or traineeship/research assistantship is preferable to a teaching assistantship. If these are out of reach; a teaching assistantship is better than no funding at all.

Funding for Historically Disadvantaged and Underrepresented Groups

I was financially able to attend graduate school through a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Research Supplement for Underrepresented Minorities. A senior researcher at my institution had a $5 million NIH research grant and, as the principal investigator, he was willing to apply for the supplement to support me for six years. Adding me – a minority student – to his project didn’t cost him any funds from the original grant; rather, he actually gained additional funds … part of monies set aside by funding institutions like NIH to support researchers from underrepresented minority groups.

According to Research, one of the best first steps to securing independent research funding is to train in this way with an experienced senior researcher. The site points out NIH Research Supplements for Underrepresented Minorities as an excellent avenue through which to receive grant funds. In short, if you have no idea where to start looking for research funding, start with the above website and a faculty member with a federal grant.

Student Loans

If your financial needs exceed the standards calculated for an average graduate student, you might consider applying for a student loan. To do so, fill out an FASA (Free Application for Student Aid) form and complete the section about extenuating circumstances.

Direct and FFEL (Federal Family Education Loan) Stafford Loans are either subsidized or unsubsidized. (A subsidized loan is awarded on the basis of financial need, while an unsubsidized loan is not.) You can receive both a subsidized loan and an unsubsidized loan for the same enrollment period.

Funding Sources for Graduate Students

The following are a variety of financial aid sources to explore:

Email Question of the Month:


I am doing my 12 minutes or more but just want to cry today. I keep seeing other alumni successes, my own younger cousins commanding huge salaries and is all rather depressing. I am trying to work my way through it but I only see myself as an utter embarrassment. Don't get me wrong I know I have tools, but common sense, life decisions has caused me to squander time and opportunity away. Perhaps this question should go in the next newsletter. Plus I am behind on my first self-imposed deadline. Should I send the material I have anyway?


Comparing yourself to others in your cohort is natural but you donít have the time or energy to do that while you are trying to finish your dissertation. You seem to have too much free time in your schedule. At this point your adrenaline should be pumping. Aug 15 is less than a month a really don't have time for self-pity and wallowing....if you have time to wallow it means that your schedule is not tight enough....I suggest that you get busy revising your current work schedule. Schedule every hour and every minute of every day if you have to in order for you to stay focused.

On your self imposed deadline what did you have planned to get done? Did you find an editor? Send the material to whom? An advisor? Other committee members?

You must figure out what the advantage is for sending your advisor or committee members work that is incomplete. If you feel that they need to see progress, by all means send them something. You might consider sending them the dissertation one chapter at a time. Ask them first if it is all right to do so. If they are expecting the full document in order to give you feedback, sending them an incomplete document will only frustrate them further.




Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.

About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters' degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD--TADA! Thesis and Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers' names or e-mail addresses.

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Inside This Issue:

So You Are Not Independently Wealthy? Securing Funding for Graduate School

Email Q & A of the Month

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Making a Plan and Staying Motivated

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