said I wanted to advance mental health among Asian Americans
and Pacific Islanders,” she says. But she specifically wanted
to work with clients of her own Filipino American ethnic
“That’s what the APA is looking for — people who are
uniquely qualified to serve these minority communities,”
Some graduate students who don’t get a grant or fellowship
on the first try instead receive an honorable mention. That’s
not a sign of failure. On his first try for the APAGS Basic
Psychological Science Grant, Logan Fiorella got an honorable
“It was helpful,” says Fiorella, a doctoral candidate in
cognitive psychology at the University of California Santa
Barbara. “It encouraged me that I was close but could still
strengthen my application.”
He took reviewers’ feedback to heart and revised his
application to include a power analysis to validate the number
of participants he would need for his study. Fiorella got the
grant in the next application cycle.
Now, as an APAGS Science Committee member who
reviews grant applications, he has a better appreciation for how
competitive the process is. “I see dozens of perfectly deserving
applications turned down,” he says.
Megan Smith, a doctoral candidate in cognitive psychology
at Purdue University, also reviews grant applications on the
APAGS Science Committee and offers suggestions for success.
She says proposals to fund research that’s strong in both basic
science and clinical, public health or other applications have an
advantage in many grant programs. “A dual purpose is really a
good thing,” she says.
Write clearly enough so a reviewer whose specialty area is
different from your own will easily understand your project,
Smith adds. “Even if the reviewer is in your area, he or she
will appreciate it being easier to go through,” she says. “It’s not
necessarily bad to write at the undergraduate level.”
It’s also important to carefully follow the application instructions,
Smith says. For example, the APAGS Basic Psychological Science
Grant application asks for detailed budget information. Some
students scatter it throughout the application, but putting it all
together at the end is recommended.
“Things like that make a difference, and they’re always easy
to do,” Smith says.
Apply to many grant programs, and consider ways to tweak
your research to fit eligibility criteria, says Casas. When she
applied for the NSF grant, the program typically didn’t fund
clinical psychology students because its focus is basic science.
“But my research is neuropsychological in nature, so I had to
convince them that it was basic science.”
After her second rejection for the NSF grant, Casas looked
up previous years’ recipients on the organization’s website and
contacted those specializing in neuropsychology. She asked
to see their grant applications and several sent copies. “I read
through them and tried to emulate what I saw,” she says.
Celestial says that despite feeling disappointed when her first
attempt failed, her faculty advisor reminded her that the odds
of rejection are 100 percent for students who don’t apply — or
who don’t reapply.
“Not getting the grant doesn’t mean your work was in vain,”
she says. “It just means that you didn’t get it this time.” n
Rebecca Voelker is a journalist in Chicago.