We are including some sample applications for you to use as a tool to write your own application. These applications were written by graduate students that were awarded most (or all) of their requested funds. Please keep in mind:
- While these applications were ranked high by the Grant Review committee, they are not perfect. Therefore, please use these as a guide only.
- The actual amount awarded will depend greatly on the total budget available and on the members of the committee.
- Simply copying the sections listed will not guarantee a successful application.
Sample Project Summaries
Sample Project Summary #1
Quantum field theory is the most fundamental description of the strong and electroweak interactions, and has led to the success of the Standard model of particle physics. Furthering this theory to understand the force of gravity has so far proved unsuccessful, but some interesting information has been generated in studying quantum fields on a background space that is curved by the force of gravity. Due to the mathematically challenging nature of quantum field theory in curved space, exact solutions of the equations pertinent to any given model are difficult to obtain and are only known in very specific circumstances. My adviser and I have developed techniques based in the theory of symmetric spaces that have allowed us to calculate the quantum effects of a Yang-Mills field in the presence of a strongly curved background, and we believe that the mathematical techniques we have developed can be expanded to much more general cases.
Our results may relate to the so-call Yang-Mills mass gap problem, which is one of the Clay Mathematics Institutes famous Millenium problems. Because of the amount of time it takes to make progress in this field and the small size of the community working on these problems, the most important conference that is held to discuss recent results, Quantum Fields Under the Influence of External Conditions, only occurs once every two years. This year, it is being held at the Centro de Ciencias de Benasque Pedro Pascual in Benasque, Spain, September 17-24.
There is only a very small community of theoretical physicists at New Mexico Tech, so it is especially important that I am able to present my research to scientists outside of my department. Networking with others within my field will allow me to expand my research and understand the greater context under which I am working, as well as providing me with feedback that I need to explore future directions and applications of the work I have done.
Sample Project Summary #2
Geothermal resources within the Winston graben have never been evaluated. Two warm springs occur at the northern and southern margins of the rift basin, associated with the extension of the Rio Grande Rift. These warm springs are the only manifestation of a potential low-temperature (<45oC) geothermal system. No scientific investigations have sought to characterize and evaluate the hydrogeologic aspects controlling the warm springs. I hypothesize that a two component hydrogeologic system occurs within the Winston graben; mixing cool shallow and warm deep waters occurs at the stated warm springs. My study aims to relate bedrock geology, ground and spring water chemistry, and geophysical data (well-temperature logs and gravity surveys) in order to put forth a conceptual hydrogeologic framework.
The field area is located in west-central Sierra County, New Mexico. The primary industry of income in the Winston area is agriculture (Ranching and farming). What we learn from my project will not only aid ranchers in understanding water resources in an arid environment (occurrences, amount, and quality), but it will also promote low-temperature geothermal exploration in New Mexico. A major theme that pervades throughout this project is to promote practical and inexpensive geothermal exploration.
The field work conducted using the requested funds will allow me to collect vital data which will strengthen the quality of my thesis. Work planned for the field season includes continued water sampling, a 2-day gravity survey, and several trips to log temperatures in wells. The nature of these investigations will involve extensive time in the field area, including travel between numerous sites. The requested funds will be used to pay for transportation and living expenses associated with field work. A four wheel drive vehicle enabling access on unimproved roads will be rented through the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources. Per diem is requested to allow 6 2 day trips to the field area throughout the field season. This will cover camping permits and food costs.
The ideas and questions being answered by this project came from personal investigations and conversations with my advisory committee. Presently, the project is being funded by small grants from the New Mexico and Colorado Geological Societies. These funds have been used to pay for sample analyses and equipment, but are quickly depleting. I plan to apply to the Geological Society of America, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the New Mexico Geological Society, and the Colorado Geological Society during the 2012 proposal call.
Sample Project Summary #3
The Witwatersrand Basin in South Africa is home to some of the deepest mines on Earth. In the mid 1990s researchers began studying groundwater associated with fractures throughout the basin. What they found was a completely unique ecosystem, and one that may be comparable to what we might expect to observe when searching for extraterrestrial life. Recent findings in other deep mines suggest that these extremophile bacteria are so ubiquitous that they may actually make up the majority of biomass on the planet.
While previous work in the Witwatersrand Basin has explored the microbiology of deep subsurface waters, much is unknown about the composition, origins, and fate of the organic carbon in this system. We are using advanced chemical analyses to understand carbon cycling at various depths (1-5 km). Some of these techniques, such as NMR and FT-IR, require isolation of the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to increase concentrations and remove inorganic salts. Our approach will make it possible to elucidate bacterial metabolic processes and identify biogenic and abiogenic carbon sources.
As part of my thesis research I spent 5 weeks this past summer in South Africa collecting water samples and isolating organic carbon in five gold mines. Our NSF funded research is part of a consortium of universities which biologists, chemists, geologists, and hydrologists from over half a dozen countries. Since the late 1990s the findings from these efforts have been groundbreaking, including a cover article in the June, 2011 issue of Nature, as well as approximately 40 published articles to date. I am the only graduate student working on the organic carbon research, and our data is pivotal to the biologist’s understanding of the bacterial metabolic processes.
A significant portion of our budget as described in the NSF grant under which I am funded is dedicated to travel. However, we are still severely limited. The NSF paid for my presentation at a conference last January and much of my travel in July and August. Fortunately, I was named a Lewis and Clark scholar and was awarded $4,800 to help with travel expenses this past summer. I will also be submitting an application for the NSF Graduate Fellowship Program which will be notifying recipients in April, 2012.
Given the success of our summer field session and previous research associated with this project, a number of us will be returning to South Africa this January. Now that the miner€™s strike has been resolved, we plan to visit three or four more mines to further our understanding of the changes in DOC with depth and associated geologic surroundings.
I am requesting $1000 to contribute to travel costs for this winter field session. I would like the GSA to fund a portion of the airfare, which is our greatest travel expense, particularly since we must use a US carrier due to the specifications in the NSF grant.
Sample Project Summary #4
I am requesting funding to attend an American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting so that I can present the results of my PhD research on the spiral galaxy problem. I plan to give a 15 minute dissertation talk, as opposed to the standard 5 minute talk. The dissertation talk is a rite of passage for those in my field that is typically given when they are near the completion of their PhD.
For anyone not familiar with spiral galaxies, they are rotating disks of stars, dust, and gas. The densest regions take the form of a bulge or a bar at the center, and a pattern of spiral arms in the rest of the disk. One can simply search the internet for, ”spiral galaxy image,” to get the general idea. Because they are regions of higher density, the spiral arms play an important role in the dynamics and evolution of a galaxy. They affect a range of processes from star formation to the growth of supermassive black holes. The cause and nature of spiral patterns in galaxies is not well understood, and this is commonly referred to as the spiral galaxy problem.
In my research I use density and velocity measurements of hydrogen in spiral galaxies to characterize the kinematics of their spiral patterns. I am finding that the angular frequency of a spiral pattern’s rotation decreases with increasing radius, which is contrary to the rigidly rotating patterns that are assumed by spiral galaxy theorists. This result for the first galaxy I studied was published in the July edition of the Astrophysical Journal. My dissertation will consist of this publication and future ones reporting on the results for a sample of galaxies. I plan to present the results for the sample when I give my talk at the AAS meeting.
I would like to attend the entire length of the AAS meeting for networking and employment purposes. My advisor and myself are the only people in Socorro who are working on the spiral galaxy problem. At the AAS meeting I will have the unique opportunity to meet face-to-face with the small community in my field also working on the problem. This was especially crucial to the success of my Master’s thesis about the same topic, during which the GSA funded travel to an AAS meeting, and for which I am most grateful. Furthermore, AAS meetings serve as an important venue for securing a good job after graduation. Many of my potential employers will be conducting formal interviews at this year’s meeting.
I requested funding from my advisor, my department, and from the NMT administration (via V.P. Dr. van Romero), and found that there are no available funds. If I do not receive funding from the GSA, I will not be able to afford the full amount requested, and I will have to cancel the trip.
Sample Budget #1
Registration Fee: 200 euros (approx. $288)
Plane ticket (round trip, ABQ-BCN): $1059
Hotel (6 nights): 8*$91=$728
Per Diem (6 days): 6*$30=$180
The cost of the hotel is based on the San Marcial Hotel Benasque, which is within walking distance of the conference center, but I will also be looking into room-sharing and hostels as ways of lessening the expense of accommodations, and the conference organizers may organize a group rate at another hotel.
The airfare is based on the least expensive flight I could find, in this case with American Airlines. Transportation between the airport and the conference center is provided for free by the conference organizers, and I should not be in need of any additional transportation within Benasque other than walking. The amount needed is considerably higher than the maximum budget allowable by the GSA, so I will not be able to attend without other sources of funding.
The European Science Foundation is offering partial assistance to some attendees, though there is no guarantee that the funding will be granted. Neither my adviser nor my department will be able to assist me, but I am actively searching for other sources of funding. If the majority of my costs are funded, I am willing to spend my personal savings in order to attend this conference. I am requesting as much of the $1000 maximum as the GSA is able to grant so as to minimize my own financial burden.
Sample Budget #2
6 Field Excursions (2 days each)
Per Diem 12 Days X $30 = $360
Round trip from Socorro, NM to Winston, NM is approximately 200 miles
Transportation (6 trips X 200 miles)1200 miles X $0.32/mile= $384
Sample Budget #3
***South African Rand (ZAR) has been converted to USD using current conversion factor of 7.08 to 1, respectively.
Airfare: American Airlines round-trip ticket: $2,261.00
Lodging: Shawu Lodge for 19 nights (490 R/night; sharing room so 254 R/night) = 4826 R = $681.00
Food: $20 day * 21 days = $420
Tolls (to and from mines): ~ 40 R/toll * 6 tolls per round trip * 4 mines = 960 R = $136.00
Sample Budget #4
Meeting registration – $125
Roundtrip airfare – $377.2
Lodging – $468.6
The meeting registration is discounted for early registration, and is $27 cheaper than regular registration. The airfare is the discounted rate provided by American Airlines for meeting attendees, and includes all taxes and fees. I compared this rate against those provided by Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia, as well as those directly provided by Southwest, Delta, Frontier, United, Continental, and US Airways, and found it to be the cheapest. I did take into consideration driving as a possible alternative to flying, but my vehicle is not reliable enough to make the trip, and I do not know of anyone else going who is driving. Lodging is based on the discounted rate provided by the hosting hotel for meeting attendees, and includes all taxes and fees. It is for 5 nights, and is only half of the total amount because I made arrangements to share the room. I compared this rate against the 6 closest hotels, and found it to be the cheapest one that would provide a full refund if I had to cancel the trip due to an emergency. I did find a slightly cheaper hotel nearby, but the terms of the agreement included a substantial penalty fee in the case of a cancelation. Note that one must try the actual dates at the hotel websites because a simple internet search often produces deceptively cheap rates. I am not requesting a per diem because I plan to pack nonperishable food items to take with me, and I am willing to pay out of pocket for other miscellaneous expenses.
I love going to scientific conferences. They provide me with great opportunities to learn about exciting new research, expand my professional network, and catch up with colleagues and old friends. Over the last few months (and at this point in previous years) I’ve spent some time evaluating student applications for a couple of different conference travel awards. Many academic societies offer such awards, providing grants to support and encourage undergraduate and / or postgraduate students to attend their annual conferences. This year I had more applications to read than usual, and found myself noting some of the same points (both good and bad) many times. So, while this is all fresh in my mind, here are my top five tips for writing a good travel award application*.
1. Provide all the information you’re asked for, and in the format requested
This might sound obvious, but some people don’t, and if we’re struggling to make decisions it is easy to justify excluding an incomplete application. If we ask for a cover letter, your CV, and a reference letter from your lecturer or supervisor, make sure we get all of those things. If we ask for a single PDF, don’t send two Word documents and an Excel spreadsheet.
2. First impressions count
Perhaps I’m being a bit old-fashioned, but a concise and well-written cover letter is not going to harm your application and may even help. You’re applying for a professional award from a professional organisation. If possible, find out the name of the contact person for the award and address your cover letter to that person. If you start your letter with “Dear Professor Smith” or “Dear Selection Committee” you will make a much better first impression than the student whose letter starts with “Hi!”. Likewise, if the application letter needs to be detailed, and I need to read 30+ letters, good use of punctuation and well-structured paragraphs will make my life a lot easier (and make me a lot happier) than a two page stream of consciousness.
3. Tell us why you deserve an award
All of the conference awards I have evaluated have ranked candidates based on both excellence and enthusiasm. This latter point is especially true for undergraduate travel awards, where applicants may not have had much opportunity to gain research experience or demonstrate their excellence in ways other than exams. So make sure that you use your cover letter as an opportunity to sell yourself to the committee, to emphasise your excellence and your enthusiasm. Don’t just hide the key points in your CV and assume we’ll notice them. Did you come top of your year in your biochemistry / ecology / genetics / whatever-the-conference-topic-is classes? Tell us. Were you selected for a summer internship in your lecturer’s research lab? Tell us. Can you demonstrate your enthusiasm through your involvement in the student science society? Tell us. Have you already published papers from your thesis or made an important discovery? Tell us. Did you receive a University award? You get the point!
4. Show you’ve done your homework
We’re funding you to come to our conference. Naturally we think our conference is wonderful, but we would like to know why you’re interested in coming. Hopefully it isn’t just for a week’s holiday at a resort / mountain / beach location! If you can, take some time to read through the society / conference website. Most conferences will publish details of symposia and plenary speakers well in advance, even if the final program isn’t confirmed until almost the last minute. Is there a symposium that really excites you? Tell us about your interest in that field of research. Maybe one of the invited speakers is a famous international scientist whose papers you’ve read during your course / cited in your thesis. You don’t have to go into a lot of detail, but this is a great way to signal that you have a real interest and enthusiasm in the area. Some of the applications that most impressed me this year came from students who identified specific speakers whose work inspired them, or specific symposia that motivated their interest in attending.
5. Tell us how this award will help you
Most societies are keen to help their members develop their careers, and student awards are one way that a society can invest in the future of its members. We’re also keen to encourage promising students to develop their careers in our field. So tell us how a travel award will contribute to your career development. Perhaps attending our conference will help you to decide whether a career in science is really for you, or to define which research topic you’re most interested in pursuing for your PhD, or allow you to meet with potential postdoc advisors. Of course we understand that not all students will have a full career plan worked out just yet, but we’re keen to know what you think you will get out of the conference experience.
I hope this post will help you or your students in the next round of travel award applications. There are always many more applicants than we can possibly fund, but of course if you don’t apply you definitely won’t get funded – so good luck!
* Caveat: my experience is in biology, I’d be interested to learn if things work differently in other areas of science.