As a graduate student at the University of Iowa, Rachel Casas, PhD, wasn’t discouraged by her second rejection for a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate
Research Fellowship grant. “Sadness isn’t productive for
me,” says Casas, now an assistant professor of psychology at
California Lutheran University.
Instead of brooding, she channeled her inner tiger and
reapplied. Casas won the grant on her third try.
“Everyone at the graduate level is so bright,” she says. “It may
not be brains that will make the difference [in winning grants],
it’ll be sheer persistence.”
That’s sage advice, say funding experts. In today’s
environment of rising education costs and shrinking financial
aid packages, only a small percentage of students who compete
for grants will win an award on the first try. It takes stamina and
dedication to forge ahead.
Just ask Alexa Lopez, a doctoral candidate at the University
of Vermont who chairs the APAGS Science Committee. She
and the other committee members review graduate student
applications for the APAGS Basic Psychological Science Grant
and the Junior Scientist Fellowship, which APAGS sponsors
with Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology.
Only about 10 percent of applicants succeed on the first try,
she says. About 20 percent to 25 percent who are turned down
“Funding is difficult to get,” Lopez says. “So you have to be
Being open to changes
able to take criticism and turn it around.”
That means giving careful consideration to reviewers’
comments and using them to bolster another attempt. “The
feedback is there to help you succeed,” she says.
Persevering requires different approaches, depending on why
an application is turned down. For example, Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez, a doctoral candidate at the University of Iowa, learned
that her first application for the NSF grant was rejected because
she needed a stronger track record on publications.
Through her advisor, Guzmán-Vélez made connections
to collaborate with graduate student researchers at Iowa’s
nursing school and at Pennsylvania State University on a study
about sustained attention in a population with dementia. At
the time, she was coauthor on an article submitted to The
Clinical Neuropsychologist based on work with Casas, whose
dissertation research on how interpreters influence the results
of neuropsychological tests took place in Guzmán-Vélez’s native
Those projects earned her two new publishing credits. She
also added teaching experience as a graduate assistant to her
application. Pressing on to win the NSF grant on her second try
“showed me how much I love what I do,” she says.
Jeannie Celestial’s persistence led her to submit more
than one application before she received the APA Minority
Fellowship Program award.
The fellowship carried a $20,000 annual stipend until her
internship begins. “That’s a significant impact on my overall
student debt,” says Celestial, a doctoral candidate in clinical
psychology at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology at Palo
Just as important, she adds, is the network of mentors and
BY REBECCA VOELKER
professional development opportunities the program offers.
“It’s lifelong support.”
Celestial realizes now that her first application failed to
describe her research and clinical interests in detail. “At first I
Don’t let rejection get you down. Persistence pays off when applying
for grants and fellowships, according to these successful grad students
and early career psychologists.
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