Graduate Student Grants
Graduate Student Grants provide sustainable ag research opportunities for Master's and PhD students.
February: Graduate Student Grants Call for Proposals is released.
May: Graduate Student Grant proposals are due.
August: Graduate Student Grants announced.
SARE may be a small program compared to other USDA agricultural funding efforts, but it consistently has an impact out of proportion to its budget. One aspect of the program contributing to this success is the high level of continued engagement researchers have with the SARE program; researchers and extension specialists routinely revisit SARE as a source of grant funding for sustainable agriculture projects.
This relationship is best illustrated through the Graduate Student Grant program. The grant was started in 2000 to give Master’s and PhD students the opportunity to conduct sustainable agriculture research projects. It has been a vehicle to apply for other SARE grants as students further their research careers.
The main objective of the Graduate Student Grants is to prepare the next generation of scientists in researching sustainable solutions to the challenges farmers and ranchers face each day, and to prepare young professionals to work together with other scientists, educators, and farmers to test sustainable ag theories in real-world, on-farm situations.
Graduate Student Grant proposals must meet the following basic requirements in order to be considered for funding:
- Graduate students must be enrolled full time, according to the institution’s requirements, at an accredited institution in the Southern region at the time of proposal submission. International students are welcome to apply as long as they are enrolled at an institution in the Southern region. Institutions can be from within the land-grant system (1862 or 1890 universities), or other colleges and universities outside of the land-grant system.
- Graduate Student Grant projects must address sustainable agriculture issues of current and potential importance to the Southern region.
- The proposed project satisfies the requirements of allowable expenses.
- The graduate student is only allowed to apply for one proposal to the Graduate Student Grant program during his or her graduate student program.
Who Can Apply?
Master’s and PhD students enrolled at accredited institutions in the Southern region are invited to apply for Graduate Student Grants. A graduate student may receive only one Graduate Student Grant during his or her graduate student program. The Graduate Student Grant can only be used for the graduate student who submitted the proposal. If a graduate student transfers to another institution, the grant award cannot follow the student. If the graduate student cannot complete the project, the grant cannot be transferred to another graduate student without SSARE approval.
Research projects must focus on sustainable agriculture and cover issues related to improving the profitability of farmers/ranchers in the Southern region; sustaining and improving the environmental quality and natural resources base on which agriculture depends; or enhancing the quality of life for farmers and ranchers and the communities they support. Research projects can be quantitative (component field research, for example) or qualitative (research that addresses social science issues).
Graduate Student Grant Calls for Proposals open in February and grants are awarded in August each calendar year. Graduate Student Grant project maximums are $22,000 for two-year projects. SSARE recommends two-year projects; it is difficult to extrapolate usable, replicable, practicable data from one-year research.
Graduate Student Grants are paid by reimbursement of allowable project expenses.
Graduate Student Grant funds may be used for the following purposes:
- Materials and supplies needed for the project, including software. The materials and supplies must remain within the scope of the project and be a reasonable request relative to the research being conducted.
- Costs of sampling and data analysis, either in the lab or in the field.
- The purchase of equipment. Any equipment obtained becomes the property of the university that funded the graduate student grant.
- The rental of equipment or operating charges.
- Temporary irrigation and electric fences.
- Livestock or bees, only if the university does not already have animals available for use. The animals become the property of the university at project end.
- Graduate Student Labor. The graduate student may receive up to a maximum of 50 percent of the project total (salary and fringe benefits combined). This is actual identifiable work on the project and NOT a general graduate stipend.
- General labor (such as an undergraduate student or lab technician). If general labor is required for the project, the budget for general labor is capped at 15 percent of the project total (salary and fringe benefits combined). This is actual identifiable work on the project and NOT a general stipend.
- Special texts not readily available.
- Travel and per diem necessary for the project. This can include travel related to outreach efforts. Use your university per diem rules.
- Food and refreshments. You must demonstrate that providing food or refreshments is necessary to effectively execute your grant project or provide educational continuation of the outreach efforts (encouraging participation, fellowship or gathering as a justification does not meet the guidelines).
- Student travel to one conference (not to exceed $1,000 including registration) to present his/her SARE-funded research.
Graduate Student Grant funds may NOT be used for the following purposes:
- Graduate student stipends, or any other funding the graduate student is receiving to fund his/her education.
- Preparation of thesis copy or dissertation copy.
- Salary for the major professor or advisor listed as PI on the project. Funds are for the support of the graduate student on the project.
- Journal publication costs.
- Purchase of classroom books.
- Payment of tuition.
- Permanent capital improvements (such as land, buildings, purchase of permanent irrigation or fencing, greenhouses or high tunnels, or the planting or trees, including an orchard).
- Participant incentives (payment must be related to work performed on the project).
- Promotional items (pens with logos, t-shirts, tote bags, etc.)
- International travel.
- Breakfast. No breakfast is allowed on any grant in any capacity.
Grant Writing Tips
Southern SARE Graduate Student Grants are competitive. Each year we receive more grant proposals than we have monies to award funding. Here are some suggestions that might aid in strengthening your proposal:
- The first tool for reference in applying for a Graduate Student Grant is the Call for Proposals. Follow the instructions in the Call for Proposal. Failure to follow directions or omit any required information will result in your proposal being rejected.
- Make sure your budget is realistic and appropriate to your project. Do not include items in your budget that are non-allowable costs. Including non-allowable costs may result in your proposal being rejected. Make sure to itemize each budget item to strengthen the justification as to why you need it for your research project.
- Only one Graduate Student Grant is allowed by the applicant during his or her graduate student program. If you have more than one idea, we recommend you select your best idea for submission.
- Make sure your project is a good fit for SARE. Thoroughly research your project before applying. You may have a great idea for a project, but the research related to the topic may already be well established. We look for projects that are new, innovative, generate results that are useful beyond one year, and produce information that many farmers can use.
- Successful projects include clear goals and objectives. Due to the small size of the Graduate Student Grants, we recommend developing no more than three (3) objectives in order to complete your project. Make sure the methods are appropriate to accomplish your goals.
- We do not require outreach plans for our Graduate Student Grants, but it's always a good idea to include one. Outreach plans allow the students to share the results of their project with farmers, researchers and other ag professionals. Outreach plans can include field days, educational resources, how-to videos, publications, workshops, or presentations and conferences to share research results with farmers or colleagues.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to begin your proposal and to submit it to the SARE Grant Management online system. The deadline for proposal submissions is firm. Anticipate technological glitches, budget issues, user error or other issues that might cause delays.
- Be clear on the “what”, “why”, and “who cares” of your research project and how it pertains to sustainable agriculture. State exactly what you are going to do, how you are going to do it, and when. This is generally outlined in the “Abstract” portion of your proposal. This is your “hook” for reviewers. Remember, they get to know you through your proposal.
- Keep your writing clear and simple and avoid technical jargon. Always write your proposal with the reviewers in mind. Assume that reviewers have agricultural knowledge, but not necessarily deep expertise in your proposed subject area.
- Seek assistance from your advisor, or other individuals in writing and reviewing your grant. Reviewers pay attention to editorial or grammatical errors and take note of any major scientific aspect of your proposal that may be missing or was not detailed enough. These errors impact the quality of your proposal.
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