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Tips and Information for Applicants

Graduate Scholarship Applications:

Some Dos and Don'ts

General Advice

  • Don't use jargon or technical terms not understood outside sociology. Selection panels are interdisciplinary and will not necessarily understand sociological jargon.
  • Be as concrete, practical and feasible as possible. You have to look as if you know what you are doing, and can do it within the time allotted for the degree.
  • Don't be vague or speculative about your plans for completing the degree. Don't list a number of different possible thesis topics, suggesting that you have not yet made up your mind about what you want to do for a thesis or dissertation. You can change your mind later; don't express uncertainty about your plans in the application.
  • Don't spend an excessive amount of space listing courses and comp areas. These are easy to list. Many people will do it. They will not make your application stand out.
  • Don't use sexist or racist terminology. Be careful with the universal 'he' (and similarly with 'him' and 'his'). It is better to rephrase, for example in the plural ('they'), unless referring to a particular person. (Of course, if you use the plural, make sure that the verb is plural!)
  • Make sure that your text is grammatically correct.
  • Make sure there is coherence to your text and that your writing is logical and clear.

Please note that research scholarships (stipends) paid from faculty members' research grants (including from SSHRC grants) are not competitive scholarships and should not be listed as such on your scholarship applications.

Program of Work (SSHRC)

  • Write several drafts. Revise until you are satisfied.
  • Seek out the advice of faculty, including your supervisor or advisor, but also committee members or the referees you have chosen. It helps to get advice from individuals who have had experience in writing research grant applications, particularly if they have been successful at it! It is a good idea to have your advisor edit and criticize an early draft.
  • Ensure there is consistency and integration among courses, comps, and thesis or dissertation topic.
  • Main ingredients (besides those indicated in the instructions):
    • Statement of a theoretical problem rooted in the sociological literature. Be clear about the theoretical paradigm you are using, but be relatively brief to leave space for a concrete description of your research project.
      • General examples of theoretical problems: a logical contradiction that has not been resolved between two theoretical propositions; an implication of social theory that has not been tested empirically or that can be tested in a new way; a theoretical issue that is outstanding; a social phenomenon that raises theoretical issues.
    • Statement of a researchable substantive topic, problem, or question formulated at a more concrete level than the theoretical problem, but should in some sense be derived from it.
    • Critical review of a relevant literature and the way in which the theoretical problem and substantive research topic emerge out of, and address, a gap in the literature. Pay attention to alternative theoretical paradigms and orientations in the literature. Make sure you know the substantive empirical literature in the subject area of your thesis or dissertation. Be relatively brief.
    • Selection and justification of sources of empirical data. This is necessary whether you use historical documents, qualitative field or interview data, survey data., or some other data source.
    • Statement of the methodology. What is the logic of your research design? Does your choice of data collection and analysis fit logically and sociologically with your statements of the theoretical problem and substantive topic?
    • Statement of the research techniques to be used, such as questionnaires and interview schedules in the data collection, and statistical or qualitative techniques in the data analysis.
    • Schedule for data collection, analysis, and write-up. Show that this is reasonable within the time allotted to complete the degree.
    • Likely interpretation of the data you expect to find.
    • Contribution of your thesis to the advancement of knowledge. How it helps to tell us something we did not know before, or helps to fill a gap in the literature. Will it change the way people in the field look at a question? This should relate back to your statement of the theoretical problem.
    • All of this in two pages + references (SSHRC)!
    • Conform to the font and page-format requirements. For  SSHRC:  single-spaced (no more than 6 lines per inch), no smaller than 12-point font (Times New Roman font for SSHRC), and no smaller than 3/4-inch margins! See the scholarship websites directly for further information about attachments to your application.

Letters of Reference

  • The SSHRC applications require two letters of reference (called "letters of appraisal" by SSHRC)
  • Get references from faculty members who know your work well and can write about it informatively: It does not help your case to have a faculty member simply write that you received an A in his or her class.
  • Unless you are a new student in the programme, one of your referees should normally be your supervisor.
  • New PhD students should consider getting a reference from their MA supervisors.
  • When requesting a letter of reference, it is appropriate to ask whether a faculty member feels that he or she can write a strong letter for you.
  • When you give a reference form to a referee, mention when the reference is due.

Good Luck!