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PhD Student Shares Award Application Insight

December 1, 2007

By Laura Pratt

Christine Ichim is a fourth-year PhD student in medical biophysics at the University of Toronto studying leukemia stem cells in the lab of Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) scientist Dr. Richard Wells, the program research director for cancer. Here, she offers some insight on lessons she’s learned in applying for a CIHR studentship application, which she is well-placed to do: She ranked in the top 50 (of several hundred applicants) and has won a Canada Graduate Scholarship CIHR doctoral award—a $30,000-per-annum stipend, and a $5,000-per-annum research allowance over three years.

What were your impressions of applying for a CIHR studentship application?

I thought that the process was convoluted and intimidating. The application package contains multiple forms that needed to be downloaded and filled out. I remember being apprehensive because not only was this the same Web site that my supervisor uses to find out about his half-million-dollar grants, but these were some of the same forms that he uses for his grant application. There were no cute icons saying, “students click here.”

What's the most challenging aspect of applying?

Writing a good one-page research proposal. It’s much more difficult to write a short proposal than a longer one. One way to get the desired depth may be to write long and then prune it down, to ensure that all sections at mentioned.

What’s the most common mistake students make?

Leaving it to the last minute. If you want to win this award, begin working on it at least two months ahead of time. Reviewers can tell when an application has been rushed. Give yourself time to read over the entire application package, familiarize yourself with the forms, do some introspection in order to produce a sincere personal statement, write a one-page research proposal that covers as much depth as a 10-page research proposal, order transcripts, ask for letters of reference—referees need at least two weeks notice—and get your supervisor’s updated CV module. Finally, give yourself time to get everyone and their dog to proofread your application.

What's your best advice for an applying trainee?

Nobody’s rooting for your success as much as your supervisor is—use this to your advantage. Give your referees something to write about: an information package that includes a cover letter (that includes bullet points highlighting research and other academic achievements, along with specific examples of traits that exemplify the characteristics you want them to mention), CV and completed application package.

Check for priority announcements. Priority announcements are made announcing areas of research that either CIHR or its partners wish to promote. As long as you can make a claim that your research is relevant to the specified priority, your project could be eligible.