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Dealing with Grant Rejections: How to go from getting multiple rejections to getting the big YES  

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Guest Author Perspective: Dealing with grant rejections by Titilope Oladiran

According to the University of Dundee [1], the average success rate for most funders is between 10%-20% and every applicant will face rejection at one point or the other. It is then important we know how to deal with rejections and continue with application submissions.   

Over the past one year, I dealt with a lot of application rejections (more than 100). And that is why I am able to connect with how researchers feel and the unpalatable experience they go through when their grant applications get rejected.  

My experience taught me a very vital lesson and it is that: you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. This means that for you to go from not getting any grant to getting grants, you need to improve your application. And this is the main message of this blog post; what can you do to go from getting NOs to getting the big YES.  

When you receive a grant rejection, you experience several emotions like anger, frustration, sadness, among others. It is normal to have such feelings and the best way to deal with it is to accept how you feel and then talk to someone about it. You could talk to your friend, colleague, mentor, or partner about it. Grant rejection doesn’t have anything to do with your intelligence. Often it comes down to the suitability of your proposal, the sheer number of other qualified applicants or your ability to prepare the proposal with sufficient detail and explanation. 

After a rejection, you can take these steps: 

Respond to the rejection email respectfully and gracefully 

‘Unfortunately, your grant application was not successful. We wish you the best’ 

People often don’t remember to respond to emails when they are about rejection, because the excitement to respond is not there, unlike an acceptance email. However, despite our feelings, it is good that we write an email back to the funding body to achieve two main goals; to appreciate the funder and request for feedback. Getting feedback about your application will help you understand why your application was rejected and also to identify what needs to be improved upon before submitting another application.  

Keep your email simple, respectful, and straightforward. You should start by thanking the funder for their time and consideration of your application. Then you go ahead to ask for feedback politely, stating how the feedback will help you prepare better for future applications. You can also ask about the possibility of submitting an application in the next cycle for the same grant.  

Here is an example of an email you can send to the funder: 

Dear Greater Foundation, 

Thank you for your email. I appreciated your consideration of my project ‘’ for the Greater Foundation Grant 2023. 

I would love to try another submission in the future and would like to receive your feedback on my last submission. Would you be available for a short discussion about my application and sections that need more strength. 

Thank you once again for the opportunities you provide scientists and researchers in the community.  

Best Regards, 

Writer’s Name. 

Review the winner’s application, if possible 

For some grant applications, you are either able to access the winner’s application after the results are published or able to access the funder’s comments about the winner’s application. You may also reach out to the successful applicant and ask if they are willing to share any portion of their proposal. If available, I advise you review such documents to evaluate what the person did so well to stand out from others. You can learn from such and apply the strengths to your application moving forward.  

Get more knowledge about preparing grant application documents  

The more we learn, the better we become, right? It is advisable that you continuously get more knowledge about grant applications and most importantly, you should improve on your research proposal. Applications are mostly rejected because of the insufficiency of the project plan to answer the research questions. Sometimes, it might be the research question itself that is not well formulated. It is by getting more knowledge and by critically reviewing your application documents that you know what can be improved on for your next application. 

Ensure you meet all requirements before submission 

I would advise you direct your focus and energy to grants where you meet all requirements, not the ones where you have one or two requirements you do not meet. There is really no reason to apply for a grant that focuses on a specific geographic location whereas you stay in a different geographic location.  

Finally, always remember that the rejection is not about you, but about your application. You shouldn’t let the rejections define you as a person, else you start feeling incapable whereas you are more than capable. You only just need to improve on your application to make it stand out. For example, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2017 got 49,415 proposals and only funded less than 25% of the total submissions. This means that more than 12,000 applicants received rejection letters. This doesn’t mean the applications were bad, but a competitive selection process was put in place.  

Therefore, to make your application stand out and be the best for grant selection, you need to keep improving on yourself and your application. You are smart and intelligent, and you can do this! To read more about what makes a proposal strong, check out some of the interviews on our blog with funding managers, e.g. with Jullienne Kay from The American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS) here:  

Here is a checklist you can adopt to assess your application documents before submission: 

  • Do not wait until the deadline is close to prepare your documents. 
  • Proofread and edit your documents to avoid grammar, formatting and punctuation errors. 
  • Always check you answered all application questions and meet all application requirements. 
  • Ask for review/second opinion from your colleagues or mentor. 
  • Ensure your grant proposal includes all major parts such as abstract, introduction, problem statement, objectives, methodology, budget, etc. 
  • Your research proposal should be innovative and clearly show how the proposed project will be successfully carried out.  




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