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Office of the Vice President for Research

SPARC Graduate Research Grant Program

The SPARC Graduate Research Grant Program provides funding for meritorious scholarship, but it doesn't stop there. By completing SPARC's competitive research proposal process, graduate students gain experience that helps prepare them to seek national fellowship and grant awards throughout their academic careers.

Program Overview

Sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity, or SPARC, Graduate Research Grant is a merit-based award designed to ignite research and creative excellence across all disciplines at USC. The overall objective of the SPARC Graduate Research Grant is to provide support and to encourage outstanding students to pursue exciting research directions during their graduate career at the University of South Carolina. To achieve this end, the SPARC program provides the opportunity for eligible graduate students to secure funding up to $5,000 to support their research, creative or other meritorious scholarly project. SPARC funds can be used to pay for salary, supplies, travel and other costs essential to completing and promoting funded projects.

A unique aspect of the SPARC program is the requirement that all applicants complete and submit a competitive grant proposal package. The experience students acquire through this process is invaluable as it doubles as training in grant proposal development, helping SPARC applicants build the skills and background necessary to make them more competitive in seeking national fellowship awards from federal and private funding sources.

Applying for a SPARC grant

When to apply

SPARC Graduate Research Grant applications are due in November each year. The call for applications is generally made early in the fall semester. You can access the call for applications, and specific due dates, workshop dates, etc., through this webpage as those details are made available every fall.

Eligibility and funding details

Doctoral students from all disciplines are eligible to apply for SPARC. Master's students in terminal degree programs with a thesis requirement are also eligible to apply (those degree programs include the Master of Fine Arts and the Master of Arts in Public History). International students who meet the preceding criteria are eligible to apply for the SPARC Graduate Research Grant.

Applicants must be current students at the time of application and must be enrolled during the year the SPARC Graduate Research Grant is to be awarded. MFA and MA in Public History students may apply in their first year (or later) of graduate study at USC. Doctoral students may apply no earlier than their second year (or later) of graduate study at USC.

Additional eligibility requirements are described in the SPARC Application Guidelines & Faculty Guidelines document, which is available below. Students who meet the criteria may request up to $5000 with a project period of up to 15 months. Applicants should provide a detailed justification for the requested funds and are encouraged to request less than the maximum amount.

SPARC requirements

Pre-application workshop requirement

Before applying for the SPARC Graduate Research Grant, students are required to attend a short (45-minute) application workshop. Applications received from students who did not attend the workshop will be automatically rejected. Workshop dates, times and locations, as well as alternate options for those unable to attend group workshops, will be available through this webpage each year, during the application period.

No alternative workshop arrangements are allowed after November 4.

Faculty advisor requirement

Students applying for the SPARC Graduate Research Grant must have a faculty advisor on the project, to serve as the principal investigator (PI) and submit the proposal package through USCeRA, the University of South Carolina electronic research administration software system. The faculty advisor on the proposal should be the student's primary advisor for their dissertation or thesis. If a student wishes to have a USC faculty member other than their primary advisor as the faculty advisor (and PI) for this research grant, there are procedures by which he or she can elect a different SPARC faculty advisor. Please refer to "Can the PI for the SPARC Graduate Research Grant be a USC Faculty Member who is not my primary Advisor?" in the SPARC FAQ section for complete details.

Vertebrate animal or human subject approval requirement

If a research project involves Vertebrate Animals or Human Subjects, the SPARC recipient can wait to apply for Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) or Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval until after they receive notification that he or she was selected for a SPARC Graduate Research Grant award. However, the SPARC recipient must produce IACUC or IRB approval (as appropriate) prior to receiving any SPARC funds, and before starting the proposed research project. If these protocols have been approved for the mentor, they can produce those documents after the award notification with a letter from the mentor indicating the previous approval of protocols.

SPARC awardee requirements 

SPARC recipients are required to do the following, after receiving their SPARC awards and completing their projects:

  • Present your work at Graduate Student Day the year after their award notification. SPARC recipients are strongly encouraged to present their work at a national or international conference or exhibition.
  • Participate in yearly online surveys. These surveys will enable the Office of Research to track the student's progress and to document publications, presentations and awards which result from the SPARC Graduate Research Grant support.
  • Submit a one-page summary of the research project and results, as well as a photograph of the student.
  • Acknowledge USC's support in any publications or presentations produced as a result of this grant by including the following wording: "This work was partially supported by a SPARC Graduate Research Grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of South Carolina."

The proposal package

The proposal package consists of a written narrative proposal that is subject to formatting requirements and a page limit, and supporting documentation that requires specific forms or formatting. SPARC applicants should have their faculty advisor submit the proposal and supporting documentation through USCeRA.

The written narrative proposal

The written proposal should not exceed three pages of text formatted as follows: use 11-point Arial font, single spaced, with one-half inch margins on all sides. The written narrative proposal must include the following sections:

  • Background and Significance: Briefly discuss the proposed idea and its context relative to the current state of knowledge in the field. The project topic, central question or hypothesis should be clearly defined in this section. Attempt to answer the question: Why is this project novel and exciting?
  • Project Description, Design and Approach: Provide a detailed description of the project objectives, the proposed methods and activities you will employ to achieve these objectives and the specific anticipated outcomes. A timeline for expected accomplishments must be included as a table, chart or other easy-to-read graphical device.
  • Significance of this funding to your graduate experience: Explain how this proposed research or creative activity will advance your graduate education and objectives, bridge your funding resources or expand your research or creative direction.
  • A Bibliography: The bibliography should not exceed one page, and does not count against the three-page limit of the written narrative proposal. 

The supporting documentation

To complete your proposal, you must include the following supporting documentation:

  • A biographical sketch that includes details about your educational background, scholarly activities, awards, professional experience, etc. (use formatting described in Application Guidelines)
  • A copy of your most recent USC transcript (unofficial transcripts are acceptable)
  • A completed Budget Form (available in the Forms & Guidelines section below)
  • A completed Authorship Statement (available in the Forms & Guidelines section below)
  • A completed Current and Pending Support Form (available in the Forms & Guidelines section below)
  • A letter of support from your graduate advisor or a USC faculty member who is familiar with your work and abilities (one-page maximum)

The SPARC selection process

All completed applications from eligible students that are submitted by the deadline will be reviewed by two to three USC faculty members. Applications submitted after the deadline will be rejected. All proposals will be scored based on standard review criteria (available for reference in the Forms & Guidelines section below).

SPARC Forms & Guidelines

Below are downloadable forms eligible students will need to complete their SPARC proposal packages, as well as guidelines documents to guide students through the SPARC application process, and help their faculty advisors better understand their role in the SPARC program. Please note that these items were developed for the 2015-2016 SPARC program year, and are provided here for detailed planning and reference purposes. (Some 2014-2015 materials that are still in use by recipients are also included below for easy reference.) Updated documentation will be posted for the 2016-2017 year early in the fall 2016 semester.


2014-2015 SPARC Materials Still In Use