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
Applying for a SPARC grant
When to apply
SPARC Graduate Research Grant applications are due in in the fall 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.
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. Students
who are unable to attend a scheduled workshop should contact Lauren Clark for alternatives.
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 Discover USC 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
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
- A Bibliography: The bibliography should not exceed two pages, 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
- 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
- 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 2016-2017 SPARC program
year, and are provided here for detailed planning and reference purposes. (Some 2015-2016
materials that are still in use by recipients are also included below for easy reference.)
2015-2016 SPARC Materials Still In Use