These frequently asked questions are updated regularly to include questions raised at SPARC workshop sessions, helping to make this list as comprehensive as possible. Please Contact Dr. Lauren Clark (803-777-3929) if you have a question not listed below.
SPARC key dates and timelines
When is the start date for SPARC Graduate Research Grant funds to be available?
SPARC Fellowship funds become available to recipients on May 1 each year.
What is the SPARC project work period?
SPARC recipients must conduct their work during a 15-month period: May 1 through July 31 each year.
I attended a SPARC Application Workshop last year. Do I have to attend another one
No, but you are still responsible for adhering to this year's guidelines.
I completed a master's degree at USC, and I am now pursuing a Ph.D. in the same field.
Can I apply for SPARC in the first year of my Ph.D. program instead of waiting for
my second year?
No, all Ph.D. students must be in their second year (or later) of Ph.D. study to apply.
SPARC Faculty Advisors
Can my SPARC faculty advisor (and PI in USCeRA) be a USC faculty member who is not
my primary Advisor?
The faculty advisor on the SPARC proposal generally should be the student applicant's primary advisor for his or her dissertation or thesis. If a student wishes to have a USC faculty member other than the primary advisor as the SPARC faculty advisor (and PI in USCeRA), he or she may do so. To elect a different SPARC faculty advisor, the student must submit a letter of support from their primary advisor expressing approval for another faculty member to serve as the SPARC faculty advisor. Alternatively, the student's dissertation or thesis committee may approve the appointment of a USC faculty member who is not the primary advisor as the SPARC faculty advisor. In this case, the student must produce a letter of support from the chair of the dissertation or thesis committee stating the committee's approval of the alternate SPARC faculty advisor. When submitting the SPARC Fellowship proposal, this letter of support should be appended to the proposal and should appear after the Faculty Letter of Recommendation.
How to use SPARC travel funds
Can I apply for travel funds which are essential to conduct my research and travel
funds to attend a conference in my discipline?
No, you may request travel funds to attend one conference or to pay for travel to conduct your research or project. You may not use SPARC funds for travel both to a conference and to conduct your work—travel funds must be used only for one or the other.
Can I request funds for travel to more than one conference?
No, you may only request conference travel funds for one conference. Travel funds may be used for either one domestic conference or one international conference. Students are encouraged to seek funds for conference travel through the Graduate School, your department or program, the organization or society sponsoring the conference or via crowdfunding. Please note that if you request travel funds for a conference, you cannot request travel funds for travel to conduct your research or project. You may not use SPARC funds for travel both to a conference and to conduct your work—travel funds must be used for one or the other.
I am requesting travel funds to attend a conference in my discipline. However, I do
not know if my abstract will be accepted. If I receive a SPARC Graduate Research Grant
which includes funds for travel to a conference, can I go to a different conference
if the one I planned to attend does not accept my abstract?
Yes, you may use the funds to attend a different conference in your discipline, if your advisor approves the change.
Can I request less than the state rate for mileage reimbursement?
Yes, as long as the total amount reimbursed does not exceed the allowed state rate.
SPARC and collaboration
Can two students write a joint proposal for SPARC?
No, joint proposals are not allowed.
Since we cannot write a joint proposal, can two students write individual proposals
and request that the funding of one be contingent upon the other also being funded?
How SPARC funds can and cannot be used
Can I use my SPARC funds to purchase a computer, tablet or cell phone?
No, computers, tablets and cell phones are not allowable SPARC expenses.
I would like to attend a short course to learn a new technique, which will allow me
to pursue a new research direction. Can I request funds to cover the course fees,
as well as room and board for the duration of the course and travel to and from the
Yes, you may request funds to cover the expenses related to the short course. To use funds in this way, your faculty advisor must state in the Letter of Recommendation that the course is essential to your research and that the course will help advance your Ph.D. dissertation.
I am requesting funds cover expenses related to working in another lab, where I will
to be able to use facilities or equipment not available at USC. Do I need any additional
documentation for this situation?
Yes. To use SPARC funds to work in another lab, your faculty advisor must state in the Letter of Recommendation that 1) such training is necessary for the development of your dissertation, and 2) the faculty advisor has spoken with the facility manager or director, and that this manager or director has agreed to train the student and/or to allow the student to use the equipment/facility.