How to Get a Genius Grant

by Nick Robinson
Business people and scientists in a meeting.

Macarthur Fellowships, also known informally as "genius grants," are awards of $625,000 issued by the MacArthur Foundation to people with exceptional creativity and an interest in developing world-changing ideas. The foundation distributes grant money to recipients over the course of five years with no strings attached.

Nominations for Genius Grants

The MacArthur Foundation does not accept applications for genius grants, relying instead on recommendations from a select pool of nominators. The foundation does not publish a list of nominators, because it seeks to keep the deliberation process for its genius grants secret. Most winners don't even know they have been nominated until they receive a call from the foundation. However, potential nominators include experts in various fields and members of the foundation's own board. The nominators recommend approximately 2,000 people for genius grants each year, but only about 20 receive the annual awards. The foundation asks nominators to keep the names of nominees secret to discourage self-promotion.

Nomination to Selection

A selection committee of approximately 12 members evaluates each received nomination every year. The committee typically includes a range of experts from the physical sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities and business. There is no definitive system for selecting nominees, but the foundation aims to find recipients who are on the brink of a major discovery or innovation and whose financial circumstances might prevent them from advancing their efforts if they do not receive a grant. Genius grant recipients in 2014 included a poet, a mathematician, a documentary filmmaker and several professors.

About the Author

Nick Robinson is a writer, instructor and graduate student. Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree, he worked as a teacher and administrator at three different colleges and universities, and as an education coach for Inside Track. Most of Robinson's writing centers on education and travel.

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