Updated: Oct 19, 2021
Here is an easy path to securing funds for your MS, PhD or Postdoc:
1) Have a research area of interest
2) Ensure the people that matter currently fund that research area
3) Find professors that are currently funded to make new discoveries in this area. Here's how:
First, have some clarity on the kind of research you'd love to do. It's okay to have >1 area.
When you have this, get on databases to find where the money is...
The 2 big funders of research in the USA are the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Health (NIH). Another big spender is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Importantly, they mostly fund research that are innovative and of significant INTEREST TO THE USA. This is why you should be cautious in your statements about taking your knowledge back to your home country. Even if you want to, there are ways around this (more on this later).
The NSF funds any kind of science. They love interdisciplinary research, so folks in non-science fields may sometimes be able to find profs that are funded in their fields as well (especially, collaborative research with other profs in a related science field).
The NIH funds mainly health-related research. So if your interests will be related to a disease condition or public health, here will be your best bet to find funded profs in that area.
In this short lecture, we explained the NIH and NSF databases and how to use them to find currently funded profs in your area of interest. This will be a game changer for you!
With these databases, a search with your research interests would return several results that will display the title of the funded research, the abstract, name of the professor, and the institution and department of the professor.
Isn't that a blessing!
Next thing to do now is to create a list of recently-funded Profs in your area of research interest, go to the institution/department's webpage and find faculty profiles to see more information about the overall research goal of the prof's lab.
Now, go to the departmental webpage to see the admission requirements and ensure you can fulfill them. For example, if the department requires GRE and you are looking for no-GRE programs, you may want to move on from this.
If everything lines up, next thing is to craft a well-written cover email to impress and introduce your interest to be his graduate trainee. Here's a paragraph-by-paragraph email structure that shows what US profs like to see in a prospective student. With a pint of luck, you'll get an interview and/or an encouragement to apply. We'll discuss interview Q&As some other time.
In summary, visit NIH or NSF data bases for funded profs (see how to use the databases here. To learn it on your own (though this video explanation above is highly recommended), Google NSF award search or NIH reporter.