Peer Scholarship Advice

The official blog of the Charles Center Peer Scholarship Advisors

Author: Peer Scholarship Advisors (page 1 of 3)

Boren Awardee Profile: Kyra Solomon

Congratulations to Boren Scholarship Awardee Kyra Solomon! Here are some of her thoughts about Boren and its application process:

What do you hope to get out of the opportunity that Boren affords you?

I am very excited to have received the Boren Scholarship to study Mandarin in Beijing, China. Studying abroad in Beijing will give me the unique opportunity to learn more directly about the relations between the U.S and China by significantly advancing my language skills and taking upper level courses on topics with implications for U.S. national security. I have reached the Advanced Chinese: Reading and Writing level of Mandarin at William & Mary so I believe that combining Peking University’s intensive summer program with the more advanced Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies at Tsinghua University in the fall semester will give me the best resources to become fluent and achieve my career goal of working as a foreign affairs policy analyst. I hope to use the programs I have chosen to develop my cultural knowledge and augment my Chinese proficiency so that I can excel independently in a professional career in the national security arena.

How and why did you choose your recommenders, and what is your relationship with them like?

My recommenders included Professor Chun-yu Lu, Professor Elizabeth Losh, and my supervisor at AidData, Mengfan Cheng. These women have all inspired the type of character, intelligence, and leadership I hope to have in my professional career. My sophomore year, I took a Chinese Popular Culture class with Professor Lu and she was my Advanced Chinese: Reading and Writing professor last semester. I loved learning about the vast range of Chinese cinema, music, and literature with Prof. Lu and got to do some pretty neat projects that really expanded my interest and knowledge of Chinese culture. I took my COLL 150 class “Media Seductions,” a Digital Journalism class, and a pre-class to the “News & New Media” W&M DC Summer Institute with Professor Losh. I loved taking these courses because I have always been interested in journalism and media and was able to advance this interest through Prof. Losh’s comprehensive and productive teaching style. Lastly, Mengfan Cheng was my supervisor when I worked as Senior Research Assistant for the Tracking Under-reported Financial Flows (TUFF) team at AidData, a research lab at W&M. When I started at AidData the summer before my junior year it was my first real experience doing international relations research, and Mengfan was the one who taught me many important skills through her leadership with our projects on data collection and investigation. I owe a lot to these mentors and am very grateful that they think highly enough of me to write my recommendations.

What motivated you to apply for a Boren? How did you choose your country?

I have taken Chinese every semester at W&M and it has consistently been one of my favorite classes. I have enjoyed learning the language itself, its cultural aspects, as well as connecting it to my studies in International Relations and Economics. The sheer scope of Chinese speakers around the world and the ties that the U.S. has to China makes Chinese extremely important to U.S. national security. Having knowledge of Chinese language is helpful for tasks like gathering data, reading Chinese sources, and engaging in diplomatic discussions to augment understanding of Chinese actions in security areas such as international development aid and geopolitics. After my experience interning at the White House last summer it solidified the idea that I want to work in a federal and public service capacity, and I knew Boren would allow me to focus on developing professional qualifications that I could apply to working in foreign affairs. My career goal has been to work in a national security capacity, so when I heard that Boren would allow me study abroad and improve my Chinese skills, with the stipulation of working for the U.S. government afterwards, this seemed like the perfect fit for me!

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

I think this process made me realize what it is that I really want to do. As a senior, I was of course applying to more than a few positions and future opportunities, but deep down I knew that I wanted Boren the most. I was confident in my abilities, but I also know how many talented students apply and how many talented students do not receive the scholarship as well. So when I heard that I got the award it made me realize how much I actually wanted it and in doing so, has made me much more sure of my future path, one that starts with walking with my fellow seniors in May, learning and having adventures in China, and returning home to have a successful career working in the field of peace and security. I’m excited!

What are you most proud of in your application? What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Boren applicants?  

I am proud of the essay I had to write explaining the significance of my proposed country and language to U.S. national security. Through the work I have done with the Global Research Institute on campus, I was able to make my essay very personalized and detailed. I spoke about how bilateral relations between the U.S. and China have been strained recently due to a number of issues with important implications for U.S. national security interests. I referenced new data regarding China’s development finance, which I helped to code and analyze while working at AidData and how China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative has raised concerns from U.S. experts and politicians about China’s strategy and motivations. Such concerns are exacerbated by China’s secretive party structure, and because the threat to U.S. interests posed by the initiative is understudied and has potential misunderstandings such foreign policy issues would benefit from further study of the country and Mandarin language as China continues to rise as an economic and world power.

So some advice I would give is to definitely try and make a niche argument in your first essay for why your country is important for U.S. interests. If you can connect it to your own studies, experiences, or goals that is even better. And use the Charles Center to read over your essays too!

Congratulations again to Kyra, and all of W&M’s other Boren awardees! As always, if you have any questions about Boren or other scholarships, don’t hesitate to visit Scholarship Search or come to the Charles to ask a PSA Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. Thanks for reading and good luck on your applications!

Guide to the Student IRB

Are you receiving funding through the Charles Center to do research involving human subjects? If so, you will likely need to go through the process of submitting your research proposal to the Student Institutional Review Board (IRB). The Student IRB is a committee that will review your proposed research methods to ensure that they do not violate any ethical standards. Applying for and receiving IRB approval can can take several weeks, so you should start as soon as you have your project idea fully fleshed out. This process may seem complicated, but if you follow these steps you should have no problems getting approval for your project:

1. Figure out if your Project Requires IRB Approval
Most research with human subjects  (e.g. taking surveys, conducting interviews or focus groups, etc.) will require Student IRB approval. However, if your research mostly involves helping your advisor in research that he/she is already doing, you may be covered under your advisor’s IRB certification, and you may not need to submit to the Student IRB. Talk with your advisor to see if this is the case for your project. Moreover, your project must fall under “exempt research” to qualify for IRB approval. “Exempt research” must not cause harm to participants, and it must be anonymous.

2. Complete CITI Training
CITI training is a set of online modules that teach you the guidelines of performing ethical research with human subjects. All students applying for Student IRB approval will need to complete the Charles Center Student IRB Module. Moreover, your advisor will need to complete modules relating to their area of expertise. Make sure to save copies of both your and your advisor’s completion reports.

3. Upload Necessary Documents to the Campus Protocol & Compliance System portal
To apply for Student IRB approval, you’ll need to upload the following documents to the online application:

  • CITI training completion reports (from both student and advisor)
  • Consent form you’ll be using in your project (use sample consent form as a template)
  • Summary of your project (this can be copied from your Project Proposal in your research funding application)
  • Data collection documents (e.g. Interview/survey questions, etc.)

Once you’ve filled out the application and uploaded these documents, you’ll be ready to submit!

4. Check for Revision Requests
The Student IRB may ask you to make revisions to your original application. If they do, be sure to revise and resubmit in a timely manner.

5. Check for your Approval Notification
When your project is approved, you will receive a protocol number. Enter this number on your research grant electronic award letter and return it to the Charles Center to receive your grant payment.

You can find more specific details about the Student IRB process here. As always, if you have any questions about receiving Student IRB approval or any other aspect of applying for Charles Center Research Funding, don’t hesitate to come into the PSA office any time from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday! Thanks for reading!

Scholarships for Language Study

1. Critical Language Scholarships
Critical Language Scholarships are a U.S. State Department Sponsored program providing two months of fully funded language study abroad during the summer. CLS is specifically focused on languages that are important to U.S. national security interest, so it has programs in countries such as China, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, and others where critical languages are spoken. You can find more info about CLS on their website.

2. Boren Scholarships and Fellowships
The Boren Scholarship is a U.S. government-sponsored program funding U.S. students’ study of languages in regions of the world critical for U.S. national security. Its purpose is similar to that of CLS, but unlike CLS it provides funding for semester- and year-long study instead of just for the summer, and Boren funds study of a much wider range of languages than CLS does. Moreover, it is designed for students planning to work in the national security arena and includes a one-year government service requirement. The Boren Scholarship gives up to $20,000 to fund semester- and year-long programs for undergraduates, and up to $8,000 for summer programs for STEM students. The equivalent program for graduate students, the Boren Fellowship, provides up to $30,000 in funding. You can learn more about Boren here.

3. Blakemore Foundation Freeman Fellowship
Blakemore Foundation Freeman Fellowships provide a year of intensive language study of an East or Southeast Asian language. This fellowship is intended for recent graduates who are pursuing a career that involves the regular use of the language that they choose. Fellows must already have a high degree of proficiency in the language that they choose, and they can choose from a pre-selected set of programs in Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, or Vietnam. Learn more about this program here.

4. Gilman Scholarship
The Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program is a State Department sponsored program designed to reduce barriers to study abroad through providing assistance to those undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. To be eligible, applicants must be receiving a Federal Pell Grant or provide proof that they will be receiving a Pell Grant at the time of application or during the term of their study abroad. Gilman scholarship recipients are not required to complete language study, but the program does provide additional funding for students studying critical languages while abroad. To find out more about the Gilman Scholarship, check out their official website, the William & Mary specific website.

Keep in mind that these are only a few of the many opportunities for William & Mary students to find funding for language study. For more info about all kinds of scholarships and fellowships, check out Scholarship Search, keep following the scholarship blog, or bring your questions to the PSAs directly in the Charles Center Mondays through Fridays from 9am to 5pm. Good luck on all your apps!

Tips for Writing a Research Grant Proposal

Many different scholarships that William & Mary students apply for and win, including Fulbright, Charles Center Summer Scholarships, and Goldwater, involve writing a research proposal of some kind. For scholarships funding research, this is one of the most important parts of the application because it shows that you have a plan for what you will do with your scholarship money. Here are a few tips for writing a good proposal:

1. Start Early
In a sense this is more life advice than it is research proposal writing advice, but it’s extremely important here. From initially brainstorming a topic to finishing your final revision, the process of writing a research proposal can take much more time than other essays. A rushed proposal will not give application review committees the impression that you are well prepared to do the research project that you are proposing. There’s no set rule for how long in advance you should start writing your research proposal because different scholarships will have different requirements, but at least a few months in advance is generally a good time to start. Make sure to check the deadlines of whatever program you’re applying to!

2. Read and Follow the Guidelines of Your Program Exactly
This post is intended to give general tips about writing research grant proposals, but different sources of funding will have slightly different expectations of what your proposal should look like. Some require that you include an itemized budget, while others do not. Length and other formatting requirements will also be slightly different for each program. Make sure that you read the website of the program that you’re applying to and find out exactly what information that they expect you to include in your proposal so that you can tailor your writing to that.

3. Define Your Research Question/Project
The process of defining the specific question that you want to answer with your research can take a long time, which is one of the reasons why starting early is so important. Reflect on the classes that you’ve taken that interested you and read through some of the scholarly literature on topics that you’re interested in. Make sure that the project that you want to do is realistic and relevant to whatever program that you are applying to. You also need to be sure that your project is the appropriate scope for the program that you’re applying to, not too broad or too narrow. As an undergraduate student, this can seem like a very daunting task, and that’s why it’s important to ask for help, which brings us to our next tip.

4. Get Help from Professors in the Field of the Project
Professors in your field of study are a great resource to help you pick a research topic and write your proposal. Since they have experience doing research in the field, they’ll know what sorts of projects are feasible, and they can help you write using the typical conventions of your area of study. Make contact with a professor before you have even started writing your proposal to help you brainstorm, and keep contact with them as you write and rewrite it.

5. Be Specific and Clear
Make sure that your proposal clearly summarizes the question that you are setting out to answer, the methodology you intend to use to answer it, and why your research is important. Give some background information about the topic based on your literature review. Describe in detail the design of your study, and explain why this design is the best way to go about your project. You should include a broad timeline of how much time you will spend collecting data and analyzing it, and some grants may require an itemized budget. After reading your proposal, members of the review committee should be able to easily summarize the goals, methods, and anticipated results of your project.

6. Talk about Your Research’s Impact
Will your project have a significant impact on research in your field? Will it benefit society as a whole? Not every research project can cure cancer or create world peace, but you should be able to think of and articulate some potential positive effects of your research. In your proposal, describe these anticipated positive effects, and relate them to other studies in your field. After reading your proposal, reviewers should know exactly why your research question is an important one to answer.

7. Revise, Edit, and Rewrite
The first draft of your proposal won’t be perfect, and that’s okay! Most people write several drafts before they actually submit their applications, and the process of editing and revising can be a long one (another good reason to start early!). Throughout the process of writing and rewriting, have your proposal looked over by others who can give you tips on how to improve. The PSAs are a great resource for this, as are professors in your field of study.

As always, if you have any questions about these or other opportunities, or you want someone to look over your application materials, don’t hesitate to come into the PSA office any time from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday! Thanks for reading!

Fulbright Awardee Profile: Kara Newman

Congratulations to Kara Newman for winning a Fulbright ETA to Colombia! Here are some of her thoughts on the Fulbright program and its application process:


What do you hope to get out of the opportunity that Fulbright affords you?

Lots of things! After Fulbright, I plan to work in international development, specifically in post-conflict settings. Teaching university students is an opportunity to improve the way I adapt to new cultural contexts, and to gain a much better understanding of what life is like after conflict–the peace accord may have passed Congress, but do people in Colombia feel that the war is over? In Williamsburg, I can sit and read about Colombian elections, but what does the political blowback look like in day-to-day life?

I speak Spanish and some Portuguese, and these have opened so many doors for me! I had an experience in high school (gov school) that really had an effect on me and set me on the path that I’m on in a lot of ways, just by making me love language learning. That puts me in a good position to help teach another language, since I am a walking example of the benefits of learning another language. And I loved being a PSA because I love helping people to achieve their goals, and I think being a TA for English students will be similarly empowering.

I think the community engagement will be an awesome opportunity–I’m looking forward to reaching out to local organizations once I know where I’m going to be placed!!

Finally, teaching is related to so many other skills, including communication and interpersonal skills. I don’t plan to teach in the future, but I see these abilities being directly related to the type of development work I hope to do in the future.

How and why did you choose your recommenders, and what is your relationship with them like?

Two of my recommenders are professors who helped to shape the way I approach international development, which is the subject of my personal statement, so that fit in nicely. The last recommender was my supervisor from an English camp in Chile where I volunteered a year and a half ago, so she could speak specifically to my English-teaching. My language evaluator could also speak to some of my strengths as an applicant, which was handy. I’m pretty close to all of the professors that evaluated me (my recommenders and language evaluator): I regularly drop by the offices of the professors still on campus and whenever I see something that makes me think of the other professor (something related to one of his classes) I email him about it. And I’m friends with my English camp supervisor, but she lives in Chile so it’s a little harder for me to stop by and say hi to her!

What motivated you to apply for a Fulbright?

It was on my radar from my freshman year because of being a PSA, but there were a few things that made me want to apply. First, the opportunity to get in-country experience in Colombia. Second, because teaching abroad is a bit fraught: if teaching abroad is something that interests you, it’s important to research the organization you would be teaching with to ensure that you would be contributing in a way that doesn’t make students feel that you’re imposing your culture/language on them. I will be working with university students, which mitigates some of those concerns, and the Fulbright program has a great reputation for being more culturally conscious than some other programs out there. Third, Fulbright is focused on cultural exchange, which really separates it from other teaching programs. I think one-on-one relationships are so crucial for spreading cultural understanding! And everything that I talked about in response to the first question applies here as well.

How did you choose your country?

I studied Latin American studies in undergrad and I’m fluent in Spanish, so I wanted to be in Latin America. I’m interested in development in post-conflict settings, so this also made Colombia attractive. I also visited Colombia while I was in Ecuador and fell in love with the country, so there’s that more sentimental aspect to it too! An added bonus is that it’s working with university students–this is good, because I don’t plan to be a teacher after returning to the United States, and working with people close to my age will be more directly transferable to future work.

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

This process did help me to put together some coherent thoughts about international development and my role in that field. Development can be really harmful if it’s not done right, and one thing I got from this process was a checklist for what makes a responsible development project. It helped me to narrow in on what my specific focus is within the field (development in post-conflict settings, which I talk about extensively in my application, and tech for development, which I do not mention at all because it’s not as relevant, but not all of your Fulbright-related revelations have to be related to your application!)

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Fulbright applicants?

Start early. Consult a PSA at every stage of the process (everyone knows they’re great for essays, but they’re also awesome for brainstorming where to go, what to write about, for practice interviews, etc.) The Fulbright website is the best scholarship website out there and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees. If you start early, then you will be able to take a week or two off your essays (which is crucial!! Plan for several breaks!). Don’t be afraid to scrap an idea that just isn’t working out like you thought it would. And really understand Fulbright and its goals while you’re working on the application: try to think about how to incorporate cultural understanding/ambassadorship/sensitivity/etc.

Fulbright Awardee Profile: Elizabeth Ransone

Congratulations to Elizabeth Ransone (one of our very own PSAs) on her Fulbright Academic Grant to Germany! Here are some of her thoughts on the Fulbright program and its application process:


What do you hope to get out of the opportunity that Fulbright affords you?

I hope that Fulbright introduces me to a lot of interesting people and perspectives. The ability to further my research and learn new techniques from a leader in my field should help me a lot downstream in my career. I’ve also never lived in a non-English speaking nation for longer than a week, so I’m both terrified and excited for that challenge.

How and why did you choose your recommenders, and what is your relationship with them like?

I’ve worked in the research laboratories of all of my 3 recommenders. One of my recommenders, Heidi Goodrich-Blair, was my principal investigator (PI) from my time at the Microbial Community Functions and Interactions Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. This recommendation was particularly important, as I wrote my Fulbright application as a continuation of the project I began with her. My other two recommenders were John Swaddle and Dan Cristol. I joined their lab as a freshman with the HHMI freshman research program. They’ve essentially taught me everything I know about research and are my biggest supporters.

What motivated you to apply for a Fulbright?

I’ve been a Peer Scholarship Advisor since 2014, and our largest scholarship is consistently Fulbright. I met some incredible W&M student through their applications. I really like the flexibility that a Fulbright research grant gives to explore and grow with prominent PIs. Grant funding is incredibly difficult to cobble together while still a student, and the money behind a Fulbright makes it much more likely that a professor will be willing to accept you as a trainee for a year.

How did you choose your country?

After I decided on the general topic I wanted to study overseas, I reached out to my professors. Over the summer, I asked Dr. Goodrich-Blair about her collaboration network. She mentioned a handful of PIs, and the language requirements for each country did a good job of narrowing the list down further. Then I reached out to my PI in Germany, who was kind enough to email and Skype with me during the application process.

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

I realized that I am an incredible procrastinator. Try to get as much of the application done during the summer, as the school year is always more hectic than you remember it being.

What are you most proud of in your application?

I’m most proud of the relationships that I formed with my laboratory PIs. I’ve never read their letters of recommendations and have no wish to, but I think that rec letters often set great applications apart. I’ve never considered myself the best writer, but the good and honest word of 3 separate PIs is often enough to convince people to take a chance with you.

If you could do it all again, what would you change about the process?

If I had to apply to Fulbright again, I would write a few more drafts of my personal statement. I recently reread it and cringed.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Fulbright applicants?

START EARLY! And talk to the PSAs!

Fulbright Awardee Profile: Liam Arne

Congratulations to Liam Arne for winning a Fulbright ETA to Taiwan! Here are some of his thoughts on the Fulbright program and its application process:


What do you hope to get out of the opportunity that Fulbright affords you?

I hope to gain cultural experiences in East Asia beyond my previous trips to China, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia. Taiwan offers such a fascinating opportunity to understand the complexities of Chinese foreign relations and the future of geopolitics in East Asia that I couldn’t pass it up!

How and why did you choose your recommenders, and what is your relationship with them like?

My three recommenders were: Olivia Flynn, the trainer at my summer job teaching English in Tunisia and a close friend who I knew would go to bat for my skills seeing that she was responsible for cultivating them; Nadia Makkawi, my former Arabic professor at W&M who could attest to my commitment to language acquisition and my ability to quickly learn new languages like Chinese; and Dr. Kristen Harkness, my former IR professor at St Andrews and supervisor as a research assistant who could demonstrate how IR is my passion and how I would use this position for my further goals in diplomacy.

What motivated you to apply for a Fulbright?

I’ve always found Fulbright to be impressive and a great opportunity to both gain international experience and promote a friendly face for Americans who are often generalized overseas. My friend Elizabeth in the PSA office also encouraged me to apply. However, my biggest reason for applying this year was because the winner of Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Sasha Velour, was a Fulbright scholar and she inspired me!

How did you choose your country?

I chose Taiwan for a number of reasons. I have a great deal of interest in Sinic culture after raising money in middle school to travel to China and the political ramifications of Taiwan’s separation from the PRC. Secondly, I noticed that the award would not require me to have a strong language proficiency beforehand. Additionally, Taiwan offered many ETA award spots so I was confident I could successfully achieve that award. I would likely have preferred somewhere in the Arab world after learning Arabic during college, but spots were limited in Morocco and Jordan and I knew they received a great deal of applications, so Taiwan seemed like a good alternative. Finally, I chose Taiwan over Indonesia because I knew I was more likely to be put in a conservative, rural community in the latter where I would have to live closeted while Taiwan is the most LGBT-accepting state in East Asia.

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

I realized how much of my life had inadvertently led to this position, especially teaching English in Tunisia over the summer when I did not receive a CLS grant to study Bahasa Indonesian. I also rediscovered my love for East Asia and remembered how accomplished and deserving I really was, no matter the outcome!

What are you most proud of in your application?

I think I was successful at constructing a genuine narrative that demonstrated why I was the right fit for all the teaching aspects, the ambassadorial concerns, and passion for Taiwan, all in two short pages.

If you could do it all again, what would you change about the process?

I think I would have listened more to the directions about the specific requirements of each essay instead of melding them all together! I also wish I knew that the recommendations were so short so I could tell my recommenders not to write full page essays instead. Or maybe that I should have trusted in myself to succeed and started Chinese study earlier!

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Fulbright applicants?

Be humble but gas yourself up! The panel reading your application won’t know how fabulous you are unless you let them know. Do it creatively and show them rather than tell them. Be confident that you deserve it and give it your all or else you won’t get it!

Advice from a PSA: Applying to Graduate School

About a year ago, I decided that I want to be a Religious Studies professor when I “grow up,” so I started planning on attending graduate school. I scoured the internet looking for advice, because nobody in my family has attended grad school, and I felt that guidance at W&M was lacking. Now, as a second-semester senior, all (nine!) of my applications are submitted, for a variety of programs, and I’m waiting for decisions to roll in, so it seems like a good time to reflect on my experience and give tips to anyone out there who is also considering graduate school in the Humanities.

  1. Do well in school. This one seems self-explanatory, but the most competitive graduate programs will definitely take your GPA into consideration, especially in your area of interest. Although I’m a Biology and Religious Studies double-major applying only to Religious Studies programs, and my grade in General Chemistry I doesn’t particularly matter, it did contribute to my overall GPA, so be conscious of that. On the other hand, know that grades aren’t the end-all-be-all of your graduate school application. If you have a sub-par grade in a class outside your field, or even within it, don’t worry. Do your best, and consider using the “Additional Information” section to explain your grade in that class. (Did you skip a prerequisite and have to catch up? Were you frequently ill that semester? Were you taking a course overload? An explanation may help your application.)
  2. Take the GRE early, and put significant effort into it. Like your GPA, your Graduate Readiness Examination (GRE) score is one of the obvious factors that may be used to compare you to other candidates. Study for it as much as you can, and set your test date far in advance of when applications are due. This also allows you to consider taking it again, although test-retest reliability on the GRE is pretty high, and paying $205 and five hours of your life is undesirable once, let alone twice. Also, it’s helpful to know that with your GRE test, you receive four free score reports (each additional report is $27). I took my test in August, and sent the score to two programs I didn’t end up applying to. Don’t do that! Consider where you want to go ahead of time to maximize what you get out of what you’re paying Educational Testing Service (ETS).
  3. Try to publish your papers or present at conferences. Doing these during your undergraduate career will set you apart from many of your peers. As a student in the Humanities, you write papers all the time. Submit them anywhere and everywhere! You may be surprised where they get accepted, and having your name in print is definitely impressive to graduate schools. Also, this will be a huge part of your job in academia, so making sure you actually enjoy it can be an important aspect of your career discernment process. I love writing and presenting, and I think conferences are a ton of fun because everyone is so interesting, so I figure I’m probably on the right career path.
  4. Narrow your research interest. If you’re anything like me, or most students at William & Mary, you love learning, and your interests span a variety of fields. However, graduate schools want to see that you know what you want to study and have a plan for tackling it. Try to narrow it down to one sentence, and then relate it to broader themes. Few people will be enthused that you hope to study the portrayal of women in Dickens novels, but if you can relate your topic more broadly to Victorian themes, the transition from the Romantic period, and its influence on modern literature or feminism, your application will be much stronger.
  5. Choose an advisor carefully. Once you’ve narrowed your research interest, do your research on who can help you along your graduate school process. College ranking is important, especially if you hope to obtain a tenure-track professorship after you get your PhD, but what’s more important is who you work with. For example, if you wanted to study Native American religions, it would not make any sense for you to apply to the University of Virginia, although they rank among the top 15 programs for Religious Studies in the country.
  6. When choosing a school, consider more than just the program. If you’re working towards a PhD, you’ll be spending 4-6+ years in the city where your chosen program is. Make sure that’s a place you can live, because that is a significant chunk of your young life! Thinking about the kind of scene you are comfortable in (urban or rural?), and the cost of living matters. You want to make sure you can live on your stipend without too much debt, unless you’re independently wealthy, I suppose.
  7. Write your personal statement. Rewrite it. Rewrite it again. If you’ve applied for scholarships in the past, or remember your college application essay fondly, know that your graduate school personal statement or statement of purpose is nothing like that. This space is to specify your qualifications for graduate school, why you chose that particular program, your research interests, and who you want to work with. I originally had a flowery piece on what drives me to study religion, but luckily my major advisor gave me some much-needed constructive criticism. Although my final product was less reflective of who I am as a person, it represented me well as who I am as a burgeoning academic. Mention your publications, presentations, Honors thesis, etc., if you have done any of those. Showing experience with independent research is especially valuable for more prestigious programs that are less likely to hold your hand along the PhD process. Have as many eyes on your essay as possible (the PSAs are a great resource for this!!). Be honest and explicit about your research interests. Also, include several specific professors you hope to work with at the university, both within and outside your intended department. You need to be clear about why this particular program is right for you, and what you can in turn contribute to the program. Don’t be shy–you’re awesome, and the best way for them to know that is by telling them!
  8. Don’t be afraid to press that “submit” button early. Often, it will take the program a little extra time to put all your pieces together, like your recommendation letters and GRE scores. Most of my applications were due on December 15th, but I submitted on the 13th to give myself a little more time to breathe and wait for all the pieces to officially come together. Also, for most applications, you don’t need to wait for your recommenders to send their letters in order for you to submit, and you can still send reminders in the application management feature. If it’s getting close to the deadline, send them a gentle reminder two days in advance, and everything should be fine.
  9. Relax! Applying to graduate school is a time-consuming, expensive, and arduous process. There’s a long wait to hear about interviews and decisions, but know that you’ve done everything you can. Like for college, applying to a breadth of programs, some reach and some safety, is a good idea if you know this is what you want to do. Also, use this time in between submission and decision to consider a back-up plan (not in a fatalistic way). Having an alternative path to take, whether it’s working for a couple years and re-applying, or taking a new path entirely, can calm your nerves in that stressful interlude.

Now that these tips are about as long as an actual application, I hope you’ve learned something! I’m fresh from the process, and already have one acceptance and an interview scheduled, so if you have any questions, please reach out to me at Good luck!!

Scholarship Opportunities Available to Freshmen

As a freshman, trying to find scholarship opportunities that are available to you can be an intimidating process. Many scholarships are restricted to only upperclassmen, so it can be discouraging to find that a program that you would like to apply for isn’t available to you yet. Luckily, whether you’re interested in study abroad, STEM research, or anything in between, there are plenty of scholarships out there that you can apply to now! Here are a few of these programs:

1. UK Fulbright Summer Institutes

Each summer the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Commission offers several themed institutes across the U.K. for American freshmen and sophomores to explore U.K. culture, history, and heritage, as well as take part in an engaging academic experience.  Past institutes have included Shakespeare, climate change, and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Each institute is 3-6 weeks long and all expenses, including airfare, tuition and fees, and room and board are covered by the scholarship. To learn more about this opportunity, check out their website.

2. Critical Language Scholarships

Critical Language Scholarships are a U.S. State Department sponsored program providing two months of fully funded language study abroad during the summer.  CLS is specifically focused on languages that are important to U.S. national security interest, so it has programs in countries such as China, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, and others where critical languages are spoken. You can find more info about CLS on their website.

3. Boren Scholarships

The Boren scholarship is a U.S. government-sponsored program funding U.S. students’ study of less-commonly studied languages in regions of the world critical for U.S. national security. Its purpose is similar to that of CLS, but unlike CLS it provides funding for semester- and year-long study instead of just for the summer. Moreover, it is designed for students planning to work in the national security arena and includes a one-year government service requirement. The Boren Scholarship gives up to $20,000 to fund semester- and year-long programs for undergraduates, and up to $8,000 for summer programs for STEM students.  You can learn more about Boren here.

4. National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates

The NSF provides funding for research at any one of its Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) sites. These sites are located at universities around the United States, and they encompass a broad range of natural and social sciences. Students apply directly to the REU site that they are interested in, and if accepted they spend 10 weeks at that site conducting research led by faculty members. You can learn more about this program and find a list of REU sites here.

5. Charles Center Summer Scholarships

The Charles Center offers scholarships for William & Mary students from all academic disciplines to do summer research. The application includes a project proposal and personal statement as well as banner transcripts and one letter of recommendation. Applications for these research grants will be due at the end of February the spring before you do your project. You can find out more about Charles Center Summer Scholarships here.

6. National Institutes of Health Undergraduate Scholarship Program

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP) offers competitive scholarships to students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are committed to careers in biomedical, behavioral, and social science health-related research. In order to be eligible, applicants must have a GPA of at least 3.3 out of 4.0 and have financial need. The NIH UGSP will pay up to $20,000 per academic year in tuition, educational expenses, and reasonable living expenses to scholarship recipients. Scholarships are awarded for 1 year, and can be renewed up to 4 years. The summer after each year of receiving the scholarship, recipients must train for 10 weeks as a paid summer research employee in an NIH research laboratory. Furthermore, after graduation they will continue their training as a full-time employee in an NIH research laboratory, serving 1 year of full-time employment for each year of scholarship.  To find out more about NIH UGSP, check out their website.

Keep in mind that these are only a handful of the opportunities available for freshmen to apply for.  To look for more, be sure to check out Scholarship Search!

Furthermore, although many scholarships and fellowships do not allow freshmen to apply, it is never too early to start preparing.  Look through Scholarship Search, the William & Mary Scholarships page, and this blog to learn about different opportunities for students at every academic level, and pick a few that you’re interested in.  Once you have an idea of what opportunities you want to apply for in the future, you’ll be better able to set yourself up to be a qualified applicant by choosing coursework and activities that match those scholarships.

As always, thanks for reading!  For more info on these and other scholarship opportunities, check out Scholarship Search, keep following the scholarship blog, or bring your questions to the PSAs directly in the Charles Center Mondays through Fridays from 9am to 5pm. Good luck on all your apps!

Making a Research Presentation

Presenting on your research is an invaluable way to make connections with other scholars in your field of study and communicate to others why your research is important. However, it can often seem like a daunting challenge. It can be quite difficult to figure out how exactly to organize the discussion of your topic and to determine how much information to include so that your audience understands your research. Luckily, the following steps provide a guideline to help you turn a research project in any area of study into a compelling presentation.

Step 1:  Know Your Audience
The sort of presentation that you would give to a group of experts in your field is quite different from one that you would give in front of a general audience. If your audience is likely to be very knowledgeable about your topic, you can spend less time explaining the background and instead quickly jump into the technical details, but if you’re presenting for a general audience, you’ll want to spend more time making sure the audience understands the background. Think about the setting of your presentation. Is it an academic conference for other researchers in your field? Or is it something more general and open to everyone? Most of you reading this will probably be presenting at William & Mary’s Summer Research Showcase, and this falls into the latter category.

Step 2:  Motivate Your Research
One of the first things you do in your presentation should be answering the question of “so what?” Here you will lay out the goals of your research and explain how it is relevant to the real world. In particular, make sure you can explain why people who aren’t scholars in your field should care about the question you’re trying to answer. This is especially important if you are presenting in front of an audience who are not experts in your field. Try to give some specific examples of why your research is important.

Step 3:  Give Some Background Information
After you introduce your topic and its “so what” you’ll want to give background information about your area of study. You also may want to include a literature review of research in your field by other scholars. Without the context of this information, it will be difficult for your audience to understand why you are doing the specific investigation that you are presenting about. This overview of your topic should strike a balance between being broad enough that your audience understands the context of your research, but narrow enough that the background information doesn’t feel redundant. How you strike this balance will also depend on your audience’s level of expertise, so make sure you continue to keep that in mind!

Step 4:  Craft an Effective Research Question
Most likely if you’ve already done your research, you’ll already have written out a research question somewhere, such as in a grant proposal. However, as you’re making a presentation it’s good to remind yourself about what makes an effective research question. First of all, make sure that it is focused, not too broad or too narrow. It should also be concise; you want your research question to summarize the purpose of your research in only a sentence or two. Overall, your research question should give your audience a quick snapshot of the information that is to come later on in your presentation.

Step 5:  Explain Your Research Methods
Now that you’ve given the audience the background context and your research question, you can begin to go into more detail about the specifics of your research. If your research was an experiment, describe the experimental design. Explain the methods that you used to collect your data as well as the model that you used to analyze the data. You may also want to include challenges that you faced during the research, and any changes that you had to make to your original research plan in order to overcome those challenges.

Step 6:  Display Your Findings
This should naturally follow from your discussion of your research methods. If you do any sort of statistical analysis, this is where you’ll want to include it. This section is also where visual displays can be most helpful, so you’ll want to include graphs and charts if they’re applicable to your research. Make sure that all of your visuals show your data clearly and concisely, labeling everything so that your audience knows what they’re looking at. If your visuals are effective, you’ll hardly need to include words on this section of the presentation at all, although you will want to explain verbally the data in your visuals.

Step 7:  Discuss your Results and Draw Conclusions
Here you will use the findings that you showed your audience from the previous step to answer your research question. Or, if you aren’t quite able to answer your research question yet, discuss what you have found so far and what future research could be done to fully answer the question. In this section, you’ll also want to make reference to your “so what” and the research goals that you outlined at the beginning of your presentation.

Step 8:  References and Acknowledgements
Although you’re done with the content of your presentation, you can’t forget to cite your sources. Use the format (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) preferred in your field of study and be consistent, using the same format throughout. And finally, make sure that you thank your advisor, the source of your funding, and anybody else who helped you out during your research.

As always, thanks for reading! If you have any questions about presenting on your research, applying for research grants, or anything scholarship related, please stop by the PSA office from 9am to 5pm Mondays through Fridays.

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