Peer Scholarship Advice

The official blog of the Charles Center Peer Scholarship Advisors

Category: Charles Center Summer Scholarships

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!

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!

Personal Statement Tips

Personal statements are a major part of the applications for many awards, including Fulbright Grants, Charles Center Summer Scholarships, and Rhodes Scholarships. Personal statements play an important role in helping selection committees get to know you as an individual and give you an opportunity to show your background in ways much deeper than your transcripts or resume could. Every scholarship, fellowship, and internship will ask different questions for its personal statement, so you’ll have to keep those in mind, but here are a few general tips that can help you write any personal statement:

1. Reflect on Your Background
What unique experiences do you have that have led you to become who you are now? What challenges (academic, health, family) have you had to overcome in your life? How has your background driven you to apply for this specific program, and how does it make you qualified for this program? These are all questions that you will want to keep in mind while writing a personal statement, and answering them can make your writing and your application overall much stronger. Just saying that you’re interested in the research or other work that you’ll be doing in your program may not be enough; it is even better to show through your writing how your background and experiences have shaped your interests. You could discuss personal/family connections with your area of interest, classes that you’ve taken that made you interested in it, or anything in between. This will reflect even greater commitment to the purpose of your program.

2. Think about Your Future Plans
What do you plan to do immediately after you finish your program? What about your long-term career and life goals? It’s very important that you show in your personal statement how your future plans motivate you to complete your chosen program. If your life goal is to become a teacher or work in education policy, it will be easy to show your motivation in doing a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, but if your future plans and the program you’re applying to aren’t as obviously connected, or if you’re not sure about your future plans, this can be a challenge. Either way, it will require some self-reflection, and talking to friends and mentors can help you make this connection.

3. Create a Narrative
When writing about your past, present and future, don’t fall into a trap of just listing off facts about what you’ve done or plan to do. A great personal statement builds off of the writers past experiences and future plans to construct an overall narrative. This cohesively shows to the selection committee how you became interested in your chosen program, what you will get out of the program, and how you will use that experience to achieve your future goals. Moreover, essays with a strong and unique narrative will be a lot more memorable for selection committees, and will help you stand out as a candidate.

4. Don’t Be Arrogant, but Don’t Be too Humble
Getting the tone right is an important part of any piece of writing, and the balance that you need to strike for a personal statement is especially challenging. You need to convey confidence that you are qualified for your chosen program, but if you overdo it you may be perceived as arrogant. Saying “I think that this project might help some people” is clearly underselling yourself, but a statement like “This project will forever change the process of diplomatic negotiations among countries in the Middle East” is will probably come off as overconfident. Something like “This project will provide a strong foundation for future studies into the diplomatic relationship between countries in the Middle East” sounds better and is likely more accurate than the two above. Simply state your qualifications and/or project plans honestly and without exaggeration.

5. Don’t Be too Colloquial, but Don’t Sound too Academic
You want your personal statement to sound like you, but not the most colloquial and informal version of you. Moreover, you want your personal statement to be easy to read, even for people who are not in your field of study, as selection committees are usually made up of people in many academic disciplines. This can be another challenging balance to strike, and often different people will find that different writing styles best suit them. Have someone who knows you well read it over to get their impressions on how well you’ve struck this balance.

6. Have a Strong Beginning
Having a strong opening sentence or paragraph can go a long way in making sure that the reader stays engaged and interested in what you’re writing throughout your personal statement. Many applicants like to open their personal statements with an anecdote; this can be a strong beginning hook, but it can be easy for an anecdote to get off topic. If you’re going to take this route, make sure that you find a clear way to connect your anecdote with the rest of the personal statement. Aside from anecdotes, there are many other ways to begin your personal statement. Some people will begin with a thesis statement-style summer of what is to come in the rest of the essay; this can be very concise and clear in showing what you will talk about in your personal statement, but might not grab the reader’s attention as much as an anecdote. There are advantages and disadvantages of all different kinds of openings, and you should try a few out and see which one works best for you.

7. Have a Strong Ending
As the final thing that the selection committees read, your conclusion will leave a lasting impression, so you need to make sure that it’s a good one. Many applicants like to end their personal statements with a short summary of what they talked about in the preceding paragraphs; this can be a good cohesive way to conclude, but it may seem dry and redundant. Others may use the conclusion as a space to talk about future plans if they don’t earlier on in the essay. The ending often feels like a natural place to discuss the future plans, but if those plans aren’t thoroughly described and connected to the program and your past experiences, this may read like an addition that is tacked on last-minute without much thought. If you open with an anecdote, you may want to reference the anecdote in your conclusion. This makes the essay feel more cohesive, but again it can be difficult to clearly connect your anecdote to the topic or purpose of the program. As with the beginning, try out different types of ending and works best with your writing.

8. Pick an Overall Structure that Works for You
Make sure that the flow of ideas from one sentence or paragraph to the next makes sense. For some people this will mean simply going in chronological order, but there are many other ways that you could connect your ideas coherently. You could also structure your essay based on your academic development or how you narrowed the scope of your research/academic interests. Some personal statements may start with a description of the present or recent past, and then go on to describe earlier events that led up to that. There are as many ways of structuring a personal statement as there are people in the world, but make sure that yours is cohesive and fits well with the content that you’re describing.

9. Edit, Revise, and Rewrite
Your personal statement won’t be perfect on your first try, but that’s ok! It will usually take multiple edits and rewrites for you to get to a final draft that you’re happy with. It’s also a good idea to have others read your essay and give you ideas for what could be improved in your writing. The PSAs are a great resource for this, and we’re happy to help with your personal statements for all kinds of awards!

On a related note, make sure that you edit and revise your personal statement to fit whatever specific program you’re applying to. It’s not a good idea to directly copy and paste your personal statement from one application to another without making some changes because each program has different requirements and will ask different questions for the personal statement. You can keep the big ideas the same, but make sure you modify it to fit whatever you’re applying to.


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!

Opportunities to fund Summer Study, Research, and Internships

Many William & Mary students use the summer as an opportunity to continue their studies, get involved in research, or partake in an internship, but often research projects need funding and internships are unpaid. Luckily, W&M offers funding from a number of different sources for students doing research or participating in low-paying or unpaid internships. Here are a few places you can look to find funding for summer study, research or internships:

1. Fulbright UK Summer Institutes
Each summer the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Commission offers several themed institutes across the U.K. for American freshman 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 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. Charles Center Summer Research Scholarships
The Charles Center is the biggest source of funding for summer research at William & Mary. We offer funding for research in any discipline, from the humanities to the natural sciences, and most awards are for $3,000 and support seven weeks of full-time research. In addition to the general umbrella of Charles Center Summer Scholarships which anyone in any discipline can apply to, there are a number of smaller scholarships which are specific to certain disciplines; for example: the Christopher Wren Association Scholarship for research in the humanities, the Jacobs Scholarship for research taking place in Israel, and the Lemon Project Summer Research Grant for research on African Americans and the College of William & Mary, just to name a few. The deadline for Charles Center Summer Scholarships is typically in mid or late February of the year that you will conduct your project. You can find more information about the Charles Center Summer Scholarships here.

4. Departmental Funding Resources
Many departments have their own specific pages with lists of research funding opportunities, some sponsored by the department itself, others sponsored by external organizations. Check out your department’s website under the “research” tab to see if your department has a list of resources! Also, ask your major advisor or another professor who you are close to if they know of some grants that can be used to fund research in your area of study. Professors are often delighted to help their students get involved in the research process. Some departments also offer funding for internships in fields relevant to the department, which you should be able to find information about on their website.

5. Cohen Career Center Internship Funding
The Cohen Career Center offers a number of scholarships to help fund low- or non-paying internships. These include the Steve Banker Fund for Real Estate Internships, the Olympia & Adam Trumbower Fund for International Development/Philanthropy Internships, and the Cohen Career Center Internship Fund. These scholarships provide up to $4,000 (or $5,000 for the Steve Banker Fund) to students with unpaid internships in a variety of different fields. You can find more about these opportunities here.

6. Charles Center Internship Scholarships
In addition to offering funding for summer research, the Charles Center also administers a limited number of scholarships to fund unpaid internships. These include the Freeman Intern Fellowship and the Woody Internship in Museum Studies. The Freeman Fellowship provides placement and funding at internships in Asia, and the Woody Internship in Museum Studies allows opportunity to intern and conduct research at a respected museum that exhibits art, historical materials, etc. to the public. You can find more information about them here.

7. Reves Summer International Internship Scholarships
The Reves Center provides funding for unpaid or low-paying internships overseas or domestic internships that are international in focus. These include internationally-directed government agencies (such as the State Department), overseas non-governmental organizations, overseas private sector corporations, etc. Internships must entail at least five full-time weeks of work over the summer. You can learn more about this opportunity here.

8. Scholarship Search
The Scholarship Search website is a PSA-run scholarship database that allows you to search for different scholarships, research grants, and internships offered by both William & Mary and external sources. As of right now we have over 250 opportunities that William & Mary students are eligible for, but the list is constantly growing as we add more. You can filter your search based on your area of study, the academic years eligible, whether financial need is required, and many other criteria. Click here to begin your scholarship search!


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!