Peer Scholarship Advice

The official blog of the Charles Center Peer Scholarship Advisors

Category: Fulbright (page 1 of 2)

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:

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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:

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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:

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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!

Fulbright Awardee Profile: Aaron Bayles

Congratulations to Aaron Bayles for winning a Fulbright Academic grant to Spain! Here are some of his thoughts on the Fulbright program and application process:

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What do you hope to get out of the opportunity that Fulbright affords you?
My primary goal is to become a better scientist, by working on a new project which has the potential to be highly impactful in the field of renewable energy and by gaining experience collaborating with others who have had a very different academic formation than what I’ve experienced. My secondary goal is to reach full fluency in Spanish. Years of study and a semester abroad have really helped my Spanish language skills, but I believe this extended immersion experience will help me take that last step to being truly fluent.
What motivated you to apply for a Fulbright?
At first, I was looking for any opportunity to go to a Spanish speaking country for a year before I started graduate school to work on my Spanish. When I heard about the Fulbright scholarship, it seemed like the PERFECT opportunity to combine my love of language learning while also engaging in interesting research that could form the base of my future graduate studies.
How did you choose your country?
I was initially torn between applying to go to a South American country, like Colombia, Peru, or Argentina, or going back to Spain, where I studied abroad. After contacting a range of professors who were working on projects that interested me, and having the opportunity to meet some of them in person, I ended up choosing to return to Spain. The project, which is working on increasing the efficiency of a new type of solar panel, fit so well with my research interests that I couldn’t possibly say no. The professor was incredibly enthusiastic at the idea of me coming to work with him, and he introduced me to many of the current researchers in the lab. I’d also be going back to Sevilla, the city where I studied abroad and my favorite place in the entire world. It was a no-brainer.
How do you plan to engage with the community while abroad?
I have so many opportunities that I’m really not sure what’s going to ultimately happen. As a photographer, my top goal is to create and exhibit a photography project that highlights the juxtaposition of new and old, touristy and authentic, in Sevilla, an ancient and modernizing city. Still figuring out the details on that, though (finding exhibition space is hard). While I was abroad, I also started learning a type of flamenco and volunteered at an elementary school for an under-served community. These are both activities I’d like to continue during my grant period.
What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?
I realized that I can be a very focused and single-minded person at times, which has its pros and cons. While I was working on my grant proposal and personal statement, I’d stay up late at night over the summer writing and editing and rewriting and editing some more even though I had plenty of time until the deadline. It was the first time the idea of procrastinating never crossed my mind. I had a goal, I had a path to that goal, and I did everything physically possible to get there, sometimes to the detriment of my sleep schedule and other work. But ultimately, it was so worth it.
What are you most proud of in your application?
Looking back on my grant proposal, it’s probably one of the best works I’ve ever written. I don’t consider myself a great writer, but even as I look at it now, I can’t think of anything I’m unhappy about or wish I’d written differently. I had to write it in both Spanish and English, and it was my first time writing something scientific in Spanish.
If you could do it all again, what would you change about the process?
I wish that the whole application process itself was a little faster, and that I’d finished everything a bit more quickly, but honestly beyond that I’m very pleased with how the whole thing went.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Fulbright applicants?
Two things: Take full advantage of the resources at the Charles Center, especially the Peer Scholarship Advisors. I had two PSAs that helped me with my essays (AND THEY WERE AMAZING!!), but I was also in contact with a bunch of them regarding various aspects of the application and they were the first people I went to whenever I had any questions about the sometimes vague application. I definitely went in to the Charles Center an annoying amount, but they never got impatient with me. Next, START EARLY. I started contacting professors during winter break of my junior year, and finished the biggest parts of my application during the summer before my senior year. The earlier you start planning, the higher quality your application will be.
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Congratulations again to Aaron, and all of W&M’s Fulbright awardees! As always, if you have any questions about Fulbright or other scholarships, don’t hesitate to visit Scholarship Search or email the PSAs at peerscholadvice@gmail.com. Thanks for reading and good luck on your applications!

Fulbright Awardee Profile: Katie Freund

Congratulations to Fulbright ETA to Mexico, Katie Freund! 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?

My hope is that my Fulbright experience will offer me the chance to get to know another culture from the inside out. I spent an amazing semester abroad in Chile, and while I loved the freedom I got to travel and get to know my host family, I missed being involved in the community to the same extent that I am at home. My hope is that living and teaching in Mexico, as well as working on a community development or research project of some type, will let me understand the Mexican people on an even deeper level. I hope to make close connections with the community and classrooms I work with, and I hope to further use my Spanish to bridge cultural gaps, learn about the incredible depth of culture in Mexico, and form relationships that will not only last for the time that I am there, but in whatever career I pursue after my time as a Fulbright.

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

I think the most important thing is always to look at the advice Fulbright gives you. I believe the ETA website specifically recommended choosing one or two recommenders who know you in an academic setting, and one who knows you from some other aspect of your life. The academic side was fairly easy for me, because I have a really close relationship with my Hispanic Studies thesis/major advisor and long-time professor, and she could also fill out my language evaluation form. My other professor recommender was also from Hispanic Studies, because I felt that she could speak to my knowledge of culture and my ability with the language, and quite frankly I think that although my Economics professors understand my academic abilities, they couldn’t speak as well to how I would act in country. If I had a professor or advisor from my abroad experience who spoke high quality English, I would have had them write one because they could have spoken to my time in another country, but unfortunately, I didn’t. My last recommender was the director of a non-profit organization in Nicaragua whom I have worked with both remotely and in-country over the past four years, who could speak specifically to my skills as a leader, as an English teacher in a Latin American country, and as part of a community organization abroad. She was pretty much a no-brainer, because that experience translates directly to what I’ll be doing in Mexico.

How did you choose your country?

I went back and forth for a while on if I wanted to stick to places where I would use my Spanish or if I wanted to try my luck at a different region of the world. At the end of the day, however, I decided that my Spanish ability made me uniquely qualified to go to a Latin American country, and would provide a much more meaningful experience. From there I was deciding between Mexico and Colombia, which are the countries that award the most ETA grants each year for the region. That part was practical, because I didn’t have a specific country in mind and I wanted to give myself the best chances for getting accepted. And then it was pretty much just a pros/cons list. I had a really tough time deciding between the two, but eventually decided that going to Mexico would be more valuable in terms of a future career in the US. I also already love Colombian culture and know that I really want to go there someday, but I have more preconceived notions about Mexico, and I wanted to challenge those by actually getting to know the country and the people there. I think that the whole point of Fulbright is cultural exchange and working on mutual understanding, and I believe that I will accomplish more in that field in Mexico.

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

A couple of things, some big and some little. I realized how much I dislike writing about myself… the essay process was enjoyable because I got to talk about some of the things I’m really passionate about, but the personal stuff was a little more difficult. I have trouble expressing how I became who I am without second-guessing how it sounds, but you kind of just have to go with it in the essay. I also realized how much I’m willing to dedicate to getting something I really want. I am generally a last-minute person with almost everything, but I started working on this application really early and went in to talk to the PSAs and had friends read my essays and had meetings before my interview. I really did my research and made sure I was showing the best possible version of myself every step of the way, and I did it because I cared so much about getting it. I think if you’re going to apply to something like this, you can’t do it half way. You have to believe that you’re qualified before anyone else will believe it.

What are you most proud of in your application?

Although I haven’t read them, I’m most proud of whatever my recommenders said about me that made me worth accepting. I think those recommendations are the result of relationships I have been working on throughout my entire college experience, and so in that way, the application is really something I have been working up to for four years. Also the fact that I made it through the interview, which was about 15 minutes of questions all in Spanish, with a whole panel of interviewers. And I felt pretty good about it. I’m proud that I could work through that nervousness and still answer the questions intelligently and completely, and without stumbling too much over the language.

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

I would have prepared more for the interview in terms of practicing answers to easy questions. I was really worried about having to speak in Spanish and so I forgot to actually plan out what I would say to certain things, like “Why do you want to go to Mexico?” which should have been a no-brainer. But luckily it worked out anyway. Also I would have loved to get my decisions sooner, but there’s not much to be done about that.

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

Go with your gut, first of all. I spent a lot of time agonizing over where to go, what to say, and trying to over-prepare, and it was helpful for some things. But really, if you go with what you know you love and who you know you are, that’s more important. If Fulbright is something you’re truly passionate about, it will come through in what you write and what you say. That being said, don’t apply to teach if you don’t love teaching. Don’t apply to do research if you’re not obsessed with your project. I think that comes through as well, and like I said, if you don’t believe you’re qualified for what you’re applying for, no one else will. Also explore all of the options! There’s a lot of cool random programs beyond ETA and general research, like the National Geographic grant and some other business programs, etc… I really think there’s something for everyone and the application is so worth it. Just be true to yourself, and if you’re applying, give it all you’ve got.

Fulbright Awardee Profile: Meredith Wolf

Congratulations to Fulbright ETA to Germany, Meredith Wolf! 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?
First, I hope to be a great resource for my English language students with which I will be working. Learning a foreign language can be a daunting task, after all! I also hope to bring something new to the table via my work. This could mean sharing an aspect of American culture with which the students are not so familiar, or introducing a new way of thinking about the English language and its uses. The student-instructor relationship is highly reciprocal in my experience– especially in a multilingual, multicultural context. The things I hope to give are also the things I hope to take away from my experience thanks to the opportunity the Fulbright affords me.
What motivated you to apply for a Fulbright?
The impending completion of my undergraduate studies put me at a crossroads. I knew that I would like to attend graduate school, yet I felt (and still feel) as though even more experience would set me on a more focused, deliberate path. I was really inspired by my own German professor and the fun and open learning atmosphere she fostered. Soon after, it dawned on me that I could pursue teaching my own native language as a foreign language and bring all of my experience and interests to the table. When I heard about the Fulbright Grant a year ago, specifically the ETA, I knew that I wanted to pursue it.
How did you choose your country?
When I started learning the German language, I could not (and still can’t) get enough of it! Personally, the German language is something that brings me a lot of joy. Second, I had already been to Germany once for vacation, and I went again last summer with the W&M Potsdam Program. Being familiar with the German language and the country helped me to know that applying to Germany was the right choice for me.
 
How do you plan to engage with the community while abroad?
It is difficult to say at this point how I will best be able to engage with the community when I am abroad, because I haven’t received a specific city-placement yet. What I can do will depend heavily on the dynamic of the community of which I will be a part. I have a lot of ideas, though. So I’m ready for just about anything! Specifically, I have a lot of interest in theatre, music, public speaking, and the performing arts. It is my hope to be involved in some capacity with these areas– whether that means integrating myself into existing groups, or starting my own! I have been really inspired by W&M’s language houses, so it would be great to arrange a setting such as that for English learners in my community and be their resource for English learning and cultural exchange by planning various meet-ups and activities.
 
What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?
Perhaps, the best thing I realized throughout this process about myself, is that I have more perseverance and patience than I acknowledged beforehand. I started thinking about, and preparing this application six months leading up to the campus submission deadline, and it was another six months before I received my grant nomination. It was a tough application, and it took way more time, drafts, personal reflection, emotional investment, etc. than I imagined it could. I’m really proud of the application I prepared, and I really must thank Lisa Grimes and the PSAs in the Charles Center for introducing to the grant, guiding me, and supporting me throughout the process!
What are you most proud of in your application?
While I spent hours and hours writing and re-writing the personal statement and grant purpose, and refining the application as a whole, I think what I am most proud of in my application is the version of myself who is speaking through it. It’s not enough to write a good application, you have to be all of those good things to ensure your voice comes through to whomever reads it. So, I suppose I am most proud of the “me” that made my application special. 
 
If you could do it all again, what would you change about the process?
If I had to do anything differently about my process, I would likely have started drafting my full personal and grant statements sooner so I could have started my weekly meetings with the PSAs even sooner. Even then, I think the PSAs who helped would say I was in there enough!
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Fulbright applicants?
Future applicants: Make sure you want this grant, and are willing to work for it soon after you first hear about it. Then, if you do really want it, make it your priority. Start thinking about it every day. If you don’t have all the experiences to make you a great applicant before you start applying, then start getting that experience ASAP. If you already have a lot of experiences that would make you a great applicant, keep pursuing those experiences! Meditate on your decision to pursue this grant often. Draft your statements at least two months before the campus deadlines. Visit the PSA office– a lot! Don’t be discouraged, and get ready to practice patience! We are truly lucky to have great resources and mentors on campus such as Lisa Grimes, the PSA office, and your professors. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them for advice and support! Best of luck!

Fulbright Awardee Profile: Kyra Bell

Congratulations to Fulbright ETA to Taiwan, Kyra Bell! 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?
So much! Language-learning, teaching experience, life-long friendships, the list goes on. Also, this is rather cliche, because it is basically the mission statement of the Fulbright ETA, but I hope to spark students’ interest in learning about other languages and cultures. Students will learn about themselves; I’ll learn about myself. My year on a Fulbright will determine my next career steps, whether that is teaching, working for the US government, going to law school, or any other option.
How and why did you choose your recommenders, and what is your relationship with them like?
I chose two people who could provide different but complementary evaluations of my qualifications to teach. One was an artist who I have known since high school, Bonnie Fitzgerald. I worked at her mosaic art studio, teaching classes and helping create mosaic installations. From this, she has seen me interact with students of all ages, and she has a good understanding of my energy and creativity. Although I’m not in town enough to work with her much anymore, we’ve kept in touch, and she writes many recommendation letters for me.
My other recommender was Professor Sasser, in the Government Department. He taught my freshman seminar, and since then, I have taken another of his courses and chose him as my major advisor. Unlike Bonnie, he hasn’t seen how I work with children, but he does know my work ethic (the good and the bad) and my academic interests. I’d say we have a good relationship, as far as relationships with advisors go. I definitely need to visit his office hours sometime soon.
What motivated you to apply for a Fulbright?
I knew I wanted to teach, I knew I wanted to live abroad, and I knew that Fulbright was one of many ways to do this. I applied for a variety of teaching programs, and honestly I would have been happy anywhere. That said, Fulbright–although it’s not necessarily the most well-paid–offers a lot of great benefits. As a government major, non-competitive eligibility for government jobs is definitely enticing. Another superficial but still meaningful factor is that the Fulbright is well-known. “It’s prestigious.”
 
How did you choose your country?
I already had Taiwan in mind, for a variety of reasons: I would love to live in East Asia, the politics and international relations of Taiwan are intriguing, and a good friend of mine was doing the Fulbright in Taiwan at the time of my decision. Even with that in mind, I still explored the entire list of countries available for ETAs. I slowly narrowed the list, crossing countries off based on whether they required a language and encouraged ETAs to be involved with the community outside the classroom. There are so many fascinating countries, I would have applied to all of them if there was some way to do that. The choice was partly strategic: I had a more easily demonstrable interest in Taiwan than the others, and there were quite a few ETA positions in Taiwan. I already loved Taiwan– I visited during my year abroad, and that had solidified my conviction that it would be an incredible place to live and teach
What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?
I realized how little I knew about what I wanted to do in the future, beyond Fulbright. It seemed like I was constantly editing and focusing my career goals on the application, and yet, whoever reviewed the application always said I had to specify my career plans even more.
 
What are you most proud of in your application?
I’m most proud of my writing: the personal essay and statement of grant purpose. It’s the part I worked hardest on, and I would have been proud of it even if I hadn’t been selected.
If you could do it all again, what would you change about the process?
I don’t think I would change much. But you should have asked me when I was actually in the process of applying!
 
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Fulbright applicants?
First: Don’t expect to be accepted, and understand that a rejection is not a judgement on you or your future. I know multiple well-qualified people who were rejected. 
Second: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket (that basket being the Fulbright). If you really want to teach abroad, there are plenty of other programs for doing so. If you really want to be in that specific country, there are plenty of other opportunities to live there or at least in the region.
Third: Write, rewrite, and read aloud the written essays. Make sure it has your voice. There is no interview portion of the application, so this is when the application reviewer actually gets to learn about you, your worldview, etc.

Fulbright Awardee Profile: Hayley Hahn

Congratulations to Hayley Hahn on her Fulbright Academic Grant to Canada! Here are some of her thoughts on the Fulbright program and its application process:


How will you be spending your Fulbright year?
I will be spending my Fulbright year in Montreal, Canada researching Aboriginal child welfare policy. More specifically, I will be looking at the dual mandate system– a system under which provinces and tribes share authority– by presenting a comparative study of the child welfare practices of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, New Brunswick, and British Columbia.
What motivated you to apply for this scholarship?
Last spring, I took Professor Kara Thompson’s class on American Indian Sovereignty. For my final project, I created a scalar site on the American Indian Child Welfare Act. This project piqued my interest in child welfare issues affecting Native children, and during the summer, I decided to apply for a Fulbright research grant to Canada in order to continue engaging with these issues and (hopefully!) produce research that will improve social service delivery for Native children, their families, and communities.
What are you most proud of in your application?
I’m most proud of the way I was able to articulate the goals and benefits of this project in the Statement of Grant Purpose. I’m so thankful to the Charles Center PSAs for helping me revise my application; their patience and insight really helped me in drafting the Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement for my application.
What did you realize about yourself throughout the application process?
Throughout the application process, I realized I really want to work on child welfare issues involving Native and non-Native children throughout my career. After completing my Fulbright, I will be heading to law school, so I hope to pursue clinics that will allow me to continue engaging with child advocacy issues and working with Native communities.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future applicants?
I would advise future applicants to pick a research topic and country that they genuinely care about. Authenticity and passion will shine through in your application; pick something you are truly interested in, as your enthusiasm will help in the application process, and also in completing your eventual research project. Just be yourself!

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!

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