Many fellowships require a project or research proposal describing exactly what you plan to do during the fellowship period. The Project Proposal question in the fellowship application may be a series of questions, and it’s important you answer each one in your essay. Below is a list of the common questions, and what the fellowship committee really wants to know:
1. Question: What is the topic of your research?
What they’re really asking: Can you concisely explain your research question and goals?
2. Question: What is the purpose and merit of the research?
What they’re really asking: What will this research contribute to your field and to society, and are these contributions significant? How will the success of this research reflect on the fellowship organization?
3. Question: What is the research methodology?
What they’re really asking: Is the proposed research feasible in the time period of the fellowship, and will the candidate have adequate resources? Is the research over-ambitious or under-ambitious?
4. Question: Describe your research qualifications.
What they’re really asking: Why should we believe you can successfully pull this off?
5. Question: How will you disseminate the results of your research?
What they’re really asking: Do you know the important people, journals, conferences and organizations in your field?
6. Question: What are the benefits of this project to you personally?
What they’re really asking: Are you passionate about this work? Will the completion of this research advance your career goals? Why is this fellowship opportunity more important to you than other opportunities?
Before you begin writing in earnest, it is a good exercise to develop several project proposal ideas and share them with former fellows, professors, colleagues and friends. In my previous post, I discuss the importance of tying your project ideas to something in the news and something time-specific.
Similar to my advice for preparing a strong personal statement, my advice for preparing a project proposal is to start by breaking down the questions and drafting potential answers in bullets. Once you have several bullet points under your questions, take the best ideas to begin writing sentences that directly answer the questions.
Think carefully about the methodology you are proposing. Proposing a project that is overly ambitious is as dangerous as proposing a project that is too simple. If you have a lot of uncertainty in some aspects of your proposal, such as access to research participants, ethics issues, and costs, I strongly suggest you propose a modified version, or even a completely different project, that allows no uncertainty about your ability to complete the research. For obvious reasons, fellowship organizations do not want to fund projects that may not succeed. Get as much advice as possible from professors, colleagues and experts on your methodology.
Another piece of advice I give to fellowship applicants, particularly those applying to a fellowship abroad, is figure out a way to incorporate travel in your research. You can propose a project that will chain you to a desk or a lab bench 5 days a week, but why not propose a project that requires focus groups, interviews or observations in different parts of the country? Your fellowship may allow you to travel on weekends, but if you can, make travel part of your job. That’s what I did.
The best tip to writing a strong project or research proposal for your fellowship application is the knowledge that you don’t necessarily need to do exactly what you proposed once you win the fellowship. What is important is your ability to effectively convey an idea and an approach. For fellowship committees, the strength and effectiveness of your project proposal is the best indicator of your success. The idea itself is less important, and what we found from speaking to hundreds of fellowship winners is that many people change their research plan after they win the fellowship.
© Victoria Johnson 2012, all rights reserved.
Applying to a fellowship can be a long, tedious process, much like applying to graduate school. Once you get over the first hurdle of finding fellowships you are eligible for, you should create a timeline of activities to keep you on track. Most fellowships have application deadlines between October – January, so the time to start finding fellowships and preparing your fellowship application plan is now (yes, now!).
If you have 6 months until your application is due, don’t wait 3 months to begin. A big advantage over some of your competitors is having this extra time to thoughtfully prepare your project proposal. Often applicants find out about the fellowship at the last minute or underestimate the amount of time it will take to prepare a strong application. No need to be that person if you’ve got a plan.
Fellowship applications normally require:
- an application form
- a personal statement on your goals
- a project/research proposal outlining what you will do and how you will do it
- a letter of support from an institution that will host you during the fellowship
- 2-3 recommendation letters
- a resume
- and documents such as academic transcripts, a copy of your passport, etc.
Below is a guide for creating a fellowship application plan. This week, I will be blogging on each of these activities in more detail.
6 months ahead:
- Read the application carefully and determine what documents you’ll need to provide like transcripts, a copy of your birth certificate, a copy of your passport, etc. Then go ahead and get the grunt work out of the way.
- Carefully check application deadlines and put them on your personal calendar with reminders a few weeks ahead. Give yourself a final deadline of one week before the official deadline and stick to it to be safe. Fellowships that require a nomination by your university means you need to contact the university’s fellowship advisor about your interest and identify the university’s internal deadlines for nominations and applications. These internal deadline are often weeks in advance of the official deadline for submissions.
- Write a list of some general, overarching ideas for your fellowship project proposal. Start thinking creatively about how you can tie those ideas to something in the news, and something time-specific (more details on this in my upcoming post).
- Reach out to former fellows that have done similar projects or have a similar background to yours. They can give you project ideas, tips on the application process and can often introduce you directly to potential host institutions.
- Update your resume.
5 months ahead:
- Reach out to potential host institutions and share your updated resume.
- Begin writing some rough drafts of your personal statement and your project proposal, and continue to edit them. Speaking to potential host institutions should give you fresh ideas.
4 months ahead:
- Secure a host institution and ask the host to provide you a sponsorship letter, if required.
- Share your personal essay and project proposal drafts with people who can provide good feedback.
3 months ahead:
- Prepare a final draft of your project proposal.
- Request reference letters and prepare templates for each of them. Also provide them your draft project proposal.
- Update your resume again, if necessary.
2 months ahead:
- Fill out the application form.
- Remind your referees to return or submit their letters.
- Ask at least two people to read each item – your application, essay(s), project proposal and resume. It’s hard to see typos and grammatical mistakes when you’ve read them a million times.
1 month in advance
- Relax, you’re well ahead of the game.
- Submit the application on time – ideally no later than one week in advance. Many fellowship organizations have rules against taking applications after the deadline. Don’t think you’ll be the exception to this rule.
- Ask the organization to confirm they’ve received your application and reference letters, ideally before the deadline has passed.
Once that’s done, you just have sit back and wait for the notification of whether you’ve been selected for the finalist interview.
Now if you are that person who found out about a fellowship just weeks or, heaven forbid, days before the application is due, don’t despair. If you are highly organized, it’s not impossible to cram these tasks into a small window of time. Truth be told, when I was a college senior in 2000, I found out about the NYC Urban Fellows Program 2 weeks before the application was due and I was still able to prepare a successful application. With organizational skills and optimism, anything is possible.
Questions? Send me a note.
© Victoria Johnson 2012, all rights reserved.
Join the crowd
Our step-by-step guide for a competitive fellowship application
1. Create a plan
2. Project proposal ideas
3. Talk to current / former fellows
4. Prepare an effective resumé
5. Find a host institution
6. Write a compelling personal statement
7. Prepare a strong project proposal
8. Get great recommendation letters (P1)
9. Get great recommendation letters (P2)
10. Nail the individual and group interviews