By Deborah Vieyra
We are, as the old cliche goes, our own worst enemies. We often sabotage our journeys before we have even set foot on them. When it comes to applying for fellowships, this is particularly relevant. We think we don’t have enough experience, that our grades are not as exceptional as they should be, that we are too average to be noticed among the piles of people yearning for the opportunity to be awarded a prestigious scholarship.
The result? Many people get hung up on the competitiveness of an award to the point where they don’t apply at all. They assume it’s not worth the time.
I’m here to tell you that, firstly, you probably don’t give yourself enough credit. Secondly, you may not quite be aware of your suitability for a particular fellowship until you have applied. You may not realize just what a great candidate you are.
#1 It’s less about what you did, and more about what you will do
Fellowships are not awards for what you have already done, but rather an investment in people to further a social impact mission. Of course, the footprints of your life do tell a lot about how you would be able to materialize future goals. You can use your background to demonstrate you have the skills and drive to be successful, but this is not where it ends. Many selection committees primarily want to know how you will capitalize on the fellowship experience and advance the program’s social impact mission.
And why not think about your fellowship proposal as an opportunity to plan your dream project? Even if your application is not successful, you will come out of the application process with a far better understanding of what you would like to achieve in the future.
#2 They’re looking for underrepresented candidates
I’m not referring purely to gender and racial underrepresentation—although this is important to consider. I also refer to representation from different universities, geographic locations, disciplines, career stages and even points of view. Unfortunately, as an applicant, you may not be privy to the diversity factors the selection committee seeks to reach as they make their selection. Your particular identity and background may fit snugly into exactly what they are trying to find. You never know—they may be looking for someone just like you.
#3 It’s all in the proposal
The selection committee wants to know what you will do with the resources they give you. If you can provide a detailed and feasible proposal for what you will do during the fellowship, and how you will use the fellowship to achieve your specific career or academic goal, you will be well ahead of many other candidates.
Over-ambitious projects often get cut in the first round, as is the case with good ideas that lack sufficient detail. Ensure that your proposal meets these three basic criteria: doable, detailed, and meaningful. If it’s possible to achieve and will have a social impact, you are well on your way to a successful application. The quality of this task is within your control, so put in the effort to come up with a solid proposal.
While you may have read the guidelines for a particular fellowship a thousand times, you still may not know exactly what a fellowship committee is looking for. Do not sell yourself short. You and your project may just be the very thing that fits neatly into their internal criteria.
While you can’t change your background, you can put together a meaningful proposal that clearly states what you wish to achieve if given the opportunity.
There really is no point in not giving it a go.
Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.
© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved.