By Deborah Vieyra
If you are thinking of applying for a fellowship, speaking with fellowship alumni is a stellar idea.
Alumni have been in the trenches. They know all the little tidbits that you won’t find on any official website. They have the inside scoop on where the challenges really lie, as well as what you can expect from each aspect of the application process. Not only will this help you gauge whether or not a particular fellowship is a good fit for you, but it will also give you insight into how best to configure your application.
Now for the next step—knowing the best questions to ask. Here are our top 5 that will help you make best use of this vital resource:
1) What motivated you to apply?
Understanding other people’s motivations will have a twofold effect. On the one hand, it will allow you to visualize them in the exact same situation that you are in at the moment—right at the beginning of the fellowship story. On the other hand, finding out what their inspiration was will allow you to see the similarities and differences with your own motivations. Of course, diverging on these is absolutely fine, it is just worth noting. Does anything significant come up for you that either steers you more or less in the direction of wanting the particular fellowship you are after? If their motivations were purely academic for example, and yours are not, consider whether this is indeed the best option for you to apply to.
2) What were the best and most challenging parts of your fellowship experience?
When it comes to fellowships, we speak so much about the application process and often neglect to discuss the heart of the topic—the fellowship experience itself. By understanding the best and worst parts of another person’s journey, you will be able to get a much better understanding of what you might be getting yourself into. In addition to this, ask them what the most gobsmackingly wonderful aspect of their experience was. If you ever wanted inspiration to get working on that personal statement, that may be it.
3) What do you think made your application stand out?
Now let’s return back to application-related questions. Ask them to think back to when they applied. Why do they think their application rose to the top of the pile? Did they have particular experiences on their resume? Did they have a memorable research proposal? What did they include (and exclude) in their personal statement that made it pop? Relate their answers back to your own application. Is there anything you should be doing differently?
4) What questions did they ask you in the finalist interview?
Of course, no two interviews are alike and there is simply no way of knowing exactly what you will be asked in an interview process. Having said that, finding out some of the questions that have been asked in the past will help you prepare for the fellowship interviews if you are selected. It will also give you some insight into what they are looking for in candidates.
ProFellow tip: Try to go beyond what specific questions were asked in the final interview and get some advice on how to stand out in this part of the process. Who was on the interview panel? What was their approach to the interview? How did they hook the selection committee’s attention?
5) What do you know now that you wish you knew when you applied?
Start by looking at the application process itself. Was there anything they realized too late they were supposed to include? Did they discover anything after the fact that would have made the application process easier?
Then move onto the fellowship experience itself. This is your time to delve into practical questions alongside more lofty inquiry. If traveling abroad was involved, was it challenging to find accommodation? How did they work with their host? Were they able to carve out time for personal activities?
Perhaps most noteworthy of all, alumni can inspire you to continue on the path that you dream of being on. They are living, breathing proof that it’s not an impossibility to secure a fellowship and make good use of it. Talking to alumni will demystify the notion of fellowships and allow you to see that they are indeed attainable.
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.