A Smarter Way To Apply For Fellowships 

Oct 03, 2019

By Guest Author Dr. Fatimah Williams

We as scholars are under increasing pressure to secure fellowships and grants as well as other sources of funding to support our research or professional advancement.  It doesn’t matter if we are a second-year graduate student, a high achieving undergraduate, or a seasoned professor, a clear expectation to secure such awards is palpable in every academic community. Why? Because they are a key marker of academic success and the related prestige and funds that they come with are becoming ever more integral to our sustainability. 

The question is, how do we make time for researching, securing references and applying to these fellowships when my workload is already so full?

Sometimes it can feel like as soon as we have a rhythm for course readings and assignments, all of a sudden it’s time to start applying for funding and fellowships to further our research and careers! 

I absolutely empathise with how this feels. My goal is to help you reduce the overwhelming nature of this workload, to bring order to your many projects, and to show you how to set boundaries that honor your priorities. I will share a planning resource that I have been using in my campus workshops and professional development coaching for six years. This tool has helped academics in diverse stages and disciplines, from clinical researchers to first-year graduate students to mid-career scholars, get control of their schedules and complete project milestones.

Here, with my compliments, are three short pages from the Professional Pathways Planner. 

Tip #1: Make fellowship applications part of your Weekly Top Three Priorities.

In my career coaching with faculty and grad students, I ask them to use the Top 3 rule to distinguish priority projects from what can sometimes seem to be a sea of  deadlines, tasks, and meetings. To get to your Top 3, ask yourself, “Of all my projects and tasks, which can I work on to help me achieve my larger goals for the term or year?”  That may not always work, in which case, ask yourself, ‘What would make this my best year yet?’ Answer the question by identifying the Top 3 things you need to do to get there.  You are a high achieving professional, so you’ll certainly always have many projects and responsibilities vying for your time. Our job is to carefully use our energy, time and resources to achieve those things that are most important to our personal and professional success and, more importantly, our sense of fulfillment. 

Keep in mind that some of those Top 3 items may not be a degree or promotion requirement. They may be the projects that are personally fulfilling to you. For example, when I was in grad school, I wanted to sharpen my research project and network with scholars in my field who were outside of my immediate campus community. In order to do this, I applied for a writing fellowship that brought together researchers of Latin America working on topics of transnationalism. Securing this fellowship was not a degree requirement because I had already secured sufficient funding to cover my graduate studies. However, this was a rich experience that helped me fulfill a broader goal of establishing my reputation as an early stage scholar in my field. 

Having identified your Weekly Top 3, we’ll need to block uninterrupted time on our calendars throughout the week to work on our applications. We then commit to working on related tasks each week. By taking bite-sized actions over time, we make definite progress on our goals. 

Tip #2: Allocate three times the amount of time you think it will take to complete application-related tasks.

The fact is we are usually preparing these applications alongside our normal responsibilities like a day job, teaching or taking courses, writing and publishing, or raising a family. It can be easy to leave applications until the last minute as well as underestimate the level of effort that goes into seemingly straightforward tasks such as preparing a one-page personal statement. Since we are already blocking off time each week to work on our applications, we need to be certain that we’re allocating sufficient time on these tasks to avoid being overwhelmed and inevitable disappointment of seemingly unproductive work sessions. 

Research shows that tasks take three times the amount of time we anticipate. Therefore, in my work with academics, I use the Professional Pathways Planner to help them organize these larger projects into Action Plans. Using this system, which is available here, we can plan each discrete task with the anticipated amount of time needed to manage and complete it. For example, it could take me two weeks to complete my personal statement.  After establishing this, I uncover and break down the tasks associated with completing a personal statement. These would typically include brainstorming as well as creating an outline and a draft, sharing it with a colleague for review, incorporating colleague’s feedback, and letting it sit before conducting a final review and edit. With each task, we record the amount of time needed to complete that task. 

Beside each task on your to-do list or project plan for each application, we write the estimated time we expect to complete that discrete task. Then we simply multiply that number by a factor of three.  We build in a buffer from the start so we no longer feel pressured by unrealistic deadlines. 

Tip #3: Take stock of your peers and mentors from whom you’ll need help to prepare these winning applications.  

We don’t get where we want to be alone. We need friends, colleagues, perhaps a  mentor to review and provide feedback on our personal statements, project proposal drafts and other documents. We also need advisors and senior colleagues to write recommendation letters. As we prepare our applications, we want to nurture our networks so they can be prepared and informed to write strong recommendation letters. Perhaps we also want them to help us brainstorm regarding our personal statement or proposal. 

If it’s been a while since you’ve been in contact with mentors or colleagues, don’t let that stop you from asking for help. Instead, consider your fellowship applications as an opportunity for you to share your professional aspirations and research with peers and mentors.  

After years of coaching graduate students and faculty, I designed this planning system to help busy scholars manage our academic work and personal lives and prioritize accordingly. With this system, it is possible to identify gaps in our overall professional development and know where and when to shift our focus to achieve the success we deserve.

Fatimah Williams, Ph.D. is the Founder of Beyond the Tenure Track and author of the Professional Pathways Planner, a 12- month strategic planning and time management planner to help busy academics get and stay organized while maintaining work-life harmony. Click here to receive your complimentary sample planner pages now.