Professional and academic fellowship opportunities are highly competitive, and many have an acceptance rate of less than 10%. Fellowship organizations receive many more qualified applicants than they can possibly accommodate, so often their decisions for selection come down to very small differences among applicants.
One difference that is within your control is the appeal and feasibility of your fellowship project proposal. Many fellowships require you to propose a self-designed project, such as a research study, creative project, or professional development itinerary. There are many tips on developing projects that are interesting, feasible and mutually beneficial. However, one insider tip to giving yourself an edge is adding urgency to your project.
An “urgent” fellowship project is one that needs to be done within the time period of the fellowship in the fellowship location, because you will be observing a phenomenon or participating in an event that is only happening then and there.
Here are some concrete examples of fellowship proposals with urgency:
- As part of your project, you will participate in a scientific meeting of experts in your field happening in the fellowship location (a meeting that is not happening again in the near future).
- You are studying the immediate impact of new legislation or a policy’s implementation in the fellowship location.
- You are observing or researching the outcomes of a recent event such as a community’s recovery from a recent disaster.
- You are contributing to the planning stage of a new program or policy that is set to be implemented just after the time period of the fellowship.
- You are participating in a creative exhibition or performance that is scheduled to happen only during the fellowship period.
If your project idea does not currently have an element of urgency, consider how you can incorporate one that will add value to your project and your long-term goals. Here are a few strategies:
- Research future conferences and events related to your topic happening in the fellowship location.
- Read up on current events in the fellowship location and brainstorm ways to tie the impact of those events to your project.
- Ask your potential host institutions about new programs or initiatives in the idea, planning or development stage that you could contribute to (read more about finding a host institution).
- Consider ways in which your project could impact the outcome of an event, policy or program happening in the near future; for example, if you are studying social service models in a developing country, identify a policy or program in development now that could immediately benefit from your research before implementation.
- If you plan to enter graduate school immediately following the fellowship, identify how your project could lay the foundation for your graduate research or dissertation; for example, the fellowship year may be an opportunity to gain language and cultural skills critical to your planned dissertation project.
Once you have incorporated an element of urgency in your application, be sure to stress in your fellowship proposal that the project can only be completed in the time period of the fellowship, and the many benefits that the fellowship would provide in allowing you to pursue this timely project. Also be sure to mention what you hope to achieve after the fellowship that will build on the intended outcomes of your project.
Project urgency is no guarantee or silver bullet to winning a competitive fellowship. However, project timeliness can give you an edge because if a selection committee has to choose between two equally strong candidates, they will likely lean toward the candidate whose research proposal is more urgent.
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