By Deborah Vieyra
Anyone who has applied for a fellowship has probably reached that moment when no matter what online literature you plow yourself into, you just can’t seem to find the answers to certain questions. All you want to do is close your laptop and speak to a real-life person who can help you navigate beyond the limits of the available text. But then there’s that lingering worry. What if your conversation with fellowship staff reveals something that could jeopardize your chances of selection? What if you unintentionally give the organization the impression that you are not suitable for the fellowship?
Your anxiety about reaching out to fellowship staff is understandable, particularly considering how important an acceptance letter must be for you. However, there are appropriate ways of communicating with fellowship staff that will be productive for both parties. It is important to remember that part of their job is to promote the program to potential candidates. They have no motivation to destroy your chances of success, so don’t be afraid of reaching out in a prudent manner. Below are three tips that we have found useful when negotiating this territory.
1. Request a brief chat over the phone.
A phone conversation! Remember that archaic activity? Even in our supremely digital age, phone conversations still have their place. This may just be one of those times. There are a few reasons why it is a good idea to request a short conversation with a fellowship staff member.
To start, one query tends to lead into another one. What you may have thought was a simple yes-or-no question may turn out to be more ambiguous than you bargained for, prompting the need for more questions. To save time on both ends, a phone conversation can be a good substitute for an endless email chain of back-and-forth discussion. Remember that fellowship staff must field questions from a huge number of prospective applicants. They will appreciate any time you can save them, and you will value receiving direct answers to your questions.
Also, by speaking on the phone rather than via email, you will also eliminate a paper chain that can be referenced at a later stage. If you are anxious that the questions you are asking may decrease your odds of success, a quick conversation by phone can allow you to prod for the answers you need.
ProFellow tip: When requesting a phone conversation with fellowship staff, be sure to mention that the call will be brief and that you would like to schedule the call at their convenience. Do not ask them to work around your schedule or send them your booking calendar. They are the investors, you are the applicant!
Due to staff and time constraints, fellowship staff may indicate they do not take phone calls or may suggest you attend an upcoming information session. Certainly, attend the information session! But also…
2. Ask for introductions to former fellows.
Fellowship alumni are invaluable resources when it comes to putting together a fellowship application. When you ask fellowship staff to put you in touch with your peers, you display a maturity and proactivity that will undoubtedly work in your favor later. Fellowship staff will also appreciate that they can outsource some of the question-answering, rather than having to do it all themselves.
Also, alumni can provide first-person accounts of what the fellowship experience is really like. Maybe you have heard mixed reviews about the fellowship experience and have some questions about the potential downsides. You may be concerned that fellowship staff will paint a rosy picture to dispel any negative press. So instead, ask alumni for their candid opinions about the program’s culture, infrastructure, leadership, and quality (and assure them you will be discrete with what they share).
3. Be honest.
While you may be nervous about revealing certain facts about yourself that may have bearing on your eligibility for a fellowship, dishonesty or elusiveness can have dire consequences in the long run. If you do not meet some of the on-paper eligibility requirements, ask about the flexibility of the criteria. If the fellowship says it is only open to people under the age of 35 and you’ve just celebrated your 36th birthday, or the fellowship specifically require secondary school teaching experience and you only have experience teaching young children, don’t be afraid to divulge your situation. In some cases, you might find that the criteria are not that strict and that other aspects of your background can override these requirements.
Before reaching out to the fellowship organization, have an in-depth look through ProFellow’s application tips. There is a wealth of resources available to guide you through the application process!
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 2018, all rights reserved.