The 5 Unspoken Rules of Professional Fellowships

Jun 06, 2017

The 5 Unspoken Rules of Professional Fellowships

By ProFellow Founder, Dr. Vicki Johnson

For some recent graduates, a professional fellowship is your first real “job” after college, and your first opportunity to gain full-time work experience. For more experienced and mid-career fellows, the fellowship may seem like a short-term adventure before your next permanent job or graduate school. In either case, there are several unspoken rules of what is expected of you during your fellowship.

Rule No. 1: It’s up to you to figure things out.

Don’t expect a lot of hand holding from fellowship staff as you proceed through your fellowship. Fellows are expected to be adaptable and self-sufficient, and they expect you to figure things out when things don’t go quite as planned. If you’re not enjoying or getting enough out of your fellowship placement or project, speak to your assigned mentor or host before taking the issue to the fellowship staff. Also, keep in mind that it will be solely your responsibility to network, job seek, and figure out your post-fellowship path. Make the most of your fellowship opportunities and new network from day one.

Rule No. 2: You are there to fully participate in the fellowship program, even the parts that don’t interest you.

Show up for all events and don’t be late. Attend “optional” events whenever you can. Being present and fully engaged in all fellowship activities demonstrates you were a worthwhile investment, and you’ll get a lot more out of your fellowship experience if you remain open-minded to events and topics you’re not interested in. You might be pleasantly surprised what you learn or who you meet.

Rule No. 3: Don’t burn bridges.

A fellowship may be a short-term opportunity, but there are long-term consequences to creating acrimonious relationships with the fellowship staff, your mentor or colleagues at your host organization, or your fellow fellows. Even if you are unhappy with your fellowship placement, the way certain logistics are handled, or the personality of someone in your cohort, there is always a way to address issues diplomatically, and in some cases, it’s better to pick and choose your battles and just let insignificant things go. Don’t trash talk, gossip or create cliques within your fellowship cohort – be inclusive and reach out to fellows who are quiet and less social. Most importantly, don’t turn to social media and other public platforms to air any grievances – chances are it will make you look worse than the subject of your ire.

Rule No. 4: Events organized by the fellowship program are not for letting loose.

You’d be surprised how many events I’ve attended as a fellow where a colleague in my cohort felt the need to order one too many drinks from the open bar, talk or play on their phone while someone was giving a presentation, put their feet up on a chair, and even light a cigarette during a facilitated tour. No matter your age, you’re expected to act with maturity during fellowship events, both formal and informal. You’ll not only embarrass yourself, you’ll embarrass your fellowship cohort and staff, and it’s the only thing you’ll be remembered for.

Rule No. 5: Be an engaged alumnus.

Your fellowship organization has invested significant time and financial resources into your fellowship experience. Recognize that and make an effort to give back. Attend alumni events when you can, give them personal and professional updates when asked, and like their Facebook page already. Alumni engagement helps the program attract new candidates, keeps the program alive and running, and can provide numerous benefits to you if you take advantage of it.

Dr. Vicki Johnson Headshot

Dr. Vicki Johnson is Founder and CEO of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, top Ph.D. scholar, Fulbright recipient and an award-winning social entrepreneur. She is the Creator and Director of Fully Funded, an award-winning online course and mentorship program for graduate school applicants seeking to find and win full funding. 

© Victoria Johnson / ProFellow, LLC 2017, all rights reserved.