How to Get a Fellowship for PhD or Grant for Grad School (Part 2)

To inspire grad students and phd students

In Part 1 of this post, I laid out two important aspects of how to write a successful fellowship/grant proposal and the nitty-gritty details of what goes into a kickass proposal. So read part uno and come back here to get the rest!

A successful fellowship proposal should be exciting not just for the fellowship committee members that read it. Yes, it is tailor-made to suit the requirements of the specific fellowship following the guidelines provided and the ethos of the granting institution as I wrote about in the first part. But, it is as important to write a fellowship that is YOU. And that provides YOU with something more than the funding you are trying to win.

This is for two reasons:

  1. For a fellowship to be successful, it has to not only present you project in the best possible light but it also has to showcase who YOU are. Anyone can write a fellowship application. And most people pursuing higher degrees are fully capable of doing research projects. So why should you get thousands of dollars when others don’t? SHOW the committee why. And in the process, show them who you are as a scholar. What kind of work do you like to do? Are you theoretical? Are you a swashbuckling Indiana Jones out in the field? (God, I hope not.) But whoever you are as a scholar, show them. Don’t try to be something you are not. As in life, your committee will smell out the wannabes and the fradulents. If theory is not your strong suit (*sneeze* me!), then don’t try to convince them that you are the next Derrida. If your work does not subscribe to Foucault, then don’t mention Foucault. The anthropocene is all the rage these days, but if your work has nothing to do with that, don’t bend backwards to fit anthropocene in somehow. Don’t be something you are absolutely not. Don’t make your project what is really not about. Within these parameters, you can still explore and be adventurous and push the boundaries of your project!
  2. The practical reason: with the success rates of most competitive fellowship being somewhere around 5-10%, it is improbable that you will get every fellowship/grant that you apply for. (It could happen and it has happened to people that I am acquainted with but that requires an alignment of stars. May be these people who applied for 5 and got all 5 sacrifices a rooster to some goddess somewhere!) So you need to get something else out of the fellowship for yourself. And this is the topic of the rest of this post.

How to make sure that your proposal gives you something

  1. First things first. Fellowships, like everything else in academia these days, are highly competitive to get. Not getting one is not a measure of how good/bad the project is. Not getting one simply means that there is a variety of permutations and combinations that inform the decision-making process at institutions. And, some of it may have absolutely nothing to do with you. (In one of my rejection emails, I received feedback that the committee had provided. One of them had a single line comment: “This is a good proposal but I don’t have the expertise to evaluate it.” What!!!) To survive multiple fellowship cycles without burning out, you have to internalize this: the outcome of your fellowship application is not a measure of your project or you.
  2. Instead of obsessing over the outcome, you should be always writing fellowships to help you with some other aspect of your dissertation. For me, writing fellowship applications was incredibly helpful in formulating and fine-tuning my research project as I went through quals, prospectus defense, research, and writing phases. But writing fellowship proposal help you in other ways as well:
    1. It allows you to practice writing in a scholarly format that communicates to people outside your discipline.
    2. It teaches you to write concisely and effectively.
    3. It offers the opportunity to think about where your project fits in within the larger scholarly community.

So write your fellowship proposal and prepare your applications to help you further your dissertation or your writing skills or what have you with non-monetary objectives. The funding will come, I promise.

Other relevant points:

  • Revise. Revise. Revise. Send your drafts to anyone and everyone who are willing to give you feedback. This includes everyone from your advisor to your other committee members, professors in your department and related departments, your campus fellowship coordinators or counselors if any, and of course, your peers. They will all give you different feedback (sometimes contradicting one another) that is INVALUABLE to the process. Take their questions and criticism head-on and keep an open mind.
  • Finally, there are many moving parts to writing your proposal and putting together all the other components of an application. Use a checklist to keep you on track.

Now go write that fellowship proposal, you! And if you need help or guidance, drop me a line!!

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