Do your homework! The OGE currently tracks and promotes more than 100 external opportunities, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The majority of these opportunities cross disciplines, so it makes sense for the OGE to promote them. However, there are many area-specific fellowships out there that the OGE does not directly promote.
Finding other fellowship opportunities
Some key places to look for fellowship opportunities are national and regional associations or organizations organized around particular fields of study.
For example, if a chemistry student searches for “Chemistry Fellowships” online, the first organization to pop up is the American Chemical Society, which lists opportunities they offer and outside fellowships and awards.
This is a fairly consistent practice for many associations, organizations, and societies. You may need to be creative, especially if your research area is multi-discipline or unconventional in nature, but the opportunities are out there and, with a little patience, they can be found.
However, be wary of un-vetted fellowship databases, as these sites can be malicious — or at the very least fill your inbox with spam. If you need help finding opportunities, consider connecting with Scott Tirrell, Director of Graduate Fellowships (email@example.com) as he is willing to help you search and will offer suggestions for finding opportunities.
Matching the eligibility requirements
Most fellowships have detailed eligibility requirements that are geared towards a particular group of students. These can vary greatly, and if you are going to go through the work and effort to apply, you should be sure that you are eligible.
Some students don’t fit the eligibility requirements of many of the major grants due to varied history/background and/or cross-discipline work. However, there are many smaller grants for which you may be eligible. Scott Tirrell, Director of Graduate Fellowships (firstname.lastname@example.org) is available to meet with you regarding fellowships that may be a match.
How do I learn if I’m eligible?
- Many fellowship organizations have a FAQ page that can be a great place for consolidated information on eligibility.
- Many fellowships have specific goals or are looking for a specific type of person (e.g. leaders, patriots, individuals that want to make a larger impact, specific ethnic or nationality backgrounds, etc.).
- Some organizations don’t explicitly state that they are looking for specific types of students, when in fact they are. Performing additional research on the organization’s mission and vision can help you recognize if you are a good fit for the opportunity.
- If there are still questions on eligibility, you should not hesitate to reach out to the organization’s contacts to ask your questions. The OGE is also happy to help.
Tailor your application
When you draft your proposal and personal statement, be sure to tailor the documents to the interests of the agency or foundation. Carefully review the information available online for these opportunities.
It is a good practice to read the “About” section on the agency or foundation’s website. Learning about the organization and looking for key information will help customize your application to the history and goals of the organization.
Once you find opportunities that are right for you, gather as much information as possible and mold each application to each specific fellowship. A single “blanket” application is never applicable to all fellowships.
Use the fellowship website
View the actual fellowship website for a source of information. Often, students hear about opportunities through word-of-mouth, social media, posters, or promotional emails or assume they know the opportunity better than they actually do.
Fellowship websites often include hints and tips and some will even include examples of successful proposals or direct students to valuable information or assistance.
Utilize on- and off-campus resources
There are many helpful resources both on- and off-campus to assist students with their fellowship applications:
If possible, take a workshop on proposal or grant writing. This will be helpful for your fellowship applications and may even benefit your career as a researcher (see appendix for a list of resources).
Some departments on campus have workshops or even courses specifically on fellowship applications. If your department does not already have such a workshop, consider creating one (Scott Tirrell, email@example.com, can direct you to departments that run such programs).
Many fellowship opportunities (especially if the funds pass through MIT’s system) have dedicated administrators on campus that can also be a source of information. For many large multi-disciplinary fellowships such as NSF GRFP, NDSEG, DOE CSGF, etc., this would be Scott Tirrell (firstname.lastname@example.org). If the administrator is unknown, the OGE can assist.
The OGE strongly suggests that students schedule a one-on-one consultation with the fellowship administrator, as they can often provide tips and hints and direct students to more thorough sources of information or available resources.
Find past experiences of applicants online. This can provide a wealth of suggestions and even examples of successful (and sometimes unsuccessful) proposals. Some even have forums where you can ask questions, although these sources might not always have the most up-to-date information.
Give the fellowship application process plenty of time
Applying to a fellowship demands a substantial, polished, well-thought-out product. Preparing last minute will not result in your best work.
When are fellowship deadlines?
Fellowship deadlines largely follow a university application deadline schedule and are typically in the fall, winter, or early spring before the start of the academic year in which the fellowship will be utilized.
By May 1st, the large majority of fellowship deadlines will have passed for the upcoming year. Even in March and April, the number of opportunities is greatly reduced.
When should I start to prepare?
It is never too soon to begin preparing, and you should always keep your financial outlook in mind (even if you think your funding is secure).
Identify the application deadline(s) and organize a schedule that works for you, making sure to build in extra time for last-minute problems or changes. Many successful applicants begin their application process as much as 9 months in advance.
How do I break up the application process?
The application process can be daunting; breaking the process up over a long duration can simplify things immensely.
Below is an ideal situation:
- February: Identify your research question
- March: Find the right fellowship and start gathering information
- April/May: Start planning for the proposal
- June/July: Draft your personal statement
- August/September: Identify people to review your work and gather their feedback
- August/September: Revise, rewrite, reword, and reorganize. Make it perfect!
- September: Contact references (include what to send to references)
- October: Gather all material together
- October/November/December: Submit the application