Do your homework! The OGE currently tracks and promotes more than 100 external opportunities (many of which can be found on this website, see here), but this is likely only the tip of the iceberg. The majority of these opportunities cross disciplines and therefore it makes sense for the OGE to promote them, but there are many area specific fellowships out there that the OGE does not promote directly. 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 not only opportunities they offer, but outside fellowships and awards as well. This is a fairly consistent practice for many associations, organizations, and societies. Sometimes a student might need to be creative especially if your research area is multi-discipline in nature or unconventional, but the opportunities are out there and with a little patience they can be found. However, you should be warned about the use of un-vetted fellowship databases as often times these sites can be malicious, or at the very least fill your inbox with spam. If your looking for assistance in finding opportunities, you should consider connecting with Scott Tirrell, Associate Director of Graduate Fellowships (firstname.lastname@example.org) as he is willing to help you search and will offer suggestions for finding opportunities.
Do you fit the eligibility requirements? Most fellowships have detailed eligibility requirements and are directed at particular groups 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 indeed eligible. For example, many federally funded fellowships are only offered to US citizens and permanent residents thereby excluding international students (Examples: NSF GRFP, NDSEG, DOE CSGF, etc.). Maybe you’re a student that doesn’t fit nicely into any list of eligibility requirements due to varied history/ background and/or cross-discipline work. Many fellowship organizations have a FAQ page that can be a great place for consolidated information for questions on eligibility. 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 assist in this regard.
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.). When students draft their proposals and personal statements, they should be sure to tailor their work to the interests of the agency or foundation. They should examine the information available online for these opportunities in detail. Some organizations don’t explicitly state they are looking for specific types of students, when in fact they are. This could be for a various number reasons. It is a good practice to direct students to the “About” sections on these websites, where a student can learn a bit about the organization and look for key information that will help customize their applications to the history and goals of the organization. In general, once a student finds opportunities that are right for them, it is a best practice to gather as much information as possible and mold each application to each specific fellowship. In no instance, is a single “blanket” application applicable to all.
There are many helpful resources both on and off campus to assist students on their fellowship applications. If possible, suggest students take a workshop on proposal or grant writing. This will not just be helpful in their fellowship applications, but helpful for their career as a researcher (see appendix for a list of resources). Some departments on campus have also created workshops or even courses specifically on fellowship applications. If your department does not already have such a workshop, consider creating one (Scott Tirrell 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 sources of information. For many large multi-disciplinary fellowships such as NSF GRFP, NDSEG, DOE CSGF, etc. this would be Scott Tirrell (email@example.com). If the administrator is unknown, the OGE can assist. The OGE strongly suggests that students schedule a one-on-one consultation with this administrator, as they can often provide tips and hints and direct students to more thorough sources of information or available resources. With a little searching, student can also often find past experiences of applicants online, which can provide a wealth of suggestions and even examples of successful (and sometimes unsuccessful) proposals. Some even have forums where students can ask questions (although students should be cautioned that these sources might not always have the most up-to-date information). Finally, it might seem self-evident, but be sure to direct students to the actual fellowship website for a source of information. Often times 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 (see appendix for resources).
Lastly, give the fellowship application process plenty of time! Applying to a fellowship demands a substantial, polished, well-thought-out product. Doing this last minute will not produce your best work. 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). 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). You should 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.
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 their research question
- March- Find the right fellowship and start gathering information
- April/May- Start planning for the proposal
- June/July- Draft their personal statement
- August/ September- Gather feedback from whom?
- 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