Your future is unwritten

Your future is unwritten

Your future is unwritten

Approaching fellowship applications as a chance to dream

June 30, 2023 | Autumn D.

MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography / Applied Ocean Science and Engineering

I’m a big dreamer. Thinking about the future and imagining different possibilities brings me a lot of joy. Fellowship applications are a fantastic opportunity to dream big and believe in the best-case scenario. This is exactly why I love fellowship applications.

Your future is unwritten. Through the act of writing and applying for a fellowship, you can start to imagine your future, which is the first step in making your dreams a reality. Fellowship applications also allow you to reflect on your past, realize how far you have come, and see the path that got you to where you are today.

While I love working on my own applications, I love helping others even more. To quote Randy Pausch, the author of The Last Lecture, “It’s a thrill to fulfill your own childhood dreams, but as you get older, you may find that enabling the dreams of others is even more fun.” After applying for a few fellowships, I have reflected on my personal experiences and assembled my top tips for navigating the fellowship application process and how you can enter a dreaming mindset while working on essays.

1. Dream big!

Do you dream of working on an innovative research project? Traveling abroad to learn about a culture and collaborating with new peers? Teaching others a new skill or subject?

Close your eyes and imagine yourself living your dream. What does it look like? Feel like? Now, look back at where you are currently, and think about how you can arrive at your future. What are some potential paths to your desired future, and how can you connect with others to forge these paths?

Close your eyes again and reflect on your past. How did you get to where you are now? What did your path look like and who was involved?

Fellowship applications challenge us to reflect on our past and share our story while also sharing our hopes and dreams and describing how we will achieve them. By visualizing yourself living your dream, you can lead with confidence in your essays and believe in the best-case scenario. “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting”- Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist.

Pro tip: Share your dreams with someone else and invite them to share their dreams too. Saying them aloud and talking through scenarios will get your creative juices flowing!

2. It’s never too early to start planning

Now that you have decided to go for it, it’s time to plan. If you are planning on applying for more than one fellowship, first rank them in terms of which opportunities seem like the best fit for you. Being strategic about which opportunities you want to channel your time and energy into will help you to put your best foot forward.

For most fellowships, I would suggest starting three months in advance, which will provide you with ample time to write multiple drafts prior to submitting your application. If you have never applied for a fellowship before or if it is a particularly intensive fellowship, you can take the first month to familiarize yourself with the application and outline your essays. 

 3. Prepare yourself for an ugly first draft and then keep on drafting!

The hardest part of writing is getting started, but you must start somewhere and that somewhere is the first draft. Remind yourself that the best is yet to come and with time, feedback, and dedication you will get to a glowing final draft! A great way to see your growth as a writer is to read both your first and last drafts after submitting your application. This fills me with a sense of gratitude for everyone that helped me with my essays and a feeling of pride for dedicating time each week to improving as a writer. 

4. Get feedback and support from as many people as possible

I cannot emphasize this tip enough! Over the years, I have worked with my undergraduate fellowships office, the MIT Distinguished Fellowships Office, MIT Writing and Communication Center, and the MIT CEE Communications Lab – all of them have been fantastic! Having the opportunity to talk to someone who knows a particular fellowship application process like the back of their hand is an invaluable resource. 

I also sent my fellowship essays to my research advisers, current graduate students, and pretty much everyone else who offered to provide me with feedback. Allow yourself to grow as a writer while also taking each piece of feedback with a grain of salt. Let your own voice shine, and make sure that your story remains true to you!

5. Celebrate regardless of the outcome!

Hitting the submit button on a fellowship application is super thrilling! After submitting an application, my mind is flooded with feelings of excitement, relief, and anticipation. To hit my reset button after months of fellowship writing, I like to celebrate with my family and friends. Submitting an application is an accomplishment in and of itself, and you should be proud of all of your hard work. Most importantly, now that you have visualized yourself living your dream and written about it, keep chasing it!

Publisher’s note: Please note that the Office of Graduate Education has additional tips for applying to fellowships.

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