Graduate Workshop: Searching and Applying for Fellowships

The following are notes prepared for a Fellowship workshop I led at Northeastern University in November 2018.

Workshop Description

This workshop will help students prepare applications for external research fellowships and grants. We’ll focus on clarifying project plans, articulating the import of research, and negotiating application deadlines.

Important Tips for Fellowship Applications

(Mostly) in no particular order:

  1. Prepare early. Many fellowships will require specific or customized materials and you do not want to rush their preparation.
  2. Request letters early. You should speak to your faculty and other recommenders about writing letters for fellowships as soon as you possibly can. Letters composed 48 hours before the deadline will read like letters composed 48 hours before the deadline.
  3. Apply widely. Fellowships are competetive and you cannot bank on one or two coming through, particularly if you need fellowship support to pay your bills in a given year. You may get one big fellowship that fully supports your work, or you may need to cobble together a few smaller ones in a given year. If you have a boom season you can always decline a fellowship offered (and thereby make someone else’s day).
  4. Understand what you’re applying for. This may seem obvious, but there are important distinctions in the fellowship world that should shape your applications. Some fellowships support general research (such as a dissertation completion fellowship) while others support research at a specific institution (such as an American Antiquarian Society research grant). Some fellowships expect you to work in residence at a specific location; others do not. But all fellowships will expect you to understand the nature of their support and tailor your application to respond specifically in your application materials.
  5. Make sure you’re eligible. Different fellowships will spell out different guidelines for eligiblity: e.g. graduate student, ABD, junior scholar, junior faculty. These distinctions matter. There is no need to waste time applying for a fellowship if you will be disqualified immediately.
  6. Think local (all over). There are many short-term grants and fellowships around the country or around the world. Some of these support a few month’s research at a given archive, for instance, or participation in a university research seminar. Some of these opportunities see far fewer applications than the high-profile grants from ACLS, Mellon, or NEH. Consider including these kinds of grants in your application strategy.
  7. Your application is an argument. I don’t mean that it should be combative, but instead that your materials need to build the case for why you are the best fit for this specific opportunity. What will you bring to the community supported by this fellowship? How will your scholarship bring this collection’s holdings into wider public and scholarly view?

“Fellowship Application Best Practices & Methods of Survival” from Liz Polcha

This section was generously drafted by NU Ph.D. candidate Liz Polcha, who is not in Boston because she is on a year-long ACLS research fellowship. Liz has been very successful with fellowship applications during her grad career and I’m deeply grateful to her for writing such extensive and useful advice (and agreeing to let me post it here):

Fellowship Application Best Practices & Methods of Survival
Liz Polcha
November 2018

Why apply to fellowships?

What is the writing process like?

Who is your audience / what is the tone of the application?

Once you’ve received the fellowship…

Email me with questions, or I’m happy to share any of my fellowship applications as samples!

Internal Fellowships

External Fellowships