Fellowship advice from applicants who’ve been where you are

Submitted on April 20, 2020

By Elizabeth Labiner

Graduate students don’t pause in their work over the summer. Often, we simply shift gears to refocus on projects that were sidelined during the school year for one reason or another. However, it can also be hard to be productive during the unstructured months away from normal class and work schedules. 

If one of your upcoming summer projects is an application for a fellowship, the Summer 2020 Fellowship Application Development Program can provide the structure -- not to mention aid and accountability -- you may want or need to complete your application and make it stand out amongst your competitors’. The program is entirely online this summer as part of the social distancing measures in response to COVID-19, but the program still offers two tracks, both with deadlines and writing support for UArizona graduate students. 

The first track is geared toward students early in their graduate program, and specifically offers support for individuals applying for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships Program (NSF GRFP), the Fulbright Student Program, the Ford Predoctoral Fellowship Program, and UK Post-Grad Scholarships. If you’re applying to another fellowship but are still interested in participating, contact Shelley Hawthorne Smith. The second track is meant for students nearing the end of their graduate program. It’s tailored particularly to assist students applying for National Institutes of Health F-series fellowships, dissertation research and write-up fellowships, or postdoctoral fellowships. 

In addition to online information sessions, both tracks of the program provide three deadlines during June and July, at which points students submit their work and receive feedback. While it may seem daunting that the first deadline is only two weeks after the end of the spring semester, program director Dr. Shelley Hawthorne Smith emphasizes having low expectations for this first deadline and to think of it as a jumpstart to the longer-term work. She explains, “The early summer deadlines encourage students to quickly incorporate fellowship writing into their summer.” The early deadline gives students drafts to revisit throughout the summer whenever they have time to work on the application. As the program progresses, there are also opportunities to meet with fellowship advisors and Graduate Editors to discuss your application drafts. Last summer, Graduate Editors included students who were not only strong writers and editors, but winners of prestigious fellowships -- including the NSF GRFP, Fulbright, and National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship -- themselves. The first-hand experiences of the editors ensures that their feedback is highly constructive, as they have successfully navigated the exact terrain on which you currently find yourself. 

Alison Elder, a PhD student in the School of Geography and Development, participated in the application development program while applying for the NSF GRFP for Geography. In regard to her experience she says, 

The feedback and advice I received from my Graduate Editor were so helpful and encouraging in creating a stronger proposal that would stand out from the rest.  The deadlines keep you accountable to work consistently on the application essays rather than waiting until the last minute, and the examples of successful applications provided in the program were also very useful for getting a better grasp of what the fellowship is looking for. I ended up receiving the NSF GRFP in 2019. 

Elder is now a Graduate Editor for the Application Development Program. She notes that she enjoys reading about different people’s research interests and the experiences that led them to those interests, as well as working with students to strengthen and clarify their writing and applications.

Travis Sawyer, a PhD candidate in Optical Sciences, has also participated in the program both as an applicant and an editor. He cites the program as an important component in his successes: 

The Application Development Program is an excellent opportunity for students to get feedback from past applicants and recipients of grants who are intimately familiar with the specific fellowships and scholarships. As both a participant in the program, and later an editor, I can say that the program has been one of the major factors in my ability to write a successful application. Having the opportunity to receive advice and feedback from past recipients is extremely useful, and I am a much better writer because of it. The best part of the application support program is getting to see examples of past, successful applications. This provides an excellent starting point for writing a new application by showing exactly what the reviewers are looking for.

If you have questions about the Fellowship Application Program, please contact Danielle Barefoot (oncs@email.arizona.edu) for questions regarding Student Fulbright, Rhodes, Marshall, and Mitchell Scholarships; or Shelley Hawthorne Smith (shellh@email.arizona.edu)for questions regarding other fellowships.