Fellowship Applications: You Are Doing More Than You Think You Are Doing

Feb. 14, 2024

This is a slower season for fellowship applications as there are few big deadlines right around the corner. Not actively working on an application could add to the common desperate grad school feeling of “I should be doing more”; however, we want to encourage you to see that you’re doing more than you think you’re doing. The projects that you’re chipping away at now—whether your dissertation, a journal article, a conference presentation, or your teaching—are all valuable contributions to your future self and future fellowship applications. 

Graduate students are sometimes urged to manage their time by distinguishing the urgent tasks from the important tasks. However, in his lovely book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman counters that humans often struggle to distinguish between urgent and important tasks because there are simply too many important activities to fit into a human life of approximately four thousand weeks. Fellowship applications are often urgent but can also be important; the required letter(s) of recommendation are a good example of how you are working on multiple important tasks at one time. 

Getting great letters of recommendation is important and depends on building and actively maintaining productive relationships with those who will write the letters. In order to write a letter that truly reflects your strength as a candidate, writers should know you well and be invested in your work. This investment can be earned through proactive communication with them over a period of time, as well as a genuine interest in their work. Tasks not directly related to your fellowship application still serve you as a fellowship applicant. For example, if your advisor recruits you to help organize a departmental symposium, your efforts will give them a more well-rounded sense of your academic service abilities and your collegiality. This will strengthen the letter of recommendation you will ask them for in the medium- or long-term. 

We hope remembering that you are doing multiple important tasks at once is helpful, and we in the Graduate Center Office of Fellowships and Graduate Writing Lab are always here to help you with both the urgent and the important.