Fellowships 101A

Feb. 4, 2015

In our office, we find that many students feel lost when thinking about fellowships and appreciate an explanation of the basic landscape of funding. Georgia Ehlers, who worked with graduate funding for over 20 years, and I have put together a few of the basics about fellowships which might be helpful as you make plans for the new year.

What is a fellowship?

It can be a lot of different things. The term is often used interchangeably with the term “scholarship,” money for education that you do not need to repay. However, I often see the word “fellowship” used for teaching positions and for positions that might be called internships. There are often obligations for a fellow during or after the fellowship. Also, keep in mind that a proposal for a research fellowship can form the basis for a legally binding contract. In sum, be sure you understand what you are applying to get and what is required of you if you get it.

What are the different types of fellowships?

On the most basic level, it can be helpful to think of funding as either internal or external to the university. Although this is an oversimplification, as a student you can look both inside and outside of the university for funding. 

Some of the best sources of internal funding are scholarships offered through the Graduate College, other colleges, or departments. Some examples include fellowships such as the Graduate Tuition Scholarships, Marshall Foundation Dissertation Fellowships, the Galileo Circle Scholarships, and School of Art Photography Excellence Fellowship.

An external fellowship could, for example, be a Fulbright research grant for study in Canada, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, or a grant from the Institute for Supply Management for doctoral dissertation research into purchasing and supply management. You may be able to apply on your own or you might need to apply through the university for external funding. These fellowships are usually more competitive than internal fellowships since the pool of applicants is national or international.

Can you give me more information on funding that is internal to the university?

Think of money coming from the university, colleges, and departments – each of these units has funds to distribute. Often, this money is for recruitment to the university or money for teaching or research graduate assistant positions. Remember that you might be eligible for funding from several places inside of the university; be sure to search websites and talk to peers and advisors about opportunities. Funding constantly changes, so a fellowship that was offered several years ago may or may not currently exist.

Where does funding that is external to the university come from?

Any variety of places. But here are a few of the most common:

  • Government funding: This could be federal, state, or even local funding. Federal funding provides the greatest resources for research and graduate fellowships. Major funders at the UA include the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, Department of Energy, and the Department of Education. Funding can also come from non-US governments – for example, Chinese Government Scholarships or the Chateaubriand Fellowship offered through the Embassy of France in the US.

  • Foundation funding: Although there is less money for graduate students through foundations than through the government, they are also good sources of support. Also, international students are often eligible for foundation funding. The UA Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 that allows donors to establish scholarships and other support for the university; this money is usually run through the appropriate UA college. Some library foundations provide funds for students interested in doing research at their institution. A few examples of foundations that provide money for graduate students include the Mellon Foundation, Inter-American Foundation, Charlotte W. Newcombe, Ford Foundation, Social Science Research Council, American Association of University Women, etc.

  • Professional organizations: You should be part of the professional organizations in your discipline, whether it is the American Institute of Architects or the Modern Language Association or the American Geophysical Union. While these organizations rarely have significant funding for graduate students, they often have travel funds and prizes for students.

  • Other universities: A bit surprisingly, other universities grant fellowships to students outside of their own institution. University libraries often have funds for visiting students; the Harry Ransom Library at the University of Texas at Austin offers twenty dissertation fellowships a year for students using their collections. Dartmouth has dissertation fellowships for diverse students. Other universities offer FLAS funding to students outside of their institution who are interested in studying abroad.

  • Commercial/industry support/corporate foundations: Corporations may provide funding directly for research, through employee benefits, or through scholarship programs. Many students who work at places like Raytheon or Novartis are funded through their employers. Also, many businesses offer internships or research opportunities. For example, both Facebook and Google offer fellowships to non-employees for graduate study. Industry supported research is common in certain fields such as pharmaceuticals.

Where can I find external fellowships to which I can apply?

You can find tips on searching for funding in my previous article on the topic.

I have heard that some fellowships do not have enough applicants. Is this true?

Sometimes. They are usually small fellowships or scholarships, often local ones, of a few hundred dollars. For example, the Southern Arizona Environmental Management Society only had a few people apply for their scholarships last year. In other cases, the requirements for eligibility are so strict, that relatively few people may qualify. With searchable databases, it is easy to rule out scholarships that are a good match for yourself. This is why it is important to keep your eyes and ears open for funding opportunities. Funding changes constantly; new opportunities pop up and other opportunities disappear.

Can I find a fellowship that will give me time to be a graduate student, pay my tuition and fees, and offer a stipend? Preferably one that will last for several years?

Maybe. These fellowships do exist. However, they are competitive (but this should not discourage you from applying) and they rarely fund a student’s entire graduate career. So even students who receive plum fellowships usually have to find other sources of funding as well.

If only a few students get comprehensive funding from a fellowship, what are some more common types of funding to which I can apply?

Here are some of the common types of awards and information about the best time to apply for them.

  • Teaching and research positions – Always keep your eyes open for these. While they do take over your life sometimes, they also provide valuable professional development.

  • Jobs – If you plan to be at the UA for the long haul, Qualified Tuition Reduction (QTR) can be worth consideration. You can look into the nitty gritty details of QTR. To find UA jobs, visit the UA Human Resources website.

  • Financial Aid - For more information on financial aid, visit the UA Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid (http://financialaid.arizona.edu/).

  • Early graduate awards – When a student enters graduate school, he or she is sometimes overwhelmed by a number of large funding opportunities. Sometimes students tell me that they will wait until later to apply for fellowships. Unfortunately, after the first year or two of graduate school, students enter a bit of a funding wasteland. So do your best to apply when you are eligible. Some examples of the early graduate awards include the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and the National Physical Science Consortium.

  • Travel awards – If you plan to travel to archives, conferences, for language learning, or for research, you should look for funding. The UA GPSC has wonderful travel grants. Then there is the Fulbright and the FLAS. Funding for archival research can be much less competitive than other types of funding.

  • University/department grants – Always keep your eyes open for these.

  • Internship, externship, practicum, coop, etc. – Again, you can apply for these any time in your graduate career.

  • Thesis or dissertation research – Begin looking for research funding at least a year before you plan to do the research. Often you will need to submit the application about a year prior to the fellowship being granted.

  • Writing support – There are several fellowships, such as the American Association of University Women American Fellowship, that support writing. Usually these are for usually for writing dissertations, but the Social Science Research Council has a nice fellowship for the dissertation proposal.

  • Post-doctoral research – These are obviously for after you have finished the dissertation. But I have heard of a post-doctoral position being turned into a pre-doctoral position for just the right person.

  • Awards/Honors/Prizes – Always keep your eyes open for these.

I applied for a fellowship. It was a lot of work and I did not get it. I do not know if it is worth trying again. 

Grant writing is a skill. Just like any other skill, you need practice to get good at it. If possible, apply multiple times for the same fellowship. We have many examples of students who receive fellowships on their second or third, or even fourth, try.

How do I make myself more competitive for fellowships?

Publish, travel, teach, do outreach, present at conferences, and get excellent grades. Perhaps most importantly, have glowing letters of recommendation.

I am a normal person with a life outside of academia. I cannot do all of those things you listed above. Should I still apply?

Yes. I work with people who get the most prestigious fellowships. Some of them are academic superstars and I do not know how they manage to do all that they do. But many recipients are normal people with normal lives and do not do everything listed above. Often they are surprised when they receive a fellowship. The key is to find the fellowship that is the right fit for you and your work and then to apply and apply again.

Remember that our office is here to help. Also, be sure to use the resources that are available to you through your department.

Good luck!

The GradFunding Newsletter is a service of the University of Arizona Graduate College, Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement. You may reuse this article but please acknowledge Shelley Hawthorne Smith and the University of Arizona Graduate College Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement.

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