The Key to Success in Summer Writing

April 1, 2021

Hello Graduate Students,

The summer is the best time to work on fellowship applications. But, because most people have frequent interruptions to their routines in the summer, it can also be the most difficult time to write. The unpredictability of the season is why the key to success in summer writing is deadlines.

Here are three tips for creating deadlines for yourself over the summer:

Work with your advisor

If you have superhuman powers of organization, motivation, and persistence, go ahead and make some summer deadlines (I know . . . you already set them for yourself back in January) and stop reading this article now. For the rest of us humans, putting a deadline on our calendar is not enough. Agreeing on a deadline with a friend may not be enough. We probably need to be accountable to someone with some authority. Ask your advisor if they will read a draft of your fellowship application over the summer. If they are willing to do this, set a deadline and agree on which parts of the draft you will have completed by the deadline.

If your advisor is not available over the summer to read a draft, or if you want to be especially heavy-handed with yourself, you can use online tools to keep yourself accountable. This is not a university endorsement of any of these tools, but apps like Stickk, Betchyu, and other similar tools will help you create a system where you must pay a fine (that you set for yourself), if you do not reach your goals.

Work with other students

Once you have someone with some clout who will reinforce your summer writing goals, get help from other students. Find one or two other students with similar goals and work with one another to set smaller, achievable goals. Then check in with each other weekly to talk about your progress.

Join the Summer Fellowship Application Development Program

For even more help with working on fellowship applications over the summer, join our Summer Fellowship Application Development Program. We provide deadlines, peer support, and feedback on your drafts. The program is open to anyone applying for graduate or postdoctoral support. It is free and online. You can find the application on our website.

You can be successful in your summer writing. What does it mean to be successful? Every year, we ask for feedback on our summer program so that we can continually improve it. Students also share their successes. Here are some comments and stories that filled our hearts with joy.

Thank you so much for all of your help with the editing process of this application. I hope it gets funded, but even if it doesn't, I'm so proud that I turned it in. The program was a great resource in the development of the application.

THANK YOU for all the constructive criticism and support. I needed a nudge to push me through imposter syndrome as well as fellowship writing guidance and you provided both! I am so grateful for your willingness to share your skills and know-how.

It was super helpful to be held accountable for the drafts over the summer. I got very encouraging feedback from the graduate editor (which is nice because I have not gotten encouraging feedback very often in graduate school). The program was worthwhile and helpful.

Even though I didn't end up getting the fellowship, the most beneficial part of my experience was continuing to write about my dissertation topic to further expand my ideas. It also helped to prove to myself that I could submit an application. During my undergrad at a large state school in the Midwest, I took all the necessary steps to complete a Fulbright application to study sexual health in Chile. When I went to submit the paperwork to the appropriate university official, she told me my application would never be funded and that I shouldn't even submit it. So, I didn't turn it in. I remember crying over the phone to my dad (who kept saying - just send it in and see what happens!) but I didn't follow his suggestion. The professor who helped me find a Chilean mentor was livid that her networking on my behalf was wasted.

Since then, I've been intimidated by big application processes and definitely felt the weight of imposter syndrome. I mentioned this story to my fellowship mentor over email and here was her reply:

"Especially with fellowship writing, imposter syndrome always seems to rear its ugly head and make us doubt ourselves. My best advice is that you can't succeed unless you try and why not you? You will get far more rejections in grants and fellowships than you will awards, but the writing process helps us tremendously and all we need is one agency to say yes.”

With my mentor's support and following through on my timeline, I was able to submit my first large application.  I'm currently working on an NIH F32 postdoc application and feel much more prepared and willing to 'throw my hat in the ring,' because, like my mentor said, why not me?

What does it mean to be successful? There is so much pressure in graduate school to get funded, to get published, to get the conference presentation accepted. But in the OFCE, we believe success is exactly what the students above described – getting one page written, one draft completed, and steadily moving toward “throwing your hat in the ring.” We are here to help and we hope you can join us this summer.