Applicants for nationally competitive fellowships are often focused on the financial benefits of the award, and may overlook the funders’ larger purpose: To nurture a community of scholars devoted to advancing the program’s research goals. To develop that community, funders seek fellows who will engage with one another, and with former fellows, by networking and collaborating to advance the scholarly literature, and who will act as ambassadors to represent the fellowship program in all their professional and academic engagements. Understanding this element of a fellowship funder’s perspective can allow forward-thinking graduate students to plan ahead to craft a more competitive future application.
When considering a fellowship program, learn everything you can about the program’s goals, eligibility requirements, and benefits. Then, go deeper: Many award program websites have lists of current and former fellows, sometimes with titles, abstracts, or synopses of their research projects. Consider the ways in which your work intersects with the questions and arguments posited by the fellows. Select a few fellows whose work seems especially relevant to your research, and search for their publications within the scholarly literature as a jumping-off point for your bibliography and literature review. Consider joining professional organizations affiliated with the fellowship program or with other fellows, and attend conferences or meetings offered by those organizations, to build a C.V. that casts you as the type of scholar your fellowship program is seeking.
Casting yourself as a scholar during the application process is an art that goes beyond C.V. building and citing appropriate relevant literature. You will want to demonstrate your desire to be a member of the community of fellows cultivated by the program. What will the networking opportunities offered by fellowship, such as fellows conferences or online forums, do to advance your research and career? How will you engage with and contribute to the ongoing discussion within the community? Also, remember to keep all your interactions with the fellowship program polite and professional- even I.T. staff who help you with the online application system often relay their interactions with you to the program officer, whose insights may have sway over the award decision process. The level of professionalism that you present in your interactions with fellowship program administrators will signal to them whether or not you would be a good representative of their program.
Rutgers graduate students can visit the Application Advice section of the GradFund Knowledgebase for more advice on applying for fellowships at specific stages of a graduate program. Or, schedule an individual meeting with GradFund at any time for help at any stage of the planning or application-writing process!