SPEAKER 1: Make good use of your time. So thank you for coming. I'm going to talk for what I hope is only about 30 to 40 minutes, and leave plenty of time for questions. If there are real pertinent things or things that need to be clarified while I'm talking, go ahead and feel free to raise your hand. I'm glad you're here, because you already know that it's very advantageous to you and to your field, and even your fellow graduate students, to apply for external funding for graduate fellowships that are offered by the government, by corporations, by nonprofit agencies.
How many of you think that you will finish your graduate degree in fewer years than you're actually been given funding for? Yeah, that never happens, does it? How many you think you will finish the minute your funding runs out? Congratulations. How many of you think that you may, at some point, need some additional funding beyond what you were offered in your admissions package, your admissions letter? Join the club. It's a very large club. For most of us as graduate students, we need to seek funding, even when everything goes as planned in our graduate program. And often, that doesn't happen.
So you benefit yourself by getting external funds. There are a number of fellowships that are considered very prestigious. How many of you have applied in a previous year or will apply this year from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship? Very prestigious. From the minute you say you're an NSF fellow, we just gasp and say, this person is brilliant. So there are a number of fellowships like that that are very prestigious. When you can put that on your CV, even when you go on the job market, for whatever kind of position, people will notice that.
And it's true that getting money brings more money. I'm always surprised when I see people get an NSF, and then the next year and the next year and the next year. Whenever they apply for something else, the money seems to roll in. It seems a little unfair, right? Those who have just get more. But there are a number of fellowships that are very prestigious.
You're not just helping yourself. How many of you work in a lab or you work with a faculty member who funds his or her own students? When any one of the students in the lab, in the team, get external funding, it means there's more money left for somebody else. And while you want to get your fellowship for yourself, there may be a year when you no longer have funding and another graduate student brings in their own funding, and then there's money left over for you. So this purpose of the greater good can serve you even in years when you don't get a fellowship.
Can you think of any other reasons? Oh, I forgot to mention, many of you who work in a PI's lab, you're funded by a faculty member, you're doing research very much aligned with what the faculty member is doing. But for graduate students who bring in their own funding, it gives you some independence. You may be able to do a research project that's a little bit different from what your PI is doing. You may be able to propose different questions, use different methodologies than the PI's funding from NIH or NSF or another source allows. And so you can move toward greater independence in your research when you have your own research dollars.
Now, have I left anything off this list? Can you think of any other reason you want to get an external award? Oh, I thought of another one. Some of them come with a lot of money. You know, stipends in the $32,000 range, $32,000 a year. NSF, for example, you get three years of funding that you can spread out over five years. So you can use it in connection with Cornell funding, field funding, other funding that you may have.
So there's some flexibility that comes with some of these awards. And the NSF, for example, does come with access to very large computing resources. Some fellowships, once you get them, then you can apply for other pools of money for international travel or for research equipment. Now can you think of anything else I've left off the list? OK. But you're here for the workshop, so you were already convinced that it would be very smart to get your own funding.
So I'm going to give you at least 10 tips that I want you to consider as you're thinking about and preparing and submitting your application. I'm going to quote Tony Coelho at NIH, who says that you need to have good ideas, good timing, a good proposal, good reviewers, and good writing skills. He also said you have to have good luck. And I think if you focus on all these other things, the luck will come with it.
You need to have good ideas. When you talk about the research you want to do, your reviewers need to see it as this is the next big thing. She's not behind the times, she's not too far ahead of the emerging research that we're not sure that this would even work, but you need to have good ideas at the right time. And your proposal needs to convince the reviewers that you are the person they should give the money to to do this next big thing. Original, substantive, interesting, innovative research. But both original and substantive.
The good timing has to do with it being the next best thing. If I were to read the literature in any of your fields, and if I were to understand it, after reading that literature, I might say, wow, here's the one question that's not answered yet, and the field looks like it's ready for somebody to answer this question. And then I would see that in your proposal.
A good proposal, we're going to talk about the elements of that. Good reviewers. Now, how can you ensure good reviewers? I mean, isn't it kind of the luck of the draw who's going to read your proposal? You're going to make them into good reviewers by writing a proposal that's very clear, very understandable and easy to read, and that brings out not only your interest in the topic, but your real excitement and passion.
And they're going to be excited when they read your proposal, and it's going to go in that stack of, ooh, must fund. Must convince everybody else on the panel to give this person some money. So you're going to make your reviewers into even better reviewers with your proposal. And then good writing skills. I have a handout back here that focuses on some of the writing resources we have for graduate students and professional students on campus, but we'll also talk more about that.
I do want to tell you the one sure way not to get funded. Does anybody know what that is? Don't apply. Fail to apply. Miss a deadline. Fail to do something to let you have a chance. I mean, there are fellowship competitions here on campus, so there are some internal fellowship competitions, where 50% of the proposals get funded, on average, every year. Those are pretty good odds. Now, there are other fellowship competitions where there may be 2,000 winners, but that's out of 10,000 to 15,000 applications. But the one way to have zero chance of getting funded is not to apply at all.
So tip number one, make a strategic plan. If you know that you have an NSF deadline, a deadline for any of the other-- I started to say Fulbright, but that deadline has passed for the year-- a deadline for any fellowship competition, make yourself a list of everything that you will need to do, and begin to schedule it. What I've inserted here is just the list that I made the last time I wrote a proposal for funding. What is not included, because I had to make it fit on a slide, is the fact that I showed what I would be doing for the next 12 months.
And I do encourage you, once you start looking for and identifying fellowship competitions that you would be eligible for, is to begin thinking about these a year in advance. I know, I've talked to graduate students who the night before the deadline started and finished, and wrote a fellowship application, and you can do that. But that does not increase the probability that you'll get funded by waiting until the last minute. So give yourself plenty of time, even if it means you're beginning to think about this a year in advance. Get you a schedule in what you will do, with steps along the way.
And I always say, those things that are out of your control, such as getting letters of support, letters of reference from faculty, you need to start even earlier on. Months in advance, if you can. Many weeks in advance. And I will also say, if you have a November 1st deadline, go ahead and tell your faculty members that the deadline is October 25th, just to encourage them to get it done on time, and even early.
So make a plan listing all of the steps and all of the requirements that you will have to meet, including the deadline. And I always say don't wait until the deadline to apply, because most applications now are submitted online. And when NSF has 12,000 applications coming in, the system can slow down. They have a process called Fast Lane, but sometimes Fast Lane is not so fast when thousands of applications are coming in. And you don't want to be the one who has the glitch at 11:45 PM trying to meet a midnight deadline. So I think this strategic plan with your schedule and your calendar will help you meet all the requirements and meet the deadline even in advance.
How many of you have already started to identify fellowship competitions that you want to apply for at some point? How many of you have used the graduate school's Searchable Fellowship Database? I think I have a picture of that here. Go online. It allows you to search by your discipline, by certain demographic categories, by citizenship status. You can even type in key words, if you feel like you have a very esoteric topic. But search for these fellowship-- or look at a Searchable Fellowship Database and pull up all the information that you can.
You have in your handout, as well, a list of these other institutions and places that have open access to their searchable fellowship databases. So if you have time, once you've searched Cornell, go to Duke or Columbia or University of Chicago, and see if you find something that they have found that we haven't found yet. I can't believe that would be possible, but you can look.
Search for these. Make a list. Make a list in terms of priority and deadline, because once you draft a fellowship application and you have this template of sorts, then that's when students can apply for 5 and 10 and 15 fellowship competitions a year, if they find that many, with ease, because you're simply modifying what you've written for the first one for the subsequent applications.
Let me suggest you also identify some funding sources that are common funders of research in your field and get on their listserv, because then you will get announcements into your email inbox. You will find out about any change of criteria, or even change of deadlines. That seldom happens, but the federal government occasionally, during periods of natural disaster, may change a deadline. If the Northeast has been in a blackout for three days, of course you won't have the internet access to know that, but somebody can tell you who has access. So get on the listserv of these funding organizations, because they will send you information that can be very valuable.
When I was in graduate school, every time I read an article in my area of research, the first thing I did was I jumped down to the bottom to see who had funded that research. And I kept a list. Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, NIH, NSF. And if they were funding research on this, and this was what my area was, then I knew they were a possible source of funding. So you also want to look at what the advanced students in your field, in your discipline, what the faculty, who they have received funding from. And then those are natural places for you to begin your search to look for funding opportunities for you.
Third tip is know when to apply. And this isn't about the deadline, although the deadline is very critical, because for an agency or a foundation that gets 10,000 applications, you can imagine the first thing they're looking for is can we reduce that number so we only read 9,500. And if the last 500 that rolled in-- of course, with electronic submission, access to submit is cut off. But if you miss the deadline, then you're not considered. I don't know of any fellowship competition that gets so few applications that they have to just keep letting people continue to submit those applications.
But this is really not about the deadline. To begin to categorize kind of fellowships, there are at least three very general categories. One is pre-dissertation fellowships. Then there are dissertation research fellowships, and then there are dissertation completion fellowships. Again, the National Science Foundation is a good example, but there are others of pre-dissertation fellowships.
NSF doesn't really fund your research. They're looking for outstanding graduate students with great potential, and they just want to fund you. With NSF, you can actually be funded for one project in your first year of graduate school. And then if, in your second or third year, you say this is no longer where my interest is, or I've changed advisors, or I've even changed institutions, many of the external fellowships are portable. You can take them with you if you change labs, change fields, change schools.
But NSF, along with other pre-dissertation fellowships, will fund you. They're not funding your research. So you can change your research topic. You write to NSF. You let them know. And as long as you're not moving your research into an ineligible field, then they will continue to fund you with a brand-new question, brand-new topic, even in a brand-new lab at a brand-new school.
So for those of you-- I don't know if there are any of you who are seniors in college, but there are a number of graduate fellowships out there that you can apply for when you're a senior, including the NSF, and you can apply in your first or second year of graduate school. And so they are funding you and the potential they see in you to successfully complete your research, your degree.
There are dissertation fellowships. And this is probably what you know more about, you find more of, because there are more of these, places that want to fund you for the specific research you're doing so that you know by their name, by their reputation, by what's on their website that they want to fund research in the biomedical sciences, on children and violence, on family function and dysfunction.
I mean, they have a mission, a very clearly stated purpose, and your proposed research, your work has to fall within a narrower definition than, say, a Fulbright, or even an NSF, which still has a long list of eligible fields. So this is where you're becoming competitive for the reason that you have a great research idea. You have a great lab to do the research in, you have a great PI who will mentor you, and you have the reasonable environment and resources and mentoring to be successful doing that research.
And then there are some dissertation completion fellowships. How many of you in the humanities? There are a number of these that, if your advisor will attest that you will finish in the next 12 months, then you are eligible to apply for this fellowship. But you really do have to finish in the next 12 months, because a number of them will say, when this fellowship is awarded to you, your institution has to sign on the line that they're not going to fund you after this year.
So the pressure is really on to use this last year of funding. I know a student who got one of these in her fifth year, which was really early, given her field. It was one of the humanities fields. She almost got finished, the job market was not good that year, and she wanted to stay on for her sixth year, which still was finishing soon in that particular field.
But because she had gotten a dissertation completion fellowship that required the university to say no more funding will be made available to the student once you give her a dissertation completion fellowship, she was really out of luck on staying past that fifth year. So this is why you read carefully and know what's going to be in the fine print, but also you know when to apply. You apply for a dissertation completion fellowship if you really are going to complete.
There's one foundation that I don't think they tell you this when you apply, but if you do finish in 12 months, they give you a little bonus at the end. And I guess that's to help you with the transition, the job search, the transition, and moving to the next job. So it's about more than just being competitive. It's knowing if this fellowship is funding you as a student early on, as a researcher at the dissertation research stage, or as a writer who's going to complete in that year that you have the funding. Any questions?
OK, my fourth tip is to read the RFA, the request for applications, also called the RFP, the request for proposals, which is literally just the instructions for completing and submitting your fellowship application. Read it very thoroughly. I mean, when I first wrote my graduate fellowship application, and then later, as a faculty member, when I was writing proposals for funding for research as a faculty member, was actually surprised how easy it was to write one of these, because they tell you, the RFA, the RFP tells you everything you need to do, and the order in which you need to do it, and the font size you need to use, and the number of words it needs to be.
And it's really, if you're good at following instructions, it's actually quite easy. What you have to do is read it thoroughly, make sure you understand it and there's nothing questionable for you, there's nothing you're not sure about, and then you follow the instructions. Because if you don't, this is probably certainly the first reason that fellowship applications aren't funded, because they really can remove you from the pool of people they're considering to award money to if you've not followed the instructions.
I suggest that you look at others' proposals. Successful ones, but I think we also learn something from those that have not been successful. For example, I keep using National Science Foundation. They get 12,000 applications a year. They got 12,000 last year. We'll see how many they get this year. But they send a set of reviews, at least two sets of reviews-- reviews, comments from at least two reviewers, sometimes three, to everybody who applies. So even when you've not been successful, you get comments. That's a little unusual.
There are a lot of fellowship competitions that don't take the time to send you, to return to you with, whether you've been awarded the funds or not, a set of comments. And NSF is one that you can apply for three different times-- senior year in college, first year in graduate school, and first semester of your second year in graduate school. So you could actually apply three times, meaning that, by that third time, you've got two sets of comments on this proposal.
And so if you can find proposals that other people in your field have written and are willing to share with you-- how many of you know that your field keeps those files? Somebody told me we have a set in the graduate school. I didn't realize that. So stop by. It's in the first floor of Caldwell Hall. Some of the links that are in your handout include links to online fellowship applications. And today anymore, a search of the web, a lot of graduate students are really pleased with the success of their fellowship writing, and they will post those. So there are ways to find these other applications, and I suggest you read them.
The one caution, NSF, for example, changed some of their guidelines and criteria from last year to this year. So when you're reading a proposal from a previous year, don't be sidetracked if they were using a different set of instructions. And this can be true for any fellowship application. Make sure that you understand the difference between what was expected when someone in a previous year wrote theirs and what you're writing.
I've also given you this link in one of your slides. This is a site where I have put up some links to sample fellowship application, with the approval, with the permission of the authors of those applications. So you have that in your handout. If you picked up a pencil back there, this website is on the pencil, too.
OK, tip number six, review the website of the funding agency. Now, this goes beyond just the proposal that you've read very thoroughly to make sure you haven't missed anything. When I worked at Northwestern University, I sent in a proposal for some funding to the US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Research Integrity. And to be a very careful reader of the request for proposals, I printed it out. I did not know that my printer had run out of paper, and so I didn't know there was a sixth page.
So I actually failed to put something in my budget. Now, this was a more flex-- maybe this is not a good example to share with you. This was a very flexible funding agency, and later, when they ask all of the people who got funded that year to come present our research at a conference, they made reference to the fact that, in our budget, we should have put in conference travel, and I had not. And they said fine, if you've got money left over, use the money to travel to the conference to present your research. So that's not a good example. That hardly ever happens.
But you're reading the instructions of the application, but I encourage you to also go to the website, because for example, if you only look at the NSF application instructions, you may miss the fact that, on a separate page, they have a checklist all prepared for you so that you can just check off everything that you must do. So you don't have to do your own strategic plan, you can use NSF's checklist.
They also have tips for writing an NSF application. And although I find this is a little bit harder to find, NSF has an institutional list on their website. And if you click on Cornell, it will give you the names of faculty member here who are available to answer your questions and help you with your application. I guess the caveat is depending on how many requests they get. And maybe that's why it's a little bit harder to find it. But if you look through the website of the agency or the foundation or the corporation that you are applying to for your funding, you may find all sorts of other helpful information.
The other thing you find is what they are really interested in. And some foundations actually want you to use bits and pieces of what they say is their mission or what they say is their priority funding area. And so you want to determine what are those key words. So if I'm applying to the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation or if I'm applying to the philanthropic arm of Levi Strauss-- you know Levi Strauss, blue jeans, who know that they actually have a philanthropic foundation associated with them?
And when you read through their website, if you are doing research on child care policy issues, if you are looking at helping employees, particularly female employees, with work/life balance issues, then there may be funding from Levi for you. So read through the website. Look for the words that are really key to what they're interested in. And if that is also your interest area, you can craft a statement that will really excite them.
Also, do ask questions. My caveat here is don't ask a question of anyone that you can find on the website, that you can find in web materials, in printed materials, someplace else. That looks like you haven't done a thorough job. But almost every place where you would be applying for money has somebody, usually called a program officer. The program officer's job is to give away this money.
If this person doesn't give away all the money to be given away, then they're not doing their job. And they actually enjoy talking with people who are doing research in the area that they have money to fund. I mean, they really do want to identify the graduate students who are going to become the hot shots in the field. And they want early association with the top scholars, the top scientists, the top researchers in the country. And if they can find you and identify you as a graduate student, so much better for them.
Now, I will say a place like NSF or Fulbright that gets thousands of applications may not be as quick in responding to your emails or your phone calls, but both Fulbright and NSF have phone numbers and emails right on their website for you to contact somebody with a question. And even though I used Fulbright as an example of a place that get lots of applications, Fulbright awards are made by country, of course. And I had a student in my office at Columbia who wanted to go to Vietnam. And I just happened to be contacted by the program officer at Fulbright for Vietnam.
And she said, we don't get enough applications. If you know of anybody, she said I want to come talk to you. I want to come to Columbia and talk to you. I said, well, would you be interested in talking to a student? So I e-mailed him, they sat in my office and talked, and she was thrilled to have time with and face-to-face conversation with somebody who was interested as a Fulbrighter to apply to go to Vietnam. And there are smaller agencies and foundations who really will spend a lot of time with you talking through your proposal.
And like I said, you can ask questions of the program officer. Be sure you're not asking a question whose answer is found on the website, because that makes it look like you've not done enough homework and you may be wasting their time. But if you have questions about your eligibility, about the appropriateness of your research idea for their research funding mission, by all means, call and have a substantive conversation.
And it's these substantive questions-- and you may find people who will be very interested in your research, particularly if you're doing something substantive, interesting, innovative, and novel. And they will be very glad to have found you, and it may be the beginning of a funding relationship that starts with you as a student, but continues when you become a faculty member.
Tip number seven. This almost goes without saying, write your application following the guidelines. They give you no exceptions. I said the first point at which you can be excluded by the reviewers is if you didn't follow the guidelines. Too many pages, too many words, too much of something or too little of something. Certainly, you need to meet the deadline.
Tip number eight is start early enough that you can ask people to read your application and give you feedback. Certainly, your graduate student peers, your faculty-- but you know, you need to give it to them before the night before, weeks before, if not months, before, and get their feedback. If your parents are not tired of hearing you talk about what you're doing in graduate school or if your parents don't understand what you're doing in graduate school, as perhaps mine still don't, and I've been out of graduate school a long time. Ask your parents to read it, your friends, your significant other.
Now, why this latter audience? I mean, which of these, among your peers, your faculty, your parents, your significant other, which of these readers may be more like your reviewers? It depends on the agency or foundation you're applying to. But in many cases, the people who read your application may not be experts in your field, subfield, your narrow field of research. I promise you they will be brilliant people. So give your application to brilliant people to read. But I count your parents because you're here. Your parents have to be brilliant, right? Your significant other, your friends, give your application to a number of people to read.
And one of the things that I have noticed in working over the years with graduate students, when a student might give me a fellowship application that I don't really understand and I'm not sure where they're going with this and not even sure where their passion and excitement is, if I'm then meeting with them, I'll say, tell me about your research. And the student will start talking. And then I might ask a question, and they'll answer the question. I think, for most of us, we can talk about our research in ways that are maybe more clear, more coherent, and more passionate than when we write about it.
And in fact, at Columbia, where I worked for seven years, one of my colleagues, he and I would sit in a room every Thursday afternoon for the month of September, and we were a walk-in fellowship consulting service. And I could hear him typing away. And what is he doing typing for these students? And what he was doing is he was asking students questions. He was writing down exactly what they would say, and then he'd print it or email it to them and say, now start your draft from this.
This has the clear, coherent, significant ideas and the passion that I don't see when you sent me your first draft. So if you are giving people your application to read, and they will also sit with you and give you their feedback and ask you questions and let you answer questions, I think it will clarify your thinking in ways that just writing does not. I mean, I think writing about your ideas clarifies your thinking, but talking about them does, too.
Maybe it's because I don't have a lot of friends, but I do this talking about my research just out loud to myself. And I will have dialogues with myself, as if I'm talking about my research. Every article I ever got published before I came up for tenure I had presented at a conference, and I'd found that talking about it-- and I'm in a field where we don't read papers, but talking about my research then allowed me to go and write about it.
And every single one of those conference presentations got published. And I find that talking about it, talking it out, even if there's no one there to listen, can help. So if you're stuck with your writing, or the writing doesn't sound as exciting on paper as it does in your head and your heart, talk to somebody about it. But use these colleagues. Use even your family.
And then after you do that, revise. Revise and edit. If you've started early enough, you can do this, and you can come up with a very good fellowship application. In fact, the program officer, the division director at the National Science Foundation says that the number one reason that she thinks graduate students' fellowship applications are not competitive is they didn't start soon enough to take the time to go through multiple drafts.
Now, she is a longtime faculty member in the life sciences, but since she has been working at NSF, where she is seeing thousands of these every year, she's come to the conclusion that most students don't start early enough. She knows that she's getting a first or second draft when students submit an application. She doesn't see the third or fourth or fifth draft.
And if faculty have kept this a secret from you, many faculty will report going through 15 drafts. I think 31's the record, when a faculty member told me they went through 31 drafts before they got something published. I think we sometimes keep that as a secret from students, making you think that we can get published and we can get funded on the first draft. We can't. And so I suggest you don't try that, either.
Tony Coelho at NIH also says, write for yourself if you're funding it yourself. But if you really want NSF or Fulbright or any one of the number of other funding agencies out there to fund it, think about your audience. They may not be specialists in your subfield. They may be specialists in a broader field, or they may actually be just brilliant people who've been called in to read these applications. This is often what happens when you're applying to a private foundation. They will call in a board of directors, brilliant people who are very interested in this topic, but they may not have been trained in your field. So you want to think about your audience as you're writing this.
Now, your proposal is more likely to be successful if you have met all the technical requirements and specifications. That's probably been clear. Your ideas and your work, particularly if you're talking about your research, are original, interesting, innovative, substantive, significant. Of course, your writing needs to be strong, clear, concise.
And related to that, I hadn't even thought about telling you this, one of the things that I see in a lot of graduate student fellowship applications is a hesitancy. The difference between the way graduate students write and faculty write about their research is a graduate student may say "my project intends to focus on the concept of," and then you get to your research. If you're reading a faculty proposal, "I study children's moral development. I research children's social cognition."
You see the strength, the ownership there. And I bet if I took the drafts that you all have right now, or if you exchanged drafts today, you might find an example of that in your writing. You're being tentative. You're distancing yourself by six or seven or eight words between "I" and what my research really is. In case the research not that good, then maybe you can, you know, say, well, there are all these words between me and my research, it's a distancing I'm doing.
Don't do that. You know, own your research. I study, I research. Don't make it tentative. And don't make it sound like something that you will get around to. I'm sure you're doing something right now, and maybe even as an undergraduate or a graduate student last year. You have data, you were involved in a research project. But show ownership of that research.
Your proposal needs to be written for the intended audience, and reading previous proposals can help you get a sense of that tone and that approach to use. If you are writing a dissertation research proposal, not a pre-dissertation proposal, but to fund your research, and if they're asking you for a budget, make sure it's a reasonable budget. A lot of fellowship application competitions don't ask you for that. They're going to give you $22,000, or they're going to give you $25,000.
And even if you show a budget that you only need 18, they're probably going to give you 22,000, whatever their standard amount is. So not all graduate fellowship applications will include this, and you may not have to worry about the budget. But you do need to demonstrate that you are going to be able to pull this off, whatever you're proposing to do, even the early-stage fellowship applications. NSF requires that you talk about some research question or topic.
Not in the same way you would talk about it in your third year or your fourth year or your fifth year, but they do require you to talk about your previous research experience and what you intend to do, even if that changes. And so make sure it's very reasonable, that somebody is reading this, if you tend to be overly ambitious-- I mean, you're in an Ivy League graduate school, you probably are, in some ways, overly ambitious-- but make sure that you can convince the reviewers that you can actually do what you're proposing to do.
What characterizes unsuccessful proposals? Not having an interesting idea. Having an idea, but the anticipated outcome wouldn't really be that significant or groundbreaking. Proposing to do something at an institution that doesn't have the faculty mentors or the lab resources or equipment for you to complete that research. You know, a lot of NIH proposals are not funded because of the weak faculty, advisor, or mentor. I don't think that happens at places like Cornell, but you need to be sure you're writing about something in a way that it shows that you're in the right place and the right program to do this.
And there will be somebody at the agency or among the panel of reviewers who will know something about Cornell. Maybe not Middle Tennessee State University. Anybody from Tennessee? OK. I don't want anybody to feel like I'm being dismissive of smaller schools, but there'll probably be somebody who knows Cornell and knows what a great school it is, so I doubt that will happen to you as any of your weaknesses.
So on your handout, there are some links here to an overview of writing successful fellowship applications. There's a template. I asked before we got started, how many of you were very experienced application writers? Nobody admitted to that. Some of you said you had written one or two. But if you are writing your first one, go to this fellowship template-- it's about six or seven or eight questions-- and just answer the questions.
Once you answer those questions, you will have a first draft of almost any fellowship application that's out there. And I find that, when I'm writing for a deadline, I get very nervous. And if you just take this fellowship template tonight and just answer these questions, the pressure will be off. You haven't even identified, perhaps, a competition, but you will have your first draft by just answering these questions. And then there's some additional resources listed that you can click on, links to fellowship applications.
Let me just mention that on Thursday, October 20th, from noon to 1:30, we'll do come-and-go Q&A session. By then, for those of you who want to apply to a fellowship this year, you should be well on your way to having identified something, and you may even have a draft. You're welcome to bring your draft with you to that session in about three weeks.
But if you've done enough homework that you have questions and we, in the graduate school, can help you, stop by during this time, and we'll answer your questions. If you can't stop by, you can email, but again, this depends on how many people email. But I thought this might be, particularly if some of your questions are generalizable, that in small groups, not just individual Q&A, but in small groups we can talk and discuss writing a fellowship application.
And then the next week, by Wednesday October 23rd, the price of admission to this session, we'll actually workshop your fellowship application. I have a two-page list of what a reviewer might look for when they read your application. And I can give you this list and you can read through your application, or, depending on how many people are there, we can exchange applications, or I'll read as many during this hour and a half as I can, and give you feedback. But there'll be somebody in the room who will read your application. If you don't want anybody to read it, you can read it using this checklist. But we can also post this checklist online in case you can't come to this session. Let's see.
So what questions do you have before you run out and start writing a fellowship application?
AUDIENCE: For the class applications where you wanted a specific proposal. How specific, I guess [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 1: So the question is, how specific? Particularly, if you're a first year, even second year graduate student, how specific does your research description have to be? And I'll answer using the NSF as an example, and this will generalize to some others. If you've previously engaged in research, they really want to know about that.
Specifically, what was your role? I mean, maybe you were part of a team as an undergraduate that discovered a cure for cancer, or how to eat Haagen-Dazs ice cream without putting on calories. Not that those are equal, but some days, we want to know the answers to both.
They want to know not just that this was successful and you worked for a famous person who had lots of funding. But what did you specifically do? Because from that, they're going to extrapolate, how much do you know about research? How ready are you to start your own research?
Because they want to fund you, because they know that very soon, you're going to be doing wonderful things. So you're going to write about this. Never make a-- this is another mistake that sometimes we make with fellowship applications. Never make a fellowship application where you have an opportunity to write a statement, a research statement, a personal statement. Never make it a list of what you've done, because that should be somewhere else in the application and on your CV.
You may or may not be asked to attach the CV. But there will be questions on that application, list publications or list research experience. You want to write about that research in a way, previous research you've done and even research that you think you want to do in a way that they see who you are as a person. They see your potential, your promise, your excitement, and your knowledge.
But I think those other things are just as important as how much you know. Because really, in a 500 word, 1,000 word, two page essay, I mean, how much knowledge can you really put out there? But it's really that intersection between the knowledge and what you're going to do to move that knowledge forward.
So talk about the previous research you've had, focusing on what your role was. Because many of you as undergraduates probably did research in a lab or in a team. Maybe not a lot of individual research, so talk about your role and what your contribution was. But help them to see that you know how to formulate a good question, you know, that next big question that needs to be studied, and that you know how to begin to approach answering that question.
So you're going to talk a little bit about methods, but you're not going to get into a lot of detail. Because most of these applications are only going to give you enough room to do what they ask you to do, only giving you enough room to write about what they really want to see. And that's why reading through the application and reading through the website-- one of the things I didn't mentioned earlier is some of these competitions will actually give you the criteria.
Some of them even tell you, this criteria will be judged for 10% of your final score, this one, 20%. You know, NSF has two criteria. They don't tell you it's 50/50. They will never tell you, but they just say, they're both important.
So look at the website, because they may actually give you a copy of the form that the reviewers are using. But they may give you that rubric, that grid that says, 10% of your score will come from this, and this, and this. And you know exactly what they're looking for. Does that help?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, very much.
AUDIENCE: When it comes to idolizing budgets for fellowships, you mentioned the three main goals to make it realistic. But is there a strategy in terms of what they're looking for? Are they looking for somebody that really needs the money or somebody that's probably going to get done anyway? Like is there any type of strategy in terms of budgeting?
SPEAKER 1: You know, I used to think when I was applying for graduate fellowships that it looked better if I didn't have a lot of other funding, like it looked like I really needed it. But once I became a faculty member, and then once I started working in the graduate school, I realized that once you get funding, you are more attractive to other people that will fund you. So I would never let the fact that you have other funding-- I mean, the fact that somebody else thought you were good enough makes the next potential funder think, oh, well, if NSF thought she was good enough, we want to get on this bandwagon.
I don't quite understand that, because I guess part of me thinks, we should give the money to the people who really need it. But there's something about that once you get money, you look more attractive to other people. Now this is a specific question about showing in your budget what you need. I mean, be realistic. Don't pad your budget. People know what plane tickets-- Fulbright asks for a budget, right? They don't?
SPEAKER 1: Oh, OK, but a number of fellowship applications will ask for-- some of them, they will ask for a budget. Don't pad it, and the thing you need to-- how many of you know that at Cornell, if you apply for an external award, and you win it-- you know, we want you to accept it. But if the stipend is less than you would be getting from your faculty, your field, or from the graduate school, or from your teaching assistantship, in most cases, we will top it up. We will supplement it.
The phrase I hear here is we'll make it whole, meaning, if you get an $18,000 award and you would have gotten $22,000 otherwise, we will supplement it. So you don't have to turn it down as long as the award that you win is 50% of the stipend and 50% of the health insurance costs that we would have been paying for you. Because it's to our advantage to top you off, to supplement you, and have you take the external money. So did I answer that question to some degree? What are the questions you have?
AUDIENCE: I just want to clarify. October 20 is a Sunday, so is it Thursday, October 10?
SPEAKER 1: The 23rd is a Wednesday. Let's count backward to the previous Thursday, 23, 22. That's probably when it is, but we'll send out an announcement. Well, let's see. Sunday, I might have more time on Sunday. No, we'll do it on that Thursday, and it's the week before October 23.
So that would be the 17th. We'll send out an announcement to correct that, but think Thursday, not Sunday. But that's a good question. What else? Oh, come on. I could not have answered all your questions. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: So as a first year graduate student in terms of like letters of recommendation [INAUDIBLE]. I feel like my professor doesn't know me that well, but [INAUDIBLE]. I don't how many letters you're supposed to have.
SPEAKER 1: Are you applying for the NSF? I think a lot-- if you're a first year graduate student, and you can get a strong letter from somebody from your undergrad, if you've done research as an undergraduate, if you can get a letter from a faculty member, that would be good. Because they really know you.
I wouldn't have all the letters from your undergraduate days, unless you were an undergraduate at a school that's even better than Cornell. And there are not many schools like that out there, right? Cornell letters-- well, you said the faculty member doesn't know you as well maybe.
So what are you going to do to help this faculty member get to know you? You're going to write a draft of your application very soon, so you can send it to the person. And the application is your statements. Your two statements that you're writing for NSF are going to be to a stage to a draft that's complete enough that your faculty member will learn more about you by reading that.
Maybe in the email you sent, you want to send some other information, like I know this is an early stage for me to be proposing specifics of research. But in the email, maybe you tell him a little bit more about what excites you, what you're interested in doing. Nobody asked, how can you get a very strong letter of support, a very strong letter of reference for an application for the job market? How do you get a very strong letter?
You ask for a very strong letter. That when you ask somebody if they would write you a letter, you say, can you write me a very strong letter of support? Because you want them saying, yes, to that question, not to, can you write me a letter? And I've seen letters that are written sometimes by somebody who is not a good match. They don't seem to know the student.
They don't seem to know the students research area. So you ask, can you write me a very strong letter of support? And along with that, attach a copy of your current CV or attach a copy of the draft if you already have it. I would suggest asking people to write letters of support for a fellowship application, even before you have a draft. Because they may come back and say, OK, I'm going to be out of town the month before the letter is due. Send me your application by this date, and then you need to send them a draft by that date.
And if you can't do that, you may have to find somebody else to write the letter, the additional three people to write the letter and not use that person. But ask for the letters very early on and then as soon as you can. And you've never had a situation where a faculty member has asked you to write the letter for the faculty member, right? I hope not.
When I was at Northwestern, a student who was applying for a job said, I've asked five faculty to write me letters. And all five faculty have said, draft the letter, and I'll sign it. She said, I can't write five different good letters. Of course, my response was, you shouldn't have to. But you can in an email send the faculty member some bullet points, some language that, if he or she chose to use about you, then it showed what a good match you were for this particular fellowship competition, or how excited you were, or how well poised you were to be funded to do this research.
When I worked in the graduate school at Northwestern, we got students letters, two letters. She had been an intern working in Congress. And if I told you who wrote the two letters, you would recognize the names of these US Congressmen and women, Congress people. But it was the same letter.
Now I didn't really think that they plagiarized from each other, but I did think there was a template floating around the Senate and the House of Representatives. And they didn't change the template enough, so we had two letters that just looked fishy. So you want to provide some language, some bullet points, but you don't want to do it in such a way that they're literally going to use that same language. And then it begins to appear in every letter. And then we question the credibility of the letters, or NSF or Fulbright questions the credibility of the letters. But help your letter writers write good letters. Other questions?
AUDIENCE: Does it look OK if you have worked at a lab for a year, but you worked on a certain post-docs project? So obviously, they [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 1: I think that would be great, because it is true. People start to look at letters from four professors giving them a little bit more credibility than letters from associate professors. And sometimes, we always wonder when assistant professors or graduate teaching assistants are writing letters. If you get to send enough letters, and you really have somebody who's a postdoc or a GTA, but if they can co-sign with somebody else, that would be fantastic.
If the postdoc really knows more about your research and research skills, research abilities, and if a faculty member would be willing to co-sign, because you were working in the faculty members lab, that would be a great way to do it. Other questions before you freeze to death in here? OK, if you think of questions later, you'll email me. Or you'll come to the Q&A session, which I think we determined is on a Thursday. Any last questions?
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Jan Allen, Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs, discusses when, why, and how graduate students should apply for external funding. Sponsored by the Cornell Graduate School.