Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Fulbright

So now I've gotten you excited about the Fulbright right? And you want to know more about what it is and how to apply, right? Of course you do. I'll explain it for you in the best way I can.

First things first: if you are really interested in the Fulbright program, go to their website
They have more useful information than anyone could possibly use, so go explore. Also, if you're looking for specific information, use their website. I'm just going to give a quick run-down.

What is the Fulbright?

The Fulbright Program is about exchanging students/teachers/professionals between the US and countries around the world for the benefit of everybody involved. It's named after the US Senator who came up with it, J. William Fulbright. Thank you very much Mr. Fulbright, I'm going to have a blast. Anyway, the Fulbright US Student Program really represents two possibilities: a Study/Research Grant or an English Teaching Assistantship. They are just what they sound like. A grant allows you to go to a foreign country and study or do research or a combination of both. {This is what I was awarded. I'll be mostly doing research and possibly sitting in on a few lectures as the opportunity arises.} An ETA sends you to a foreign country to teach English. Different countries support different numbers of each type depending on their own available funding and desires. Your chances of success vary depending on which country you apply to and for what type of Fulbright, but in any case, it's highly competitive.

How does the application process work?

For both, you're going to need the usual assortment of paperwork (resume, transcript, recommendation letters, etc), as well as some long essays. With the research proposal, you find an affiliation and you need to write out a Grant Proposal outlining exactly what you plan on doing, why, and how you are qualified to pull it off. With an ETA, you apply to a country with a Statement of Purpose explaining why you want to do this, and then they decide where they want you to teach. They both also require a Personal Statement, my nemesis. Honestly, who decided writing a page-long explanation of your life and goals was a good idea? Yuck. Get started early, really early, because everything takes a long time and it's not an easy application. After you make it through that application, you will go through some form of on-campus evaluation. Unlike some other national fellowships, the Fulbright does not limit the number of candidates a campus can support, and in fact it does not even require that you have the backing of your school. It certainly helps though. I personally felt that the campus interview process was very helpful; you get a new set of eyes on your application and a lot of really sound advice. Once you've done your final edits, you submit the whole thing online to the US Fulbright Committee who goes through and judges all the applications to each country. There's no hard and fast rule, but according to rumor/the internet, the number of Finalists is about double the number of grants or ETAs they plan on awarding. The Finalists are announced, and in the meantime the applications are sent to their respective countries' committees who make the final decisions about who is going to get a grant. That's the process, more or less, and it's lot of waiting. I'm not patient so it was torture for me, but maybe you're more virtuous than I am.

What do they look for?

Well, it's difficult to give specifics. Generally, they want great students who are passionate about their goals. With a grant, you need to be able to describe in detail what you plan on doing. They want to see that you have a plan for the next year; winging it is just not going to fly (heehee). It's also important to show that there is a need to go abroad, and specifically to the country and location you're applying for. If your project could just as easily be done in the US, why would they pay for you to go to a foreign country? As an example, my research project could be done in the US, but the CRISMAT lab in France offers me a unique opportunity. The CRISMAT lab is devoted to crystallography and materials science, whereas the equivalent American national labs tend to be based on region rather than subject matter. Thus, by working over there, I'm going to be in a situation I just couldn't have in the US. Other aspects the Fulbright committee looks for are larger impact and community interaction. If the results of your project are not going to impact anyone besides you, then why would someone else pay for it? Community interaction is a big part of the Fulbright's goals for cultural exchange so you need to explain how you plan on getting involved in your community.

How did you even get started on all this?

That is a good question. I am admittedly a nerd and something of an over-achiever occasionally. My freshman year, USC's Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs gave out a calender of their workshops, and I was immediately interested in the Fulbright. Any possibility of going abroad was going to interest me, and the ability to do research at the same time was enough to hook me. Since that workshop, the Fulbright has been a dream of mine, although for most of college it was a dream that sat on a shelf waiting for me to become an upperclassman. I had been thinking about, and assuming I would apply for, the Fulbright for so long in fact, that when I went to the Fulbright workshop again my junior year, I was initially surprised when I suddenly realized I'm not a typical applicant for the Fulbright. I naturally think of the sciences when I hear the words research grant, but of course in reality the Fulbright naturally attracts more people from the humanities and the social sciences, especially in Europe. It dawned on me more and more as I worked on my application that where I was almost too well-rounded (and not science-y enough) for some of my other fellowship applications, I needed to emphasize my non-science side in my personal statement and the human impact portions of my grant proposal. My research is very interesting (to me at least) and I think it will have a great impact on humanity, but it's not as straight forwardly humanitarian as someone who plans on researching cures to children's cancer. In fact, not to put too great a point on it, there were a couple times when I was working on the application that I had to consult the OFSP about what to do, because I had some science thing that just didn't gel with the format which was clearly designed with the humanities in mind. It's not that a Fulbright in the sciences is unusual, it's just the majority of applicants come from outside the physical sciences.

Who are these OFSP people you keep mentioning?

Ok well if you don't go to USC, I can't help you. I can only say that if you attend a reasonably sized university, you probably have something similar. There is probably at least someone on campus with some experience with national fellowships. If you are a Gamecock, a) good for you, and b) go visit them. Conveniently located on the Horseshoe in the same building as Undergraduate Research and Study Abroad, the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs should go on your must-visit list. They are incredibly helpful, and you couldn't ask for nicer people. And you don't need an appointment. Just go visit them. They do a lot of things, but they are who you need to see if you want to apply for a national fellowship, like the Fulbright. They can help you find scholarships that match your interests, everything from the really big ones, to maybe some that you haven't heard of but that offer money for something you want to do. Once you know what you want to apply for, they will help you with everything from figuring out who to ask for a recommendation letter to reading over essay drafts. They've even been known to overnight a transcript in an emergency. They want everyone to succeed, and they know every trick in the trade. Seriously, don't wait until your senior year; go now and at least meet some nice people. Anyone can go; they don't just work with scholarship winners or even just undergrads. So since you fall in the 'anyone' category, go visit them.

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