Introduction and Application Tips from Robert Terrell, Grantee to Germany

Hello UCSD Fulbright applicants! My name is Robert Terrell, and I am a fourth year graduate student in history and a Fulbright recipient for Germany.

My dissertation is about Bavarian beer in the decades following the Second World War. I am following the history of production and consumption from the wreckage of the war and extreme caloric scarcity through the economic boom, the subsequent social and cultural transformations of West German society, and on to the export of beer and the globalization of a particularly (or stereotypically) “German” mode of consumption around the world. I’m trying to speak to a number of debates and historical issues including the political and ideological legacies of National Socialism (Nazism), the nutrition policies of the Allied Occupation; the so-called Economic Miracle; debates about Americanization, Westernization, and European integration in the context of the Cold War; and the many questions around consumerism in late 20th century globalization.

I delayed my grant by a few months for a variety of reasons and have been in Munich since January 2015. My grant will carry me into November. Research has been overwhelming but good. Now a few months in, I feel much more in command of the archives, but it will probably always be a bit overwhelming.

Living in Munich has been fun, but on a practical level it’s also tough. I would advise all applicants and grantees to spend some time getting to know the local housing market. Germany, and Munich especially, is very tough and very expensive. If you get a grant, be sure to contact your respective handlers (I’m not sure what they’re normally called, but here it’s just called the German Fulbright Commission) and see about additional funding for housing. In Germany, they will subsidize your rent a little if it goes over a certain percentage of your income. That’s especially nice somewhere as expensive as Munich.

In general the Fulbright has been very good to me. They let me delay the grant, and they were quick in answering questions of all sorts from health insurance to residence issues to university matriculation. Once I handled all the bureaucratic business of living and working here (which is always a hassle but not the end of the world) receipt of payment was easy and straightforward.

As for applying, write statement drafts way in advance and then ignore them for a while to get a fresh perspective. Above all, I would say to be mindful of your audience. Your application has to go through a number of stages, and at each one the audience is different. Writing for multiple audiences is hard, especially in such a short application. But do the best you can to make your project description as specific yet accessible as possible, and be earnest in your personal statement. I think my personal statement actually really helped me distill my personal motivations in some interesting ways. And I think that probably translated. Avoid the clichés and write honestly. The committees probably won’t remember your name. Give them something else to remember you by.

My best advice for whenever and however you get wherever you’re going is to be mobile! I’ve tried to make a point of taking adventures as often as possible, some small, some large. I bought a bike, which has made my world infinitely better. I went to visit a fellow UCSD grad student in Croatia, I went hiking in the Alps, I visited the historic city of Regensburg, and I’m going to London in a few days for a conference and visit. I’m planning to do a lot more travel and I recommend it. The benefit of being almost anywhere outside of the US is that it’s not hard to go yet somewhere else!

I’ve sent along some pictures as well. The first is looking out on the chalk cliffs of Rügen Island on the Baltic Sea, made famous by the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. The second is Munich’s famous Rathausglockenspiel in the center of the old city. The third is the interior of a Catholic church in Zagreb, Croatia; pretty standard as European Catholic cathedrals go, but beautiful. Rugen


Update from Casey McCoy – What Else do Fulbrighters Get to Do?

Two months remain on my Fulbright grant period in Vienna, Austria. It is hard to believe how quickly the time has passed! In my previous post I noted the value in having so much freedom as a research grantee to work on my research and pursue my interests, both at the university with which I am affiliated and elsewhere. In this post I would like to share some information on some of the other kinds of opportunities that the Fulbright program affords.

Besides the intrinsic benefits of the many events and activities here in Vienna, they have also served to introduce me to the scholarly community across Europe such that I have had the chance to travel to nearby countries to present my own work.

The first weekend I was in Austria I attended a workshop at the university and met a scholar who works in Bratislava, Slovakia (a short 45 minute train trip down the Danube from Vienna!). A few months later, after his kind invitation, I was attending and presenting my research at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, getting to know scholars from across the Czech Republic and Slovakia who were in attendance, and enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the organizers and Bratislava!

Recent appointments at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, have led to the creation of a strong center of research in my field. My local advisor spends part of his time in Munich (a five hour train ride from Vienna) and extended an invitation to me to spend a week meeting the locals (and some old friends!) in January. Although I couldn’t be sneaked into the busy schedule of lectures and workshops at the center, I did have an enjoyable week listening to the great talks, chatting over dinner or the famous Munich brews, and taking a memorable stroll through the famous English Garden with new and old friends.

Most recently, the Austrian-American Fulbright Commission hosted their annual Seminar in American Studies, this year held in Strobl, Austria in the Salzkammergut (the Austria “Lake District”) for the first time. Fulbrighters from the U.S. and from Austria gathered together to hear lectures by some of the U.S. Scholars (professors on Fulbright grants) on topics ranging from Gender in Education and Society to Food in American Culture to The American Theme Park Industry. There was also time for the Americans and Austrians to join together in breakout discussion sessions to discuss transatlanticism, food practices in the U.S. and Austria, and others. It was a great time for “promoting mutual understanding!”

These have been great experiences for me personally, and I think give a good glimpse of what kinds of opportunities can arise during a Fulbright research grant (especially in Europe). I look forward to continuing the relationships with new friends and colleagues, and with my host country in the future!

Update from Casey McCoy – Halfway Through his Stay in Austria

My first semester at the University of Vienna comes to a close at the end of January. It has been an extraordinarily rich experience so far, and I very much look forward to the spring semester. My Fulbright grant is a full research grant to work on my project, “Philosophical Implications of Inflationary Cosmology.” Most of my time has been devoted to this project, but there have been many opportunities to interact with the local academic community and participate in cultural activities sponsored by the Austrian-American Fulbright Commission, the University of Vienna, and the Austrian governmental agency funding my Fulbright-Mach grant, the Austrian Agency for International Cooperation.

One of the greatest personal benefits of the Fulbright grant has been the opportunity to focus full-time on my research project. Besides the valuable time to write, my project has benefited greatly from my interactions with my local academic supervisor, Dr. Richard Dawid, and other contacts made in the local community. A difficulty that I expect many Fulbright research grant recipients face, though, is this very time and freedom. Graduate programs in the U.S. can be fairly structured, with seminars, colloquia, reading groups, advising, and teaching rapidly filling out one’s time. Transitioning to an environment where a lot of this familiar structure at one’s home institution disappears ironically presents a challenge to efficient time management and productivity. With a lot of time on one’s hands, it’s easy to waste a lot of time unproductively! Many anecdotes from my fellow Fulbright scholars support this observation as well.

The solution is obvious in theory, but can be difficult in practice. In the first place, one can replace the familiar events from one’s home institution with similar events at the institution with which one is affiliated. For me, this has included regularly attending one of the lecture series in the Department of Philosophy, and participating in the Vienna Forum for Academic Philosophy.

It is also a great idea to take advantage of the many events sponsored by organizations invested in your presence in the host country. One of the highlight events of this semester was attending a reception at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Vienna, where I had the opportunity to interact with the many people involved in supporting the Fulbright program in Austria, former and future Austrian Fulbrighters, and my fellow U.S. grantees. There have also been many opportunities to take part in cultural and community service activities, such as taking guided tours of the city of Vienna, visiting exhibitions in local museums like the Vienna Museum Karlspatz, attending a traditional ball at the Imperial Palace (waltz lessons included), preparing meals for the homeless, and many others.

Of course, one cannot know about many of these events in advance, but it pays to think ahead before arriving in the host country about how to organize your time. The several months of one’s grant period go by quickly, and it is no good to spend a lot of that time figuring out how to spend the rest of it! Show up with a plan, enforce personal deadlines, etc.

Just be ready to throw the plan away when opportunity comes knocking, as it certainly will!

Casey McCoy will be in Austria Soon!

[Note from FPA: Although Casey isn’t technically on his Fulbright yet, he’s already arrived in Europe so that he can attend a conference before the start of his grant.]

Only a few weeks remain before my arrival in Vienna. Officially, my grant begins on October 1st, which is also the first day of the winter semester at the University of Vienna, but the Austrian-American Educational Commission (AAEC) will be holding a week-long orientation for U.S. grantees in mid-September. The orientation is meant to provide important background information on the program and living in Austria, and to help us get to know one another. There will even be a field trip to the Danube in the beautiful Wachau region on the last day!

There have been many tasks to complete before departure. Besides the usual bureaucratic paperwork to be filled out and signed, items that needed immediate attention included applying for a visa, applying for university enrollment, and arranging travel. The AAEC provided fairly detailed instructions on how to complete these tasks, and it was easy to contact someone if I had questions. The AAEC also runs a helpful message board for people involved with the program. Still, some of these tasks required a fair amount of time, money, and effort.

For university enrollment, Austrian universities require copies of transcripts, photographs, and even a copy of one’s high school diploma. The first couple of things were to be expected and no trouble to get my hands on, but I don’t think I had seen my high school diploma since I received it! My grant also provides some money to defray travel expenses, but unfortunately not enough to cover round-trip airfare from the United States. Arranging overseas accommodations can be potentially difficult, but fortunately an agency of the Austrian government offers visiting researchers housing in dormitories or apartments for reasonable rent. I opted for one of their apartments and was happily able to complete the application and other arrangements entirely via their website and email.

Acquiring a visa was by far the most time-consuming and expensive task. I started the process almost immediately, which was a good idea because of the time it takes to do everything. Among other things, the Austrian government requires a copy of one’s birth certificate; a lengthy form; copies of all pages of one’s passport; proof of housing, financial means, and insurance; and a police clearance letter. Oh, and they want 110 euros, too. The police clearance letter is just a letter from the local law enforcement (San Diego County Sheriff in my case) indicating that one has no police record. It and the birth certificate must also have apostilles, certifications like notarizations that are recognized internationally. Finally, all of these things must be presented in person at the nearest consulate, which fortunately in my case was only in Los Angeles.

In my case it was especially pressing to finish the various action items far in advance. I moved out of my apartment shortly after the end of the spring quarter and first headed up the coast in order to attend a three week long summer school on the philosophy of cosmology, the research topic of my grant. I was on a plane to Europe a few days after that in order to attend and present some of my work at a conference in Munich on the foundations of physics at the end of July. It took some planning ahead to arrange my schedule to take advantage of these and other opportunities over the summer, but it has been well worth it. I’m sure that interacting with scholars, particularly those here in Europe, on topics related to my Fulbright research will be a great lead-in to start of the program!

Introduction to Casey McCoy

I’m a fourth year graduate student in the philosophy department studying the philosophy of physics. Through the support of a Fulbright grant I will be spending the next academic year in Austria at the University of Vienna working on my project, “Philosophical Implications of Inflationary Cosmology.” The project is an extension of my PhD dissertation research, which is officially due to start after I advance to candidacy this quarter.

I’ll say a few words about my project, but first I’ll explain how it came about. The key decision I made was spending last summer in Vienna. The main impetus to go was a two week summer school focused on science studies. Once I had committed to spending two weeks in Vienna, it was an easy decision to spend the rest of the summer there. Members of my faculty put me in touch with colleagues at the University of Vienna and other institutions, and naturally I met many people during the summer school.

After a while it occurred to me that Vienna would be an ideal place to pursue my research, and I started thinking seriously about applying for a Fulbright grant. The contacts I had made were enthusiastic about the idea, and the philosophy faculty in San Diego was supportive, so I applied. I think developing personal familiarity with the destination in advance was absolutely crucial to the success of my application.

The aim of my project is to make a philosophical investigation into the foundations and conceptual issues of one aspect of modern cosmology, namely the speculative idea that the early universe underwent a phase of rapid expansion. This expansion precedes the well-established “Hubble” expansion, a feature of the Hot Big Bang model of the universe, responsible for, among other things, the observed redshifts (recession) of distant galaxies. The speculative “rapid expansion” scenario is called cosmological inflation and has become a pillar of the current standard model of cosmology, a model that attempts to extend and improve the Hot Big Bang model.

What is interesting about inflation, from a philosophical point of view, is that physicists postulated it as a solution to certain perceived explanatory problems with the basic Big Bang universe story. For example, the geometrical flatness of the universe and its large-scale uniformity are explained by the Big Bang model through what cosmologists feel are implausible special initial conditions. These particular problems are known as the Flatness Problem and the Horizon Problem. These problems do not arise from the familiar sources of problems one finds in the history of science, namely disagreements between theory and observation or inconsistencies between well-confirmed theories. Are explanatory problems of a piece with these familiar problems? Or are they pseudo-problems that the practice of science would do well to ignore? These are the questions to which I hope to provide interesting answers during my time in Vienna!