My name is Kalliopi Kefalas, and I am a third year student in the history department studying crime and policing in Late Ottoman Crete with the guidance of Professor Thomas Gallant. I applied for the Fulbright research grant last year at the end of June right before leaving for Crete to gather more preliminary data for my research. The Fulbright had been on my mind for quite some time before then, as a few of my colleagues had received it and it made me begin considering my funding for my long research trip the following year. I had just completed my second research paper of graduate school and had decided that the topic I had written on was something worth pursuing for my dissertation. However, it was clear that digitized Cretan newspapers were not going to be enough. I needed access to materials that were not available online, and that were possibly not even listed in the digital catalogue yet.
As I mentioned, I contacted the graduate Fulbright advisor, Zoe Ziliak Michel, and began applying at the end of June. For me, this was enough time to write a few drafts of my proposal and personal statement, get in touch with my affiliate at the University of Crete, schedule and take my language proficiency exam, and ask for letters of recommendation. Some of my other colleagues applying for the grant started even earlier and attended a few informational sessions, many of which I did not go to. Thus, my two most important pieces of advice would be to start the process of applying early – at the very latest in June – and to attend the information sessions. Because I didn’t go to many of these, I ended up asking Zoe many questions that could have been answered during these meetings. The one I did go to I attended via google hangouts while I was in Athens. That is my third piece of advice – try to budget your time for research and anything related to the Fulbright application evenly. Because I was in Greece conducting research last summer and traveling quite a bit, it was difficult to manage the time I spent on the application. While it’s important to devote time to the application, give yourself some time to step away from it. That way, it will be much easier to edit your proposal and see where the problems lie or what parts of it are unclear. One way to do this, again, is to start early to actually have the luxury of having time to step away, read it with fresh eyes, and also allow Zoe enough time to give you several rounds of feedback.
In addition to editing and seeking feedback from Zoe and others, a successful application depends on standing out. This can be done in a variety of ways, but I found that starting and ending strongly was probably what made my application strong. I started my first paragraph with a statement that gave a sense of my project in its broadest terms and its wider importance. I then spent some time (and space) carefully laying out what has already been researched on the topic and some of the current relevant issues in it. Immediately after this, I asked my research questions and then tried to answer them with what I already knew from secondary scholarly literature or from reading primary sources. The point of the proposal isn’t to have a good hypothesis or a thorough analysis of your data already, although these can definitely help; it is to ask important and well-constructed research questions. Finally, while the grant advisor and other people will give you good advice, ultimately, YOU will know whether something sounds right or not. The night before the due date, I took a look at my proposal, which Zoe had approved, and reorganized it. Even though everybody had said it looked good, I knew it could be even better.
After hearing back from the foundation and, fortunately, being awarded, I set out almost immediately to gather information on obtaining a visa. Criteria vary from country to country, but make sure you learn what they are early. I, for instance, have to get a criminal background check from the FBI, which in itself requires getting fingerprints and other things, to get my visa for Greece. If this is the case for you as well, note that the FBI does not accept livescan fingerprinting, but an actual fingerprint card only, and not many police stations give these out. Also make sure to look online for their hours, since some are not open on all weekdays from 9-5 pm. Because I have not gotten very far in this process, this is the only advice I can provide on this issue. Otherwise, if you do get a Fulbright, read the acceptance letter carefully for paperwork instructions and deadlines and mark these down somewhere where you will look daily. I very nearly missed them due to not doing this. Good luck!