Application Tips from Kalliopi Kefalas

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!

Introduction to Ben Smuin, Soon to Head to Turkey

Greetings from Nantes, France. I’m Ben Smuin, a 4th year PhD candidate in the Department of History and a recent recipient of a Fulbright for Turkey. My research focuses on the writing, circulation, and reception of petitions as a form of citizenship practice in Syria during the last decades of the Ottoman Empire and the first decades of the French Mandate.

Since sources in Syria are inaccessible at the moment, the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul (as well as other archives here in France and Geneva) have become the location of my dissertation research. In fact, I decided to apply for the Turkey Fulbright rather late in the game and only started studying Turkish in the summer of 2014 (I owe it to Zoe to encourage you NOT to make the mistake of waiting until the last minute to apply). If I have one suggestion about the entire application process, it’s to make sure you give yourself enough time to not only complete the application, but to completely ignore it for at least a week. I think Suzanne’s earlier post brings up some good points about writing the parts of the application, but I’ll add that the process of trimming down what might be a 10-15 page prospectus to a two page document can be infuriating, discouraging, and downright awful. Nevertheless, it’s good practice.

Robert’s post below also covers something I think is incredibly important, namely making sure you tailor your application to your audience. Remember that even though the first round of review is completed in the US, the second, and ultimately final decision, is made by representatives of your potential host country. These individuals have likely read thousands of applications over the years, all of which propose interesting and significant projects. Your statements should sell you as an individual first, your project second. Why should this commission select you? Sure you have interesting research plans, but so does everyone else. Most Fulbright applicants have already lived and studied in their potential host countries, so try to show how your presence in the program will benefit not only your research, but also your fellow Fulbrighters and, more importantly, the host community. Finally, don’t be afraid to make your personal statement personal. Cheesy personal stories aren’t always a bad thing.

So far, all I’ve done is make a few medical appointments and sign some paperwork. When I return from France I’ll begin the visa process, and the Turkish Fulbright Commission has been incredibly helpful in making this process as easy as possible. I’ll gladly post any other recommendations I have as the process continues.

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


Application Tips from Suzanne Dunai, Recipient of Research Grant to Spain

Hi! My name is Suzanne Dunai and I am a PhD student in the History Department at UCSD. I was awarded the Fulbright to Spain for the 2015-2016 academic year so that I can perform the research necessary for my dissertation on food culture and food politics during the years of rationing in Spain(1939-1952). This was my second application to the Fulbright grant (my first application was rejected in the first round last application cycle), so I strongly encourage you to keep applying and refining your application as long as you are eligible for the grant.

Because of my experience in having both one unsuccessful and one successful grant, I want to share some of the things that I learned in the process. First and foremost, have as many people read your statement of purpose and personal statement as possible. They don’t have to be in your field or department. In fact, it is better to find people with different backgrounds to read your grant application because the grant committees can be diverse. This is especially true if you have to translate your grant to another language. [Comment from FPA: Spain requires applicants to submit their statements in both English and Spanish.] Second, save enough time before the submission deadline to ensure that you have the proper page formatting. Every line counts in the grant application, so do not wait until the final draft to write your heading. By my final draft, I was making revisions based on the number of letters in each word to keep my draft within the page limit.

Thirdly, what is important is that your research goals are very narrow and very polished. Remember that the Fulbright does not have to encompass all of your dissertation work, so there is no need to include ALL theory, sources, archives, etc., in the application. For my successful application, I narrowed the scope of my application to one city instead of three. While my dissertation will still include archival materials for a larger project, I only presented the most precise elements of my research in the application, which helped with clarifying my research goals for the grant and for my project. The statement of purpose should present a cohesive project which is obtainable in the time/financial allotment of Fulbright. In the end, it is the coherent project that gets funded, not the exhaustive. This also applies to the content of your proposal. Make sure that your application doesn’t favor theory to the extent that your own intervention is lost, and you do not want to present too many lists of sources or archives in your statement as this consumes space without providing interest in you as a candidate.

Finally, one major change that I made between my first application and my second is that I included the presentation of my initial research at a conference in Spain near the end of the academic year. I explained in the “country participation” section that I was going to apply to present my initial findings at a conference for young scholars in my field so I could further develop my project and academic network. This addition might have shown greater purpose or academic motivation for my dissertation, or perhaps it did not help or hurt my application at all. Unfortunately, we do not receive comments on our applications, so my thoughts are just speculative.

I hope my reflections on the Fulbright appliction help. Good luck!

Introduction to Edward Falk, About to Start Research Grant in Turkey

In a rapidly shrinking field of education funding in the United States, the U.S. Student Fulbright Program stands out in its longevity and support. Though I’ve yet to begin my Fulbright research, thanks to a different fellowship that has allowed me to conduct archival research in Lebanon before I start my Turkish Fulbright, I can comment on the application process and pitfalls that I’ve encountered along the way.

I first considered applying for a Fulbright as an undergraduate at Carleton College, where I had begun studying Arabic and became interested in Syrian history. At that time, a Fulbright was still offered in Syria. However, after months of research, it became clear that without making contact with a Syrian university and academics there, this would not be in the offing. However, working in the Middle East after college had only made me keener to continue my studies and conduct further research.

After beginning in the PhD program in history at UC San Diego, the events of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ led me to refocus my project, as slaughtering sacred cows of nationalism becomes a difficult effort indeed during times of political unrest. By focusing on the position of Syria and Lebanon in the Ottoman Empire, I was able to ask many of the same questions, while hopefully finding the answers in Istanbul rather than Damascus.

So at the end of my first year of graduate school, I went to Izmir, Turkey, to study Turkish in the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program.

This program, also run out of the Department of State [like the Fulbright], is an extraordinary opportunity to intensively study languages in the Middle East, Central Asia, and East Asia, including languages like Turkish, Azeri, Punjabi, and Urdu that aren’t widely taught at American universities. While it was created during the Bush Administration to train students for the Foreign Service, military, or similar careers, it’s actually filled with graduate students and thoughtful undergraduates who are more curious about the world than intelligence positions. [Note from FPA: Please don’t take this as a criticism of careers in the Foreign Service! I think that’s a wonderful career path as well.]

In any case, this program provides an excellent springboard for the Fulbright, as it allows potential research applicants to make contacts with academics in their country of study, while Fulbright ETA applicants’ personal connections in the country can strengthen their applications as well. Finally, it’s run from the same bureau at the Department of State, so CLS alumni definitely stand out in that regard. In my own experience, at least 30% of my CLS Turkish classmates in 2011 and 2012 went on to receive either Fulbright research or ETA grants.

The path to a dissertation and research funding is rarely a direct one, as I can attest with my many stops, starts and detours.

Ultimately, though, it’s a rare opportunity to learn for a living, one that shouldn’t be passed up.

Ted in Ankara

Edward at Ataturk’s tomb during his second CLS trip

Ted former archives

The former home of the Ottoman Archives, where Edward conducted preliminary research in 2011

Fulbright Application Tips from Luis Sanchez-Lopez

[Note from FPA: Luis is likewise at the recommended stage.  He’s applying to do research in Mexico.]

Luis Sánchez-López

Department of History

“Constructing the Nation: Education, the Armed Forces, and Health in 19th Century Oaxaca”

Writing tips for prospective Fulbright applicants is more difficult than I thought, especially because I have only been recommended for the Fulbright grant. Nevertheless, I have found some things useful.

Build a Network and Share Your Work

Building a network of people who can support you throughout your time at UCSD is crucial for the development of your project and for your long-term success as a scholar. If you are a first-generation graduate student, building a support system can make the difference between simply “getting through” graduate school and making graduate school the bedrock of your career, regardless of your discipline. With that said, make sure you talk to other graduate students and scholars about your project when it’s time to write the proposal. Talking to people about your project will help you articulate it and make it legible to scholars in different disciplines—the individuals reading your proposal are not always experts in your field. I started writing the proposal about a month before the deadline. [Note from FPA: He means one month before the internal UCSD deadline, not the Fulbright deadline.  However, I strongly suggest starting earlier than this.]  Although the proposal did not entail a significant amount of writing, it has many components that need to be addressed in a rather limited amount of space. Therefore, starting early will give you the opportunity to make all the necessary edits before you submit the application. As one of my teachers told me when I was a kid, “There are no good writers. There are only good re-writers.”

Building a network also means making an effort to build relationships with scholars in the country where you wish to conduct research. Identifying a host institution will make the application, and your research experience in the host country, a lot easier. During my first year at UCSD, I had the opportunity to travel to the site where I am situating my work and met with one of the leading historians in Oaxacan history. Said individual became my official mentor and provided a letter of support for my Fulbright application. I am certain that he would not have written that letter if I had not met with him during my previous trips to Oaxaca.

Edit, Edit, and Edit Some More

Sometimes the hardest part of the application process is sending your draft to a fresh pair of eyes, namely, those of your advisor. I often felt like my draft was not ready to be sent off to my advisor, but I sent it anyway. In my opinion, it is better to give your advisor a rough draft ahead of time than to send him or her a more “polished” draft two or three days before the deadline. Give yourself enough time to write, edit, and edit some more.

Although your main editor will most likely be your advisor, make sure you send your drafts to colleagues, i.e. other graduate students and professors. If you have colleagues who work on a similar topic, time period, or region, have them take a look at your proposal. They will definitely have something to contribute. Also, have colleagues who are not in your field take a look at your proposal. If they have a hard time understanding your project, you may be making assumptions about your audience’s familiarity with your research topic. Don’t assume that people know what you know.

I hope these tips help! Hope to see your Fulbright tips next year! Good luck!

Fulbright Application Tips from Troy Kokinis

Note from FPA: Troy is currently recommended for a grant, which means he has about a 50% chance of becoming a Fulbright grantee.  He applied for the grant in fall 2012 and will find out by July whether he’s received the grant.  (There are two main types of Fulbright grants: research grants and English teaching assistantships. Troy has applied for a research grant.)

Troy Andreas Kokinis

Project: Collective Historical Memory of Rural Anarchism in Andalusia

Location: Andalusia, Spain

I am writing this from a slightly awkward position, as I have not actually won the Fulbright grant yet. However, I have been named as a finalist for a very competitive country, Spain. I think I can offer some useful advice regarding the writing process, and my own strategies for writing the application.

Advice for Applicants

First, I must say that Zoe Ziliak Michel is an invaluable resource in the writing process. I highly suggest starting early (during the summer, as the application is due in October). She is available to give feedback during this time as well. I sent about seven different drafts to her, and she always responded with very helpful and useful feedback. I spent the duration of the summer working on this application, and I do not think I would have been able to complete the application process while trying to balance classes, thesis, and TAing during the fall quarter.

Convey passion for the topic. The topic I chose, nineteenth century anarchism in southern Spain, is a topic that I have been interested in for nearly a decade. The topic does not have any close relation to my current M.A. research, but I was able to convey a long-lasting interest in the topic, as well as an application for the topic on an everyday level (as I am active in migrant labor struggles in my own community). In some ways, I feel I took a risk. Most research is expected to come from an objective viewpoint. But, in terms of subaltern studies (especially when researching communities that have experienced a history of state terror), it seems appropriate to demonstrate a connection to the actual topic and a solidarity with the struggle of the research subjects. I recognize that this does not apply to every project (and may actually only apply to very few), but I feel it is important to be honest about one’s connection to a particular topic.

Current relevance of the topic. Make sure you can connect the project to en vogue current events in the host country. This is especially important if you are researching something that is historical. What is the practical application of your research considering the current climate of the country?

Plans for research results. You should have a clear idea of what you are going to do with the information you collect while you are researching. Try to have a plan that includes some sort of use for the host community. In other words, do not just say that you want to collect this information for your thesis. It is important that we, as researchers, establish connections with our host communities; and that our research has some sort of benefit for the host community.

Faculty support. This also connects to the previous point, but your faculty supporters should also be involved in the final products of your research. Again, this should be more than simply your Ph.D. thesis. If you cannot think of any other use for your research than your thesis, ask your faculty supporters if they can connect you to local organizations, museums, media projects, etc., in your host community. This adds a personal touch to your project. Furthermore, make sure your faculty is well connected in the host community already. They want to know that you aren’t going to be roaming around like a lost soul for three months before you can actually get started on the research.

I suppose I will just wait for the results now. I will update this once I hear. For now, consider these suggestions valuable for getting at least half-way there.

Introduction to Ryan Moran, Studying in Tokyo

Hello all!  My name is Ryan Moran and I received a Fulbright IIE graduate research fellowship to conduct dissertation research in Tokyo, Japan, during the 2011-2012 academic year.  Zoe has asked me to write a blog post or two in order to highlight the wonderful experiences that UCSD students can have through Fulbright.

Overall, this has been a really fantastic experience.  I got married right before coming to Japan and thus have been lucky in that my wife has also been able to be here in Tokyo with me.  Although each country’s Fulbright committee offers different kinds of benefits, the Japan-US Fulbright Program offers support for one’s spouse and/or any dependents one might have.  As a fellow graduate student, she has used this time to work on her dissertation while also exploring parts of Tokyo.  Although my research is my first priority, we have also tried to immerse ourselves in some of the various cultural offerings available in the Tokyo area.  These have included a trip to watch sumo, the annual Nippon Craft Beer Festival, and a weekend trip to the hot-springs town Hakone.

The people who administer Fulbright in Japan have been incredibly helpful.  When I arrived in Japan, I had an introductory meeting with the office staff, my supervisor and the Executive Director of the program.  At the meeting, the Fulbright staff made it very clear that they were interested and invested in my success.  While this is undoubtedly true for all grants, I feel that Fulbright really tries to remove the little worries that I might have so that I can fully concentrate on my research.  Throughout my year, my supervisor has very kindly written letters of introduction that gave me access to libraries and given advice on housing and health matters.  This has allowed me to really focus my energy on the difficult task of collecting the materials that I will need so that I can write my dissertation.

Although research can feel draining, I think that it is going well.  I gained affiliation at Waseda University in Tokyo and have benefited from their wonderful library.  In the summer before I applied for Fulbright, I received funding from UCSD’s IICAS and Japanese Studies’ Joseph Naiman Graduate Research Fellowship, which allowed me to conduct preliminary research in Tokyo.  This trip allowed me to scout out the archives and figure out where I would prefer to affiliate.  Moreover, I think that this trip really strengthened my application as it allowed me to meet with professors and to get a sense of the materials that would be available at various archives and libraries.  In my grant applications, I was able to confidently state that I knew I could find the materials that I needed for my dissertation.  That trip also provided an opportunity to start thinking about some of the subthemes that I am currently researching.

I hope that everyone has lots of luck with Fulbright this year.  The Fulbright coordinator at UCSD is a really great resource for UCSD students.  Linda Vong, the previous coordinator, was a great help to me and I am sure that Zoe will continue to offer helpful guidance to all potential applicants.