[Note from FPA: Wes is likewise at the recommended stage. He’s applying to develop a method of conveying natural disaster information via smartphones in Taiwan.]
Seeing as I’ve only made it to round 2, this is a guide about how to reach round 2 of the application process, namely how to be recommended. I’ve yet to hear official word about whether my potential host country’s Fulbright committee would like to give me the grant. Also, this is a list of tips you can use that aren’t mentioned on the website or by advisors. There are obvious things to keep in mind, such as starting early (early summer), taking advantage of your resources (Zoe, previous advisors/mentors), and so on. You will have those tips hammered into your mind from the information sessions and the website. Instead, these are some tips you may not have thought of. In no particular order, here they are.
Have your proposal torn apart, over and over, by multiple people. One of the best ways to write a strong proposal—or any persuasive writing, for that matter—is to hand your writing to the harshest critics. Over and over. The harshest critics will magnify the weaknesses in your paper and pinpoint your mistakes. Zoe, as much as we appreciate her, is a harsh critic. Don’t let her kindness fool you, she holds several degrees in Linguistics, knows a thing or two about grant writing, has a black belt in editing, and she will tear your paper apart. Find these kinds of people, and use them like your life depends on it. Professors, advisors, mentors, bosses. If you have friends that you know are great writers, use them too! You have no idea what your reviewers’ backgrounds will be, so mold your proposal so it is clear to as diverse a set of people as possible (well, within reason, of course). When you hand them your proposal, don’t just hand it to them. Do two things. First, tell them “Don’t hold back; give me everything you’ve got.” Second, actually give them the prompt itself so they know what they’re looking for. Afterwards, look at their edits, decide which changes you believe make sense, revise your proposal, and go back for round 2. I went through over fifteen revisions before I clicked that “Submit” button.
Use the “Application Tips.” On the Fulbright website, you can find a page called “Application Tips,” which provides you a list of questions you ‘should’ address in your proposal and personal statement. They’re more like ‘have to’ address questions, if you ask me. Before you even start outlining your proposal, go through this list, and answer—in writing—all of the questions. Writing it out will force you to articulate the answers. Afterwards, group the questions into categories. For example, “Where do you propose to conduct your study or research?” and “Why does the project have to be conducted in the country of application?” can definitely go into the same category. Then, based on these categories, start outlining your paper while constantly checking back to make sure you are addressing the questions in each of your paragraphs. I would go as far as to say each of the categories can even be a paragraph. Someone should be able to read your proposal, and then answer all the questions on that list themselves.
Get friends and family involved. Talk about your project to friends and family. You are already aware that the committee reviewing your proposal will most likely not be experts in your field. Chances are you know plenty of friends and family that aren’t experts in the field either. Tell them about your project and see if you can get them as excited about your project as you are. This will also help you gauge what kinds of technical jargon you should exclude, and ways to explain your project in non-expert terms. I would recommend getting to a point where when someone asks, “What’s your project?” the conversation ends with them saying something like “Wow, that’s really interesting.” The next step after that is to try and talk with professors both in and outside of your field, and have them say the same thing. Your proposal should convey this same sense of passion. If you aren’t even excited about your project yourself, then clearly something is wrong.
Grab lunch with your references. Since you’ll be asking for three references, I would recommend treating them to lunch before they write your recommendation. Not only is this a nice gesture, you’ll also be able to talk more in depth about your proposal. Unlike a paper, you’ll actually be able to answer any questions they have about your proposal. Your references are writing letters explaining why they believe your project is feasible and worth doing. They should have a thorough understanding of your project prior to writing your recommendation. This is a great opportunity not only for you to help them better understand the project you are proposing and its feasibility given your skill set, but also for you to realize that the fact that they are asking certain questions may indicate what was unclear in the proposal. If these points warrant clarification, make it happen in your revision.
Make your plans crystal clear. This point is mentioned everywhere. However, I want to emphasize that your actual plan should be so clear that upon finishing reading your proposal, there is no doubt that you have thought this through. Personally, I bolded the section of my proposal that was the actual proposal. [Note from FPA: He just put the section headings in bold.] I also did not just explain my plan; I provided a numbered timeline for the different stages of the plan. This shows that you haven’t just vaguely thought about your plan, you have a full plan of attack. While many people will tell you to avoid technical jargon, I believe there is a way to play it to your advantage. By using a little bit of jargon (and explicitly defining it) in your plan, you demonstrate that you are using certain standard methods of practice in your field of research—you know what you’re doing. It may well be the case that when you get as specific as explaining your timeline, you will need to use some jargon to describe what you will be doing at that stage of the project. It shows a depth of understanding of your field of research.
There you have it! I hope this helps you get an edge in your Fulbright application. While these tips won’t apply to everyone, I believe they are general enough that they will help most future Fulbright applicants.
Best of luck on your application process! Get out there and get that grant!