Fellowships, Deadlines, and You

by Derek Smith

Why are you reading this? You should be working on fellowship applications! They are quickly approaching! Then why am I writing this? No, I’m not finished applying, but I’d like to impart some quasi-motivational advice. First, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Your application doesn’t need to be earth-shattering to win. But you do need to complete it!

But, “What should I write about?” you may ask. The fellowship application is largely an exercise in creative writing. When I get stuck, I like to invoke my ‘special snowflake’ theory. Most commonly, I put this to use when angrily yelling at the TV, but it’s also an effective visualization exercise. It’s best illustrated by an example:

In the winter of 2006, how many people were working as weather forecasters? And how many of those were in the military? Stationed in Germany? And how many were asked to write a long-range “first snow” forecast for the local military community? Not sure about the first few answers, but the answer to last question is “two”. And how many of those two applied to graduate school in mathematics last year? Just this guy!

The point is to look at your past accomplishments from a unique perspective. I suggest you repeat this exercise over the course of a few days. I was surprised at how often I was able to generate material useful for application essays. It’s often perfect for weaving your actions and research into the broader context demanded by applications such as the NSF.

So remember to roll the dice and apply to the following fellowships! You are all special snowflakes!

Note that some fellowships listed above have service requirements. Here are some additional links, including a past blog entry, NSF GRFP Tips from Philip Guo and a list of fellowships compiled by Berkeley.

About Derek Smith

Former weather dude and scientific software developer. In the upcoming 2015-16 year I will complete my PhD at UCSB in nonlinear dispersive equations. I enjoy spending time with my two young daughters and running.
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