My name is Sally Feng. I graduated with a B.S. in Integrative Biology in May 2014. I am currently doing work on coral restoration in the Philippines under a Fulbright research grant. If you are interested in applying for a Fulbright, here is my experience.
My Fulbright Timeline
- May 2, 2013 – Attend Fulbright info session
- July 1, 2013 – Priority deadline submission
- September 3, 2013 – Top Scholars deadline submission
- September 25, 2013 – Fulbright campus interview
- October 2, 2013 – Fulbright final deadline submission
- January 31, 2014 – Institute of International Education sends application abroad for final review
- April 9, 2014 – Selected for Fulbright U.S. Student Award to the Philippines
Before starting the application, you need to decide whether you are willing to commit to the process. You have to be determined, self-motivated and patient. This applies even more so once the scholarship has been awarded. It is not a study abroad program where you take a class with fellow students. You will spend up to a year on your own in a foreign country. Don’t let that scare you; it is well worth the opportunity and a very rewarding experience.
Since it is quite a long journey, it is important to become familiar with the application process and deadlines. All U of I students will apply for the scholarship via the Top Scholars/National International Scholarships Program. The process involves submitting an online application, college transcripts, 1-page personal statement, 2-page grant purpose, 3 letters of recommendation and an affiliation letter. Keep in mind the letters of recommendation have different deadlines and specific submission instructions.
To begin, determine a starting point. What interests you? Where do you want to go? This is your opportunity to be creative. If you need help, there are many resources available. Visit the Top Scholars office and read past submissions. Ask professors if they have contacts abroad that may be willing to accept you in their lab. Have others proofread your essays. I highly recommend submitting a draft for the priority deadline. Be very detailed in your essay to let the reviewers know you have done your research. Plan out the months of what you will be doing during your stay there. Talk about the preparations you will take to become a stronger candidate. Let them know you are interested in the culture and what you hope to gain out of it. Most importantly, convince them why they should fund you to go to this specific country.
My Application Process
My starting point was the location. I wanted to work in water so I narrowed my search to islands. Next I looked into statistics. Based off of the 2013-2014 statistics for Philippines, of the 18 applicants, 8 were awarded. I began looking into universities that specialized in marine sciences. I looked into the research topics of faculty members to see if any were of interest. I found the topic of coral restoration very appealing so I emailed a professor telling him I was applying for a Fulbright and would love to work in his lab. He was willing to accommodate me at his lab considering that I would be fully funded throughout my stay.
That may have sounded easy but couldn’t have been done without help. My initial draft needed a lot of work and I might have given up if it wasn’t for the support provided by my professors and from the Top Scholars office. I was told I had very strong letters of recommendation and my professors were rooting for me. That was encouraging to hear and I did not want to disappoint them. I continued to read research articles to get ideas. I emailed my prospective professor for advice on my grant purpose. I worked on new drafts until I was satisfied with my project. It is extremely important to come up with a project that you are interested in because this could potentially be the next year of your life.
The application process is a rewarding experience by itself. Not only did I learn how to write a grant purpose, I was accepted into a lab at an international university. I have letters of recommendation ready for future references. I learned how to present myself on paper and in person. I gained confidence in the work I accomplished and the effort paid off.
In the coming weeks, I hope to share more about my past and current research experience. If you have questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Best of luck!