Applying for a Fulbright Research Grant

IMG_7191My 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 

General Advice

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 Best of luck!

– Sally.

Congratulations to the IB NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Recipients

As featured in Inside Illinois, Illinois graduate students won a record number of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships this year.  Several students in Integrative Biology are among the awardees.  Let’s congratulate them for their hard work!

This year’s awardees from IB are:

▪Lorena Rios Acosta
▪Matias Cristobal Fernandez
▪Matthew Grobis
▪Daniel Joseph Urban
▪Kevin James Wolz

IB students accorded Honorable Mention are:

▪Cassie Wesseln
▪Kristen Bishop
▪Christopher Holmes-Singh
▪Allen Victor Lawrance
▪John Michael Maddux
▪Selina Ariel Ruzi

These lists come from the NSF-GRF Fastlane database. For additional information on this year’s competition, see the NSF-GRF main page.

Undergrad Travel Grants for Research!

The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) at the University of Illinois is pleased to announce its spring 2013 competition for travel grants to subsidize the presentation of undergraduate research at professional conferences.  Proposals should be submitted at and the deadline for submission is 1 May 2013.

In order to apply, students will need to have information on the conference dates and location, evidence that conference participation has been confirmed, estimated expenses, and possible support from mentors and departments.

Please note that the travel grants are designed for students to present their research during the summer and fall semesters 2013 (another competition will be announced later in 2013).  In addition, these travel grants are not designed to cover the entire cost of student participation (some departmental or college contribution is encouraged) nor can the grant be used to cover post conference participation.

Questions should be directed to

NSF Grant Workshop – 9/7/12

Posted on Behalf of Ken Veckery


Dear Graduate Students,

Greetings from the Graduate College’s Office of External Fellowships. As part of our efforts to help graduate students win grants and fellowships from external funders, we will hold a workshop on the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program on Friday, September 7, 2:00-4:00 p.m., in the Illini Union, room 314.

Former Director of the NSF-GRF program, William Hahn (Georgetown University), along with University of Illinois faculty members Mark Hasegawa-Johnson and Glaucio Paulino, will provide a comprehensive overview of the fellowship program and offer guidance on preparing effective applications. Registration is required.

The Graduate Research Fellowship is NSF’s premiere fellowship for graduate students. Open to US citizens and permanent residents in their first or second year of graduate school, the fellowship provides three years of support complete with a $30,000 annual stipend and coverage of tuition and fees. It also offers a major commendation to add to your CV along with entrée into one of the nation’s most prestigious of academic communities. Students in NSF-supported disciplines in STEM and select social sciences are eligible (see details on eligibility).

To complement the workshop, the Graduate College has also created a short video tutorial entitled Starting an NSF-GRF Application that points you to excellent resources.

If you have any questions about the workshop or the NSF-GRF program itself, feel free to contact me at If you’d like to learn more about our other services designed to help you find fellowships and submit competitive proposals, see our new webpages. Until then, I hope your school year is off to a great start, and I look forward to seeing you at the workshop.


Ken Vickery

Ken Vickery, Ph.D.
Director of External Fellowships
Graduate College
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Matt Grobis Earns a Fulbright Grant!

This is a testimonial from Matt Grobis, one of our outstanding IB Honors students who just earned a Fulbright Grant to study in Germany next year.  Take a look to learn about what he is going to be doing and how you can follow his lead!

Matt Grobis Fulbright picTo those who haven’t heard of the Fulbright grant, a Fulbright is funding to do research or teach English for one year in a foreign country. Because everything is paid for, you can imagine it’s fairly competitive. (For more info, go to

I was lucky enough to be selected for one. Next year, I’ll be carrying out a Fulbright research grant at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, in Germany, studying the intersection of great tit personality and social behavior. One of the projects I’m looking forward to working on is examining how birds of different degrees of boldness rely on conspecifics to find food. One application of this is ensuring beneficial human-animal interactions; understanding how knowledge about foraging sites travels through groups can help us predict native bird populations’ responses to anthropogenic habitat change, for example. I will be working with Dr. Niels Dingemanse, a researcher at the MPIO and also a professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University, in Munich. The Institute is located a forty-minute train ride south of Munich and I’m very excited to explore the city and learn about German culture. Hopefully a year of German at U of I is enough to let me get by, though I’ll be keeping a dictionary close by!

I first learned of the Fulbright a year ago, when I was looking at graduate schools. I found a girl doing really cool research on tiger-human conflict in India and e-mailed her, asking if she had any advice for how she got to where she was. In her very helpful response, she mentioned her Fulbright year in India and how it’d helped her decide what to do for a PhD. Shortly afterwards, I met with the head of my research lab, Alison Bell, and asked for her help finding someone with whom I could do research abroad. Dr. Dingemanse’s research interested me the most, and after an e-mail that took me a few tries to write, I received a good response! We e-mailed back and forth over project ideas and came up with a tentative project. Meanwhile, I was working on my Fulbright application with the help of the National and International Scholarships Office at U of I ( I’m very thankful to Laura Hastings and David Schug, who helped me through every step of my application. I would recommend to anyone even considering pursuing the Fulbright to fill out an application; the process of organizing your life up to this point and deciding what direction you want to go with it now was immensely helpful.

I was on the waitlist for ten weeks, so I feel very, very fortunate to be in this position. My advice to anyone considering applying for a Fulbright comes in four parts. First, start early! It’s crazy to think I started working on my Fulbright application over a year before I heard the final result. First drafts of essays are always terrible and it takes everyone a while to find an angle to their application. Keep pushing. Have friends, family, and professors give you feedback, and you’ll end with something you’re happy with. Second, find very good reasons why your Fulbright has to be in the country you chose. If you want to teach English in Ecuador, why not Colombia, Peru, Chile, Panama, or Spain? How is a neuroscience lab in Switzerland better than MIT or Cambridge? Outside of research, what can you offer Madagascar that you couldn’t to South Africa or Ghana? Third, be as specific as possible whenever possible. Anyone can write “I plan to volunteer while I’m in Vietnam” and get away with it. It looks much, much better to write “I have contacted this non-profit in the nearby town, which is ten minutes away by bike, and the head of the program, Mrs. such and such, has agreed that I can help on these projects.” Fourth, throughout the whole process, be humble and thankful. Your application needs to make you look awesome, true, but your success highly depends on the help of a lot of people. Say thanks to your letter of recommendation writers. Understand that the person you contact to do research with is taking a chance by responding to an e-mail from someone he or she has never met.

If you apply and you’re lucky, you will get to spend a year in another country learning from others and about yourself. But even if you don’t receive a grant, you will still learn from the experience and be better-prepared for selling yourself to graduate schools or potential employers. I wish you the best of luck! Send your applications to the National and International Scholarships Office before the July 1 priority deadline (if you can!), and please e-mail me if you’d like advice or another pair of eyes on your essays.

Tis the season for funding

Spring semester brings warmer weather, new classes and funding for our students.  Now that you’ve gotten into the groove of your Spring courses, it is time to look into what kinds of exciting opportunities you can pursue with just a little extra cash to pay your way.

While most of the grants are designed for graduate students, undergraduates should check out the Robert H. Davis Memorial Fund and the SIB Enhancement Fund.

If you are a graduate student, be sure to check out the long list of grants and awards available to IB students.  Many of the applications are due by February 20th, so be sure to get those applications in.

If you instead would prefer to support our students, you can contribute to these funds by going to our Donations Page and making a much appreciate gift to help the research, studies and travels of our students.