John Garrison Marks is a PhD graduate student in History at Rice University.  His dissertation compares the experiences of free people of color in two port cities of the Americas during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Find him on Twitter @johngmarks.

About a month ago, I got really lucky.  My school sent out an e-mail notifying me that the following week would be “Fulbright Week,” and that they would be offering a series of panels to bring me up to speed and prepare me for the application process.  I had been planning for a while to apply for a Fulbright to fund my dissertation research on race and slavery in nineteenth-century Colombia, so I was happy Rice had a whole week devoted to getting prepared.  As I started looking into the process more deeply, I had a momentary sense of panic as I realized I should have started months before I did.

So I started looking around online to see what other people have said about the application process, and information was surprisingly hard to come by.  There’s lots of information about the program—where you can go, what types of projects you can do, deadlines—but remarkably little written by people who have gone through, or are going through, the process themselves.  With that in mind, here are some things that have worked for me in this process so far.

1. Start Early: This one I can’t stress enough.  Since the national application deadline is in mid-October (the 15th this year, to be exact), there’s not much time to get things done if you wait until the fall semester starts.  Thankfully, I was able to get a funding application in to my department for a pre-application/pre-dissertation research trip this summer—the trip is long enough to strengthen my application, but short enough not to hurt it.  I’m also going to need all the time I can get for all the revisions and edits I’ll need to distill my dissertation and life story into three pages (THREE!), so starting this far in advance is crucial.   Not only that, but a lot of the people I need to be in contact with during this process (professors, administrators, scholars in the target country) are only available during the academic year, so I had to rush to catch them before the end of the semester, rather than risk not being able to contact them over the summer.  Which brings me to my next point…

2. Talk to People: And by “people,” I mean “everyone.” I started by talking with my advisor in Latin American history, and branched out from there.  She told me about her Fulbright experience, and put me in contact with a current grad student in my department who had just successfully gone through the process.  So I talked to her, and others who had gone through the process as well, to get some first-hand information and application samples.  I shot an e-mail to a professor I kind of knew in the Hispanic Studies department, who does research in Venezuela and Colombia, to see if he had contacts at a Colombian university for my institutional affiliation (he did: his brother in law).  So I talked to said brother in law, and got names of other historians at his university who do research similar to mine.  It was a bit intimidating at first to be basically cold e-mailing scholars I’d never met or spoken with before (in a foreign language, no less), but everyone I have spoken with about the Fulbright process so far has been incredibly helpful and kind.  Just by talking and e-mailing with a series of grad students and scholars, I was able to fairly painlessly obtain a letter of institutional affiliation.

3. Put Together a Support Group: Okay, maybe it’s not quite a “support group,” but it will probably get pretty close.  I sent out an e-mail through my school’s Graduate Student Association asking other graduate students who might be interested in working cooperatively on their Fulbright applications over the summer to get in contact with me, and a few have (side note: if anyone reading this post would like to join, there’s still room!)  Like a lot of people, I work best under a deadline, even if that deadline is fairly arbitrary and self-imposed.  Having a group with which to share drafts of my personal statement and research proposal every few weeks will be incredibly helpful.  Not to mention, a lot of graduate school is a fairly solitary experience, so I’m looking forward to having new group to go through this process with.

So that’s pretty much where I’ve gotten thus far.  Right now I’m working on drafting my research proposal and personal statement to share with my support group in a couple weeks, and in August, I’ll be going to Colombia to pick up my letter of institutional affiliation in person while on my research trip.  Over the next few months I’ll be focusing on how to frame my project proposal in a way that will be most appealing to Fulbright, and how to craft my personal statement to explain why I am the person most capable of facilitating this kind of cultural exchange. No big deal.

Do you have any tips about the Fulbright application process? Have you already come across troubles for this year’s application that you’d like to share?

[Image by Flickr user  fabulousfabs and used under the Creative Commons license.]


2 Responses to On Applying for a Fulbright

  1. […] first post, “On Applying for a Fulbright” is up at Check it out. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to […]

  2. As a past recipient of a Fulbright (to Germany), I’d like to weigh in with a few practical points of advice. (If you’d like to read versions of my application materials, you can find the Project Statement here and a version of my personal statement (“Curriculum Vitae” in Fulbright terms, but not at all a C.V. as academics understand them) here.)

    1. It is absolutely crucial that you both establish research contacts in-country and get from them a Letter of Support to include in your application. It doesn’t have to be fancy (the person who served as my advisor during my Fulbright year actually had me send her a draft of what I thought it should say), but it needs to inform the Fulbright folks that you have a credentialed person in-country who will support your research year.

    2. Three tips for writing the project statement and curriculum vitae: revise, revise, and revise! I went through nearly 20 drafts of each over the course of six months before reaching finalized versions. Also, when I applied in 2006 (for 2007/08), the online application required left and right margins of 1.5 in. — this may have changed, but if it hasn’t keep it in mind; when I went to upload my perfected statements, I was faced with the last-minute panic of having to cut several sentences because I had used 1 in. margins!

    3. In your project statement, you need to include a paragraph describing why your research furthers the Fulbright program’s goals of fostering international communication and cultural learning. As you can see from my project statement (linked above), I spun what I originally thought was some BS about German sensitivities to papal power and their odd love/hate relationship with Pope Benedict. As it turns out, being aware of those sensitivities and issues made for some fascinating research in its own right that was never a part of the official “research” but made me a much better student of the German-Catholic psyche. I couldn’t have foreseen it at the time, but with Pope Benedict preparing to declare Hildegard of Bingen a Doctor of the Church, those extra components of my Fulbright experience (which I might never have thought of if I hadn’t had to “justify” my research into medieval theology) have provided fruitful insights into the theological relationship between the current Pope and Hildegard’s visions of Church reform.

    Finally, I wish you the best of luck! A Fulbright year is much more than just a paid research opportunity; it is also a valuable experience in international cooperation and mutual understanding.

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