Applying for the Fulbright Part 2

Neerja Thakkar graduated from Dartmouth in 2019 with a BA in Computer Science and Mathematics. For the past year, she was doing computational photography research in Spain on a Fulbright research scholarship, and in Fall 2020 she will be starting her PhD in EECS at UC Berkeley.

In this post, I break down the most significant components of the Fulbright application. My first post on applying for a Fulbright research grant covers focusing your application.

Personal Statement

This statement is your chance to present who you are and why you deserve a Fulbright grant. The people I met through Fulbright were not only extremely intelligent and accomplished, but they were all incredible humans - caring, passionate, kind, and determined to do good in the world - and I’m sure that their personal statements showed this.

Obviously, the content of your statement vary greatly depending on who you are. When brainstorming, consider a wide variety of questions such as:

  • Who you are? Where you are from?
  • What is important to you? What are your values?
  • What unique experiences have shaped you?
  • What you have done in and/or after college?
  • What do you want to do with your life?

Then, craft a cohesive narrative about yourself. There are a lot of fantastic sources of advise for personal statement writing, so I won’t go too in depth, but a few thoughts relevant to Fulbright in particular:

While you don’t need to discuss Fulbright or your host country in this statement, think about the culture and values of Fulbright and the country you are applying to, as well as the research you are proposing, and make sure that they align with what you propose and show you fitting in the Fulbright community.

This statement should complement your Statement of Grant Purpose - make sure that they paint a cohesive and complete picture of who you are, both intellectually and personally. When revising, you can move some information from one to the other.

Statement of Grant Purpose

In this statement, you should explain the research you’re going to do during your grant, and also convince the readers of why a Fulbright grant specifically in your country will help you do your research.

One very important thing to keep in mind is that the audience of this statement will probably know nothing about your research area, so you will have to make it extremely accessible. This statement is only two pages, so this will mean that you leave a lot of details critical to your project out, and while this can feel very weird, it’s completely okay in this situation.

You should also include some information about how you plan to engage with your host country, since your grant isn’t just about your research, but also about cultural exchange.

Here’s a broad outline of the statement I wrote:

  • Broad, accessible introduction to problem/research area
  • More detailed technical description of research area/problem
  • Overview of previous work and limitations/room for future work
  • Description of what I will be doing and the methods I will use, and a breakdown of how I will spend the 9 months of my grant year
  • Explanation of why I need to be in Spain and working with this lab in particular for this project
  • Other things I will do in Spain to engage with the community, explanation of my Spanish skills and how I plan to improve them before moving to Spain
  • How my experience has given me the skills and positioned me to be successful at this project
  • How this grant ties into my future career goals

Letters of Recommendation

Cultivating close relationships with professors can only happen far before you apply for a Fulbright, but there’s still a lot you can do as you apply to ensure that your letters are the strongest they can be.

  • Give your letter writers ample time to write for you
  • Reach out to ask (reminding them of who you are/what classes you took with them if they might not know), and when they say yes, respond with your CV, a summary of what program and kind of research you are applying for, and a list of things you would like them to talk about. You should absolutely mention small details or accomplishements that feel minor which the professor might not recall - the worst thing that can happen is that the professor chooses to not mention it in the letter
  • Be sure to remind your writers about the letter 1 month before the deadline, and again a week before if they haven’t submitted it

Language Evaluation

Different programs have different language requirements. I was recommended to demonstrate intermediate Spanish proficiency, but this varies by country/program - some have strict requirements and some don’t even have recommendations. The evaluation itself likely varies a lot by language and school and program, so I can only speak to my experience. I had studied Spanish in high school, so I knew a lot at one point, but I hadn’t spoken it in almost 4 years by the time I applied for Fulbright. I brushed up by using Duolingo, watching Spanish TV, and speaking it with friends who spoke Spanish. My actual evaluation consisted of a 15 minute conversation with a Spanish professor at Dartmouth, and since I also used past and future tenses, I ended up getting an advanced rating. I didn’t realize that different levels had different requirements, so check in advance with whoever will be conducting your evaluation in order to tailor your practice.

Neerja Thakkar
Neerja Thakkar
Incoming EECS PhD Student @ Berkeley
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