I describe myself as the Queen of Fellowships because I have done so many in the past few years. All of them have been special and instrumental in helping me grow personally and professionally. Each fellowship has been different and has filled a need at that point in time.
Often I am asked for advice on how to fill up a fellowship application. So I thought to pen down my thoughts and provide guidance on what has worked for me when writing the application or being part of the interview process. Feel free to add your own thoughts and tips in the comments section.
Do your homework — Understand what the program or fellowship is about. Read up on past fellows and understand some of the common themes in the cohort. It will help you align your application with the focus areas of the host organisation/institution.
Be authentic — Fellowships are an investment in you as a person. People want to know who you are, what makes you tick and where you are headed. They want to know more than your resume, they want to know you. So give them an insight into your authentic self. Most of these fellowships are highly competitive, but they are also looking for genuine people doing extraordinary things.
Don’t overwhelm the reader — If you are applying for a mid-career fellowship, the chances of you being a star performer are high. Whilst you may choose to highlight all your achievements, the people reading your application might get overwhelmed. Pick only the relevant highlights which are aligned to the focus areas of the program.
Show them where you are headed — Most fellowships are investing in your future and so you need to show them where you are headed, your personal vision and mission, what change in the world you wish to accomplish and how the fellowship benefits you to carry out that mission.
Synergy and collaboration — Fellowships are about cohorts and networks for life. Your ability to be part of the group and willingness to be open, share, participate in “fellowship”, collaborate and partner is important. Often individuals are great by themselves but cohorts are selected for their ability to get along and bring maximum value to each other as “fellows”.
Pay it forward — Whilst it is not often written anywhere, I do believe there is an underlying expectation to “pay it forward”. I am an active member of all my networks and am investing back into them which completes the circle.
Don’t wait till the last minute — Work on your application in advance so that you have time to review it, ask people you trust for feedback and refine it till you are satisfied. Send it in early and don’t wait for the last date. Usually hundreds of applications are received and yours might get lost in the crowd. But if you send it in early, chances are that someone might read it.
References — Pick referees who you have directly worked with as they can truly vouch for your work. If they have a link to the program, even better as their word counts a lot. However, this will depend on your relationship to your referee as it is only good manners to ask people who you truly have some connection with. Also give them enough time to write the reference and don’t expect them to cater to your needs at the last moment.
Finally, if you don’t get in the first time, don’t give up. Keep trying. Maybe you are not ready, it is not the right fellowship for you or the cohort needs a perspective which you don’t provide at the moment. Writing these applications also helps you clarify your own vision, values and purpose. Think of it as another way for someone to learn about your work and get to know you better. Maybe you are not selected for the fellowship but they might offer you another opportunity.
I truly believe, you get what you need (not what you want) and when you need it. In hind sight many of these fellowships have come at exactly the time that I have needed a particular skill or network to help take my work forward.