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Fellowship Application Tips

Applying for a fellowship or career development award is a lot of work. You need to:

  • develop and summarize your great idea (i.e., identify the problem and develop Specific Aims);
  • ensure your concept relates to the goals of the funding agency;
  • identify and request letters from references, collaborators, and consultants;
  • draft and revise the narrative sections of your application;
  • help your sponsor/mentor(s) prepare their required sections;
  • request feedback from peers, scientific writers, and sponsor(s);
  • make final revisions;
  • upload, review, and submit.

Here are some tips on how to prepare a strong and competitive application:

Start early!

 

Give yourself at least 12 weeks to develop an outstanding proposal. This plan should allow you to maintain some productivity in the lab while you are writing.

In fact, you should write while doing experiments—it will help you think clearly about your work, and you will undoubtedly generate ideas for new experiments.

 

Talk to people who can help you.

Administrative staff and scientific writers. We can provide checklists and make sure you understand what needs to be done. Work with administrators to assemble information required by the Office of Sponsored Programs. Scientific writers will help you organize your thoughts, develop a timeline for completion, and revise and integrate narrative sections of your proposal.

Program Directors/Officers. Fellowship agencies may require that you discuss your proposed research training plan with their Program Directors to ensure that your project aligns with agency goals or mission.

NRSA and K99 applicants: You must do this! Program Directors/Officers will be present during review sessions and could be your advocate if you receive a borderline score.

Develop a relationship early. Remember that Program Directors are busy people—don’t contact them 2 weeks before the deadline and expect them to be too helpful.

Peers. Fellow students and postdocs who have received fellowship or career development awards are an outstanding resource, and many have graciously agreed to provide their applications as samples.

 

Recruit your team.

Co-sponsors. If your primary sponsor or mentor is a junior faculty without a training record, identify a willing senior faculty co-sponsor or co-mentor who has a strong training record and expertise relevant to your project.

Collaborators and consultants. You should identify experts on campus or elsewhere who—in principle—will teach you techniques, provide technology not available in your lab, or provide advice in particular areas. Request letters of support from them—if you draft the letter, then you can explain what you need.

References. You need letters from people who know you well, and who you know will write the best possible reference letter for you. Ideally, they should discuss why you are suited for the proposal and award. Be sure to explain your project to them.

 

Know the application guidelines and review criteria.

Read and follow the application guidelines carefully! For example, the Charles King Trust fellowship guidelines state:

"Please note: Out of fairness to applicants who adhere to the guidelines, applications that do not conform to the stated application procedures or that contain more than the specified number of pages or letters will be rejected. Applications that are not properly organized will be rejected."

The science should be significant, and the research plan well thought out. But the training plan (mentoring plan for career development awards) is equally important and should be tailored to the applicant’s needs and goals.

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