Meet our 2017-18 Fellowships Ambassadors!
January 8, 2018
Applying for fellowships can be a difficult, but rewarding process. Each year, dedicated Drexel students and alums volunteer to help other students through the process of finding and applying for fellowships. As ambassadors for our office, these students help make this seemingly daunting task a worthwhile investment.
We asked some of this year’s Fellowships Ambassadors about how they became interested in fellowships, the process of applying, and advice they have for other Drexel students as they decide to start their own fellowships process. Here’s what they had to say!
Whether you are looking for funding, international and/or research experience, or professional development, there are multiple reasons and opportunities to consider applying for fellowships.
Ambassadors took different paths on the way to applying for fellowships. A few, like doctoral candidate Ariana Levitt (Materials Science & Engineering) arrived on campus planning to apply for fellowships. “I knew before starting graduate school that I would apply for the NSF-GRFP fellowship and the NDSEG fellowship during my first year,” says Ariana. More often, our ambassadors became interested in applying for fellowships after learning about opportunities through a fellowships information session or email. Wen-Kuni Ceant (MPH ’16) had “been interested in fellowships, since [her] undergraduate experience at Howard University,” but says she decided to apply only “after attending an information session...and truly experiencing the support that Drexel offers its fellowship applicants.”
While some of our ambassadors eagerly sought out the challenge of applying for fellowships, others needed some extra motivation or encouragement to get started. “I became interested in applying for a fellowship after my PI discussed with me the benefits,” said Karthik “Paco” Sangaiah (PhD candidate Computer Engineering). “As soon as he let me know that actually obtaining one could be a reality, I sought out the first fellowship workshop I could find.” According to Amanda Pentecost (PhD candidate, Materials Science & Engineering), “many students dismiss fellowships applications because they read the announcement and think that they are not qualified to apply.” If you are concerned about being a strong candidate and are unsure about a particular opportunity, she suggests you “get the support of academic mentors; maybe this is a research advisor, staff member, or an older student who you look up to. Inform them that you are interested in applying, and together you can work out if this is the best opportunity.”
Many ambassadors sought fellowships to support a unique co-op or research opportunity. Claudia Gutierrez (BS/MS Biomedical Engineering '15, Honors) was inspired by her professor, Dr. Adrien Shieh’s experience as a postdoctoral fellow in Switzerland. “While his research was interesting, it was his love for the cultural experience and opportunity to explore the outdoors while in Switzerland that I found enchanting.” Claudia was able to secure a research co-op in Shieh’s former lab in Switzerland, with funding from a Whitaker Undergraduate Scholarship. Now in medical school, Claudia returned to Switzerland this year on a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Research Grant to continue expanding her “international perspective of medicine.”
2016-18 NOAA Hollings Scholars, Nicholas Barber (BS Geoscience '18, Honors) and Vincent O’Leary (BS Environmental Science ’18, Honors) were also able to pursue unique research and co-op opportunities through fellowships. As an intern with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in in Newport, Oregon, Nick had the opportunity to conduct research on geologic processes at the Axial Seamount, an active volcanic site located 300 miles off the Oregon coast. Nick has also applied for a 2018-19 Fulbright U.S. Student Research Grant to continue his current research on volcanos in Southeast Asia next year. Passionate about using data to visualize scientific information, Vince worked with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) developing a global topographic relief model, which “will be used for a variety of other projects such as tsunami forecasting, ocean circulation modeling, visualization of the effects of climate change, and understanding tectonic activity.”
Several ambassadors described fellowships as a way to gain experience and preparation for graduate school and a future research career. After deciding to pursue advanced research in biomaterials, Goldwater Scholar Carli Moorehead (BS/MS Biomedical Engineering/Materials Engineering '17, Honors) sought opportunities to explore her options outside of industry and gain more relevant experience before applying for graduate school. “Instead of trying to just get research experience on campus,” she encourages students to “try to get the co-op system to work for you.” In particular, she recommends that STEM students look into opportunities offered through national labs, which may not make it into Steinbright databases. As an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and PhD student at the University of Washington, Carli continues to collaborate with researchers at the Army Research in Maryland where she conducted two independent co-ops.
In addition to seeking fellowships to expand opportunities for research and fieldwork “outside the normal co-op system,” Nick Barber also sought to “compete for awards that would set me apart for graduate school.” His efforts seem to be paying off. In addition to receiving the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, Nick was recently selected as a finalist for the Gates-Cambridge Scholarship and has been accepted to a PhD program at Cambridge University for this fall. When applying to graduate programs, Emily Ostrow (BS/MS Environmental Science ’18, Honors) explains, “potential advisors like to see that you are competitive for national fellowships. No matter what field you’re entering, the likelihood that you’ll have to apply for external fellowships is very high.” Winning fellowships as a student can thus signal your potential for a successful research career in the future.
Fellowships can also have unexpected benefits, explains Emily Ballantyne (BS Mechanical Engineering '17). A few days before returning from her research fellowship in Chile, Emily walked around her host city of Santiago. “I went to my favorite spots throughout the city and was amazed at how comfortable I felt on my own there…I realized that I had grown more as a person than I had expected. It reignited my desire to keep learning throughout my life.”
While fellowships can provide great opportunities and open new doors, once your decide to apply, it can be a lot of work. Preparing the application can be challenging, especially for students at Drexel.
Drexel students are “crunched for time due to our quarter system,” explains Cali Chesterman (BS Animation & Visual Effects ‘17), so “fellowships require students to be extremely self-disciplined.” Nick advises to avoid tunnel vision and agrees, “It’s easier to put these very meaningful and character defining activities on the back burner when you have a midterm coming hard and fast every week,” but “if you plan 2 weeks ahead, thinking about the assignments you need to do and the time you will have to do them, you can…spend some time working on other, equally important things” like “research, extracurricular activities, or fellowship applications.”
Budgeting enough time is especially important when it comes to getting feedback and revising application materials. “Being in specific fields since freshman year really doesn’t equip you to articulate your research or interests without field specific jargon,” says Vaughn Shirey (BS Environmental Science '17). He advises “starting as early as possible and running through many drafts of your application” and “[making] sure you have a variety of people proof your work.” Scott Learner (PhD student Electrical Engineering) has similar advice for applicants: “taking two attempts at writing [an] application is not sufficient. These writing attempts get better with each iteration and outside feedback.” “Show the essay to everyone you know to get feedback,” he suggests, “but be selective in changes from individuals who are not in your topic area.”
Jessica Weaver (PhD student Materials Science and Engineering) suggests students “give themselves at least a solid month of time to write clear, concise application essays… if you consider how much is awarded to a successful applicant, the time commitment is well worth the extra work.” When crafting your application, says Sarah Gleeson (PhD candidate, Materials Science & Engineering), “spend some time crafting your experiences and accomplishments into a story - this is more interesting and memorable. It’s also important to pay attention to what that specific fellowship is looking for, and to emphasize those parts of your application.”
While it can be challenging to balance the demanding Drexel curriculum with the additional work of applying for a fellowship, our ambassadors agree the effort is worth it. Some of the benefits they mentioned include learning to take criticism, further defining and realizing personal and professional goals, and improving skills necessary to advance in their career.
For Anthony Abel (BS/MS Chemical and Biological Engineering/Materials Science '17, Honors), applying for fellowships “challenged me to step back and critically evaluate the choices I made, and work from there to build a compelling story.” Although the application process was difficult, Emily Lurier (PhD candidate Biomedical Engineering) found that it “forced me to make time to think about my research goals and passions [and] improved my ability to formulate research ideas in a brief but clear way, especially using non-technical language.”
Maddie Demas (BS Digital Storytelling '18) agrees, “There’s nothing to lose with applying for a fellowship because, even if you don’t get the award, you learn so much about yourself during the application process.” To students who are unsure or hesitant about applying Allie Pickens (BA Global Studies '17, Honors) says, “go for it! By researching the fellowship and creating your application, you learn so much about opportunities in your field as well as yourself.”
“Don't be afraid to apply because you think you're not good enough,” says Carli. She also stresses the importance of focusing on the process and keeping any results in perspective. “These things are reviewed by people and people are unpredictable. It's not a perfect formula . . . so you never know what's going to happen and you'll learn a lot through the process.” In fact, many applicants receive fellowships on their second (or third!) attempt. “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!” says Matthew Parsons (BS Physics ’15, Honors). “Both my Fulbright and GRFP awards came the second time around applying. Don't be discouraged if you don't get it the first time!”
The process can also open up entirely new and unexpected opportunities. “A friend recommended I chat about the Udall program with the fellowship staff and that really started a great relationship through my other applications,” says Vaughn Shirey. Although he didn’t receive Udall, conversations with fellowships advisors led Vaughn to apply for a Fulbright U.S. Student Research Grant to Finland. “Just two months in and I have already felt a lot of growth as an independent researcher and as a person,” says Vaughn. “Of course, there are other exciting things that have come along, such as sauna, hiking and meeting a lot of friendly reindeers!”
Overall, these students have had a variety of beneficial experiences and hold a wealth of knowledge waiting to be shared. Whether you are looking for application advice or just where to start, the Fellowships Ambassadors are here to lend a hand. You may see them at one of our events, and when you do, don’t hesitate to say hello!