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Expert Advice on Fellowships from our 2018-19 Fellowships Ambassadors

January 3, 2019

2018-19 Fellowships Ambassadors headshot image collageFrom becoming more competitive for graduate school, to personal and professional development through opportunities beyond coursework, our Fellowships Ambassadors can share a wide variety of reasons students should apply to fellowships. Dispelling some of the myths of fellowships, our Ambassadors share their experiences in hopes of encouraging other Drexel students to explore opportunities and discover the ways in which fellowships can fit into their own individual paths. In this collection of responses to a series of questions about their fellowships process, the Ambassadors discuss their respective experiences and how they became interested in fellowships, offering a multitude of advice for fellow Drexel students.

It’s no secret that Drexel students have significant time and scheduling limitations. While our Ambassadors are not free from this, they can offer several strategies to help students balance their work load while considering and applying for fellowship opportunities:

“One of the challenges I faced was having fellowships due very soon after the Fall term started. I would recommend people start thinking early about the fellowships they want to apply for and what resources they need or people they need to talk to.” – Emily Ostrow (BS/MS Environmental Science ’18, Honors)

“Have a clear motivation on why you want that specific award, set deadlines and plan in advance for your application. Get your work reviewed as much as you can. Try to have a back-up plan in place just in case you do not get the final award. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t qualify for it, the fact you decided to even try is in itself pretty remarkable and you should be proud and try again.” – Adrian Mendonsa (BS Chemical Engineering ‘20)

"Take the time to self-reflect! Ask yourself if what you're doing is serving a purpose to you: do you enjoy what you're doing? Are you learning something? Do you have the opportunity to develop a new skill? Are you figuring out how to interact with different types of people? Does this experience give you perspective?" – Emily Ballantyne (BS Mechanical Engineering ‘17)

In addition, one of the concerns we hear from students is that fellowships don’t fit in well with co-op schedules. This is not always true.  Environmental engineering and materials science undergraduate, Marina D’souza recognized this early on as she explored researching abroad in Germany with DAAD:

“The DAAD RISE program worked in perfectly with my co-op cycle and I was determined to give it my best shot. Applying to the DAAD RISE program might be the best thing I've done at Drexel - career wise and life experience wise.”

Another misconception about fellowships is their value for graduate students who already have funding.  Computer and electrical engineering PhD student, Kyle Juretus explained the advantages he enjoyed by securing a graduate fellowship:

“My advisor recommended fellowships as a means to increase my visibility outside of Drexel in terms of recognition. In addition, fellowships provide a degree of freedom in graduate studies in terms of pursuing research of interest to you and the ability to move freely within the academic realm without worrying about finding funding.”

Physics alumnus, Matthew Parsons, also spoke of the freedom fellowships can give graduate students with their research:

“My interest in fellowships has always been that they offer you the freedom to be in charge of your own work. It is incredibly rewarding to have the opportunity to develop your own plan, attempt to carry it out, fail many times, and learn something new through it.”

When it comes to being qualified for a fellowship, requirements vary across awards. Our ambassadors encourage you to find the award that fits your goals and take the chance on applying, because even the process itself can be worth the time and energy:

“A big challenge is feeling "good enough" or facing "failure." But honestly, the scholarships/fellowships that I haven't received still made me a stronger candidate for the ones that I did receive. Developing a story --of who I am and want to be-- helped me focus my efforts.” – Valerie Neimann (BS Chemical Engineering ’18, Honors)

“There is a chance you won't get awarded your dream fellowship, and it can be scary to think you have invested so much time, energy, and emotion into an application for something you didn't get. Whatever happens, the self-reflection and writing skills you will gain in the application process are really valuable for a variety of things ... Even if you don't get a fellowship, you will feel proud that you created a strong application and learned a lot about yourself along the way.” – Dylan O’Donoghue (MLS ‘18)

“Looking through fellowship websites and talking to previous applicants is a good way to know which achievements and traits you should highlight about yourself … Even if you don't get a fellowship, applying is a useful experience! You learn how to evaluate your strengths and communicate them to others, and hopefully the feedback you receive will make you a better applicant next time!” – Sarah Gleeson (PhD student Materials Science and Engineering)

“Have the confidence to show your personality in your essays, your unique self is what will make your essay stand out.” – Sofi Courtney (BS Environmental Science ’20, Honors)

While the process may still seem intimidating, there is a lot to take from the fellowship experience itself. Along with the challenges, Ambassadors shared their growth and lessons learned from their fellowship experiences:

“… I learned there is no real set path to accomplish your goals in life. I have become much more adept at managing a team in regard to accomplishing large research projects. I have become more confident about why I do the work I do and how to do it.” Shawn Joshi, MD/PhD student

“This experience made me a more open, independent and confident researcher and person in general. The opportunity to experience new things and meet new people is not lost on me now as it may have been before due to shyness or lack of confidence.” – Emily Lurier (PhD candidate Biomedical Engineering)

“When I say I don’t recognize the person I was before my Fulbright experience, I am not exaggerating. So much had changed in that period abroad that made me a better scientist, but also a better person who was more engaged and aware of the international community.” – Vaughn Shirey (BS Environmental Science ‘17)

Overall, there is reoccurring advice about starting the fellowships process early and getting the timing right:

Start early. Fellowship applications go through multiple rewrites with multiple people giving feedback.” – Nicholas Trainor (BS/MS Chemical Engineering/Materials Science and Engineering ‘19, Honors)

“During the fall of my pre-junior year, I was very busy with study abroad and student organizations, but I decided to take on this added responsibility because I wanted to get a better idea of what I was doing ... Given that I was contemplating a change in research focus at that time, the timing couldn’t have been better.” – Nicholas Barber (BS Geoscience '18, Honors)

So what are you waiting for? Come to a Fellowships 101 session to learn more about how to get started. Start searching through our database to find your fit and discover what fellowships can do for you!

See our full list of 2018-19 Fellowships Ambassadors on our website here.