John Garrison Marks is a PhD graduate student in History at Rice University. His dissertation compares the experiences of free people of color in two port cities of the Americas during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Find him on Twitter @johngmarks .
About a month ago, I got really lucky. My school sent out an e-mail notifying me that the following week would be “Fulbright Week,” and that they would be offering a series of panels to bring me up to speed and prepare me for the application process. I had been planning for a while to apply for a Fulbright to fund my dissertation research on race and slavery in nineteenth-century Colombia, so I was happy Rice had a whole week devoted to getting prepared. As I started looking into the process more deeply, I had a momentary sense of panic as I realized I should have started months before I did.
So I started looking around online to see what other people have said about the application process, and information was surprisingly hard to come by. There’s lots of information about the program—where you can go, what types of projects you can do, deadlines—but remarkably little written by people who have gone through, or are going through, the process themselves. With that in mind, here are some things that have worked for me in this process so far.
1. Start Early: This one I can’t stress enough. Since the national application deadline is in mid-October (the 15th this year, to be exact), there’s not much time to get things done if you wait until the fall semester starts. Thankfully, I was able to get a funding application in to my department for a pre-application/pre-dissertation research trip this summer—the trip is long enough to strengthen my application, but short enough not to hurt it. I’m also going to need all the time I can get for all the revisions and edits I’ll need to distill my dissertation and life story into three pages (THREE!), so starting this far in advance is crucial. Not only that, but a lot of the people I need to be in contact with during this process (professors, administrators, scholars in the target country) are only available during the academic year, so I had to rush to catch them before the end of the semester, rather than risk not being able to contact them over the summer. Which brings me to my next point…
2. Talk to People: And by “people,” I mean “everyone.” I started by talking with my advisor in Latin American history, and branched out from there. She told me about her Fulbright experience, and put me in contact with a current grad student in my department who had just successfully gone through the process. So I talked to her, and others who had gone through the process as well, to get some first-hand information and application samples. I shot an e-mail to a professor I kind of knew in the Hispanic Studies department, who does research in Venezuela and Colombia, to see if he had contacts at a Colombian university for my institutional affiliation (he did: his brother in law). So I talked to said brother in law, and got names of other historians at his university who do research similar to mine. It was a bit intimidating at first to be basically cold e-mailing scholars I’d never met or spoken with before (in a foreign language, no less), but everyone I have spoken with about the Fulbright process so far has been incredibly helpful and kind. Just by talking and e-mailing with a series of grad students and scholars, I was able to fairly painlessly obtain a letter of institutional affiliation.
3. Put Together a Support Group: Okay, maybe it’s not quite a “support group,” but it will probably get pretty close. I sent out an e-mail through my school’s Graduate Student Association asking other graduate students who might be interested in working cooperatively on their Fulbright applications over the summer to get in contact with me, and a few have (side note: if anyone reading this post would like to join, there’s still room!) Like a lot of people, I work best under a deadline, even if that deadline is fairly arbitrary and self-imposed. Having a group with which to share drafts of my personal statement and research proposal every few weeks will be incredibly helpful. Not to mention, a lot of graduate school is a fairly solitary experience, so I’m looking forward to having new group to go through this process with.
So that’s pretty much where I’ve gotten thus far. Right now I’m working on drafting my research proposal and personal statement to share with my support group in a couple weeks, and in August, I’ll be going to Colombia to pick up my letter of institutional affiliation in person while on my research trip. Over the next few months I’ll be focusing on how to frame my project proposal in a way that will be most appealing to Fulbright, and how to craft my personal statement to explain why I am the person most capable of facilitating this kind of cultural exchange. No big deal.
Do you have any tips about the Fulbright application process? Have you already come across troubles for this year’s application that you’d like to share?
[Image by Flickr user fabulousfabs  and used under the Creative Commons license.]