About three years ago, I was sitting in my office–basically a bull pen with six other people–and I started to talk with one of my office mates about the abysmal prospects for the job market. My colleague suggested I look into applying for a Fulbright award. At the time, the idea intrigued me; however, I did not necessarily want to apply when I did not know where I would be the next academic year. I was an adjunct at that point, and I was neck deep in job ads trying to find a more steady income. Fast forward two years, and I was still on the job market, looking for the ever elusive Tenure Track position that feels like a search for the Loch Ness monster. It was at this point, with a little more stability, when I decided to apply for a Fulbright.
Since I received the Fulbright, colleagues have expressed interest in applying and have asked for tips. So, today I thought I would provide a few tips for applicants who want to apply for a Fulbright. These tips are in no way extensive, and what worked for my grant may not work for others. However, I hope that the information I provide will be helpful to you as you construct your application.
Figure out what grant opportunity is best for you
For this, my wife and I looked at various grant opportunities and discussed which one would probably be the best fit for us. While I could have constructed something around research, my current projects did not involve anything that would work within the framework of any of the grants that we were looking at. So, we narrowed down the decision to grants that focused on teaching with some opportunities for research. As well, we zeroed in on grants that would provide stipends for my wife and children. After narrowing down the list to about three, we settled on the “American Literature and Culture” grant at the University of Bergen in Norway.
This, of course, is perhaps the most important decision in the process because it will determine your materials. Overall, I would suggest that you look at the grant in detail and determine whether or not it is a grant that would be beneficial. Along with this, I would strongly suggest thinking about what you can bring to the institution where the position will be and to the host country. These are important items to consider not just when deciding on a grant opportunity but also when drafting your application materials.
Contact the host institution
Each grant typically has a departmental contact. One of the first things I did when working on my materials was contact this individual. I did this for a few reasons. For one, I reached out to introduce myself and to express my interest in the position. I did this by emailing and telling the person a little about my research and my pedagogy. This initial contact led to ongoing conversations where I was able to inquire about the institution, the courses I would be expected to construct, and other pertinent questions. The departmental contact assisted me by pointing me to syllabi for similar courses to the ones I would be expected to teach. This helped me in the construction of my own materials. Most importantly, the correspondence led to a letter of invitation from the institution that I could include in my application. (My grant did not require a letter, but some do.) All of this helped not only in the construction of my application but also in the forging of institutional connections.
Seek out example materials and readers
As with any application, take the time to look or ask for examples of the materials required for the application. For this, I contacted someone in my department who had just completed a Fulbright and asked him if I could look at his materials. He was gracious enough to allow me to look at his materials, and while they were for a different grant, they assisted me as I worked on my own, specifically my letter. Along with this, I sought out a couple of individuals to look over my materials before submitting. Here, I asked another colleague who was a former Fulbright scholar. He read my letter and offered suggestions for revision.
Construct your letter
Instead of totally focusing on how you can benefit the institution, make sure you point out what you want to learn from the grant and the host institution. Show what research departments, programs, and initiatives, you want to learn from and what you to learn from these items. Discuss how you plan to use what you learn when you return to your host institution. Along with this, also point out how you can benefit the host institution and compliment existing research departments, programs, or initiatives. Make sure you strike a balance here. This is easier said than done, I know, because we want to highlight our accomplishments and expertise. However, you need to remember the mission of the Fulbright program, a mission of cultural exchange. If you solely focus on what you can offer, you eliminate what you can learn from the host institution, community, and country.
Contact current scholars
Throughout the process, I contacted current grantees in Norway, and specifically at the University of Bergen. I believe I did this after I submitted my application. However, if I did it again, I would start contacting them via Twitter or email before submitting the application. I contacted individuals to prepare for the interview, if it ever occurred. I wasn’t sure if I would receive an interview. By contacting current grantees, I got a sense of what to expect and address in an interview. This helped me when I did receive the interview. This helped, as well, after receiving the grant because these contacts provided useful information for the move, finding housing, finding schools, and other practical information about the upcoming year.
Looking over this post, the overall theme is to reach out to individuals at every stage in the process. I have long been a proponent of contacting people, even if you do not know them personally. Most will be willing to offer advice and assistance, within reason. This has been my experience since graduate school. By contacting individuals, it also increases your scholarly network and connections.
This, as I said before, is not an extensive list of tips for your Fulbright application. However, I hope it provides you with some useful information as you get ready to compile and submit your materials.