Fulbright Friday: Giving & Getting Feedback

Fulbright_logoFriday, August 1st, 12 – 2 pm
109 Disque Hall (32nd and Chestnut)

During this session, you will “workshop” your personal statement and statement of grant purpose drafts from the Fellowships team, Fulbright ambassadors and other students who are applying. Sharing your writing with others and hearing from them what works and what doesn’t, what’s clear and what’s not, are critical steps in revising your essays. Students are welcome to bring their work at any stage of the process.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards funding for one academic year of self-designed study, academic research, creative projects, or teaching English in one of over 140 countries around the world. The program is sponsored by the Department of State.  Eligible students are US Citizens who will have a bachelor’s degree before the start of the grant (Fall 2015). Graduates and graduate students are also eligible to apply.

This is a repeating event. Make sure to visit our website for the full schedule.

Interview with the Drexel Writing Center: Part I, The Personal Statement

Kerri BestKerri Riveley is a Faculty Writing Fellow at the Drexel Writing Center and the Project Coordinator of the DWC-DFO Partnership, in which a team of dedicated faculty support fellowship applicants in their writing processes as they craft their essays. In addition to writing center pedagogies, Kerri’s research interests lie in extra-institutional and self-initiated writing practices.

What should be my goal when writing the personal statement?

It depends on the particular fellowship that you are applying for, but overall, not only should your goal be to represent the best version of yourself, but also to do a lot of self-introspection, to really reflect on your life choices, and how they have led you to the goal that you ultimately want to achieve.

What are the most common misconceptions students have about writing the personal statement?

I think that sometimes people think they’re just going to pound something out, and that’ll be it. It’s a much more in depth, complicated process with many, many revisions. So, it is imperative not to have the misconception that it’s going to be quick, easy and painless. It’s going to require a lot of time and dedication.

Introspection and reflection are very challenging for people. Talking about themselves, in creative and engaging sense, might be a little unusual, especially if they come from scientific backgrounds. So tapping into that kind of writing can definitely be challenging.

That being said, I see people come out of it feeling more confident, having a better understanding of why they made the choice to get where they are today, with a better understanding of both their past and their future in the context of their past.

Why is the personal statement such an important part of most fellowship applications?

Most of these fellowships not only fund important research that can change the world, but have some sort of human connection element. Be it being an ambassador to another country or collaborative work, being able to work on a team well, and strengthening the scientific community – part of what enables people to do this is having a good understanding of who they are as a person.

How much emphasis should there be on stories of personal growth versus professional or academic achievements/activities?

It depends on the fellowship you are applying for but the balance should be what works best with your own personal story and your personal goals. Sometimes it’s going to be giving equal emphasis to both, sometimes it’s really going to be emphasizing a pivotal moment that has led you to the path that you want to go down, sometimes it’s going to be prior academic experiences that have been life changing for you. So, it depends on who you are. You are going to let shine what feels most real about you.

For example, for Fulbright you’ve got two essays to write: one is the personal statement, one is the statement of grant purpose which is your project description. They want to know your personal story, and they want to know about your professional and academic experience. So you could have some in one and some in the other essay but they have to work together to show this full picture of yourself. Do you have what it takes to pull off the project that you want to do? Are you someone who has experienced personal growth, learned about yourself in the process, knows about your motivation and where your drive comes from, and also has the necessary background and skills to achieve your goals?

Students are encouraged to be specific rather than make vague, declarative statements about themselves. Can you give us an example of this? Conversely, how much detail is too much detail?

Sometimes people know so much about their project that they want to say everything about it. The biggest constraint is space. When you have only got one or two pages, you can’t really go into all that detail. Knowing what’s necessary and what isn’t is tricky, but you should be able to give a clear and concise picture so that a person who is not in your field, with average intelligence, can understand accurately what your project is.

Sometimes it means explaining some terminology, providing background about the things you’re talking about. I think it’s generally a good strategy to write out everything that comes to mind and then chop away from there, thinking about space constraints and clarity.

It could be helpful to have outside readers, especially for Fulbright as it is likely that the people reading are not going to be in your field. NSF, it’s more likely to have someone from your field. But if I, someone with no scientific background, reads it and does not understand whatsoever, that probably means it’s too technical with too much scientific detail that is unnecessary.

From your experience, what are the three elements of a successful personal statement?

Remember that [selection committees] are reading hundreds of essays. I’m struck by that element of realness, that makes you seem like a real person, something that makes you unforgettable, something that they are going to remember and make them go, “Oh yeah that’s that person who did such and such crazy thing.” Details that reflect depth to you instead of just a list of your experiences or your goals. That’s the kind of stuff that really sticks out to me, when people really capture the essence of who they are.

This is where introspection and self-reflection come in. You have to really think about who you are to be able to communicate it in writing to somebody else. When you think about yourself, who you are, your past achievements, your prior academic experiences, your goals for future research, all of that need to fit in a kind of unifying, cohesive story.

So three words for the personal statement – it should be genuine, compelling, and engaging.

Stay tuned for Part II in two weeks!

DFO Tips for Obtaining Letters of Recommendation

formal-letter-writingLetters of recommendation serve important functions in a fellowship application. First, they provide third-party confirmation that you, the student, have done what you said you did. Second, they help a selection committee who doesn’t know you evaluate your accomplishments, activities, and potential. Third, they explain what it is exactly that makes you so fantastic by contextualizing your achievements within your field and institution.

With that in mind, here are 5 tips from the DFO for obtaining effective letters of recommendation:

1. When selecting recommenders, remember that knowledgeable writing generally trumps a big name.

Most fellowship applicants have excellent grades and a letter stating you received an “A” in a class doesn’t separate you from the pack, so it’s important to have recommenders who can write deeply and sincerely about you. Search out faculty who can speak to your work ethic, character, drive, curiosity, and passion, and bear in mind that faculty with lots of experience can often provide more credible evaluations of your work. We highly recommend that you try to get to know faculty well before you need to ask them to write a letter. Go their office hours, ask for assistance, learn about their research, and look for opportunities to strengthen that relationship.

In some cases, depending on award rules and criteria (for instance, the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program), a professional supervisor or advisor may be a more appropriate choice. Be careful with this though. For academic program applications, you will want academic reference writers.

2. Come prepared.

When you are ready to ask someone to write a recommendation letter, make an appointment. Don’t ask on the way out the door after class or in the hallway — you want to demonstrate your seriousness of purpose. Sit down and have a conversation.

The DFO has a form with questions and prompts to help guide this conversation and review essential information that your recommender will need. Download it here and email or bring a completed copy with you.

Make sure to also provide them with contact information for the Drexel Fellowships Office, as well as a link to the Faculty section of our website.

3. Involve faculty in your application.  

When meeting with potential letter writer:

  • Explain what you are thinking of doing and why. Ask for an honest assessment of your candidacy.
  • Ask whether they would feel comfortable supporting you in your efforts. Give them a gracious way to say no.
  • Encourage faculty to help guide you in your proposal. Ask for their input on your ideas. Let them make suggestions. Some may even be able to offer connections to colleagues at other universities in the U.S. or abroad that you might contact or work with.
  • Ask if they’d be willing to read and offer feedback on the substance of the ideas in a draft or two. Find a time schedule that works for both of you and stick to it.
  • Let them know who your other recommenders are and discuss with them any unique experiences or insights that you are hoping they might be able to address in their letter.

4. Don’t settle for a mediocre letter.

If you don’t expect the letter of recommendation you asked for will be strong, you’ll be better served going elsewhere. Mediocre letters, even from important people, will not help you in your efforts. If your supporters are all tepid, you might be well-served by postponing or even reconsidering whether you are a suitable candidate for the award.

5. Send a Thank You note.

It takes a lot of work to write a good recommendation letter, so when it’s all done, make sure you let them know that you appreciate their help, regardless of whether you receive the award.

 

Alternate Workshop: Writing the Personal Statement

Fulbright_logo

Monday, July 24th, 3PM (Workshop)
Location: 109 Disque Hall (32nd and Chestnut)

 

The personal statement is an integral part of the Fulbright application. It is designed to give your reviewers a sense of who you are and how you have developed as an individual.  It can be challenging to write, especially when you are faced with the infamous blank page.  Come to this hands-on workshop for ideas on how to get started and to learn about revision strategies.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards funding for one academic year of self-designed study, academic research, creative projects, or teaching English in one of over 140 countries around the world. The program is sponsored by the Department of State.  Eligible students are US Citizens who will have a bachelor’s degree before the start of the grant (Fall 2015). Graduates and graduate students are also eligible to apply.

This is a repeating event. Make sure to visit our website for the full schedule.

 

Fulbright Friday: Writing the Statement of Grant Purpose

Fulbright_logoFriday, July 18th, 12 – 2 pm
109 Disque Hall (32nd and Chestnut)

The Statement of Grant Purpose is where you outline what you plan to do during your Fulbright year and why your project is a good fit with the country you are applying to. This workshop will help you understand what to address, how to get started, and equip you with strategies for revision.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards funding for one academic year of self-designed study, academic research, creative projects, or teaching English in one of over 140 countries around the world. The program is sponsored by the Department of State.  Eligible students are US Citizens who will have a bachelor’s degree before the start of the grant (Fall 2015). Graduates and graduate students are also eligible to apply.

This is a repeating event. Make sure to visit our website for the full schedule.

 

Fulbright Update from Chile: Sarah Lightfoot Vidal

sarah lightfoot vidal

Sarah graduated from Drexel University with a Bachelors and Masters degree in Materials Science and Engineering in 2013. Bringing together her love for Spanish-speaking countries and her focus in biomaterials and bio/synthetic, biomimetric polymer systems, she decided to apply for a Fulbright scholarship and is now carrying out her Fulbright grant in Chile to understand the applications of science and engineering in her host country.

Here in Concepción, Chile, my research is still centered on polymers with biological applications.  I work in the Centro de Investigación de Polímeros Avanzados (Center for Advanced Polymers Research) in collaboration with the Department of Chemistry here in the Universidad de Concepción.  My project, like science is oft to do, changed a bit upon arrival.  My presentation in Santiago to the Fulbright Commission was entitled “Utilizing bacteria to produce biological, environmentally-friendly polymers for medical applications”, wherein I discussed the development and use of polyhydroxyalkanoate-based systems for wound healings.  Now, I am using polyhydroxybutyrate (a class of polyhydroxyalkanoate, with possibilities for increasing chain flexibility depending on its chemistry) to create biodegradable nanoparticles which encapsulate natural polyphenols.

On a personal level, I have been deeply enjoying my experience here.  Working and living speaking another language has been an exciting, humbling, and at times frustrating experience for me.  Although it may seem trivial to some, developing a daily routine has been the most meaningful to my sense of independence.  I joined a gym for my health but also to meet new people and it has been a very welcome addition to my days.  (Zumba in South America is definitely something!)  My main advice to other students interested in applying to an international fellowship, is put your health first.

Processed with MoldivThe picture on the left is of a visit to Lota, a former coal-mining town on the sea.  Part of the mine, named Chiflón del Diablo (The Devil’s Whistle), is underwater—at that point I was crawling through the tunnels.  Afterwards we went to Parque Isidora Cousiño (Parque de Lota), a very beautiful park full of indigenous Chilean flora overlooking the sea.  The next picture is of me in Cerro Santa Lucía, located in the center of Santiago de Chile.  Pedro de Valdivia, a Spanish conquistador, took the hill on December 13, 1541.  Now, it is full of lookouts, monuments, and unbelievable architecture.

Processed with MoldivThe collage is of a few buildings I loved in Santiago (including the main fountain on Cerro Santa Lucía).  Finally, I recommend to any tourist of the city to visit el Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights).  It is incredibly emotional and educational and pays tribute to the victims of human rights violations during the Pinochet era.

 

DSCN2796 - Copy

I am incredibly proud to be representing Drexel during this journey of mine and hope to send a new update soon.  As always, I am happy to advise any student interested in pursuing their own adventure, just let me know.

Sarah Lightfoot Vidal

 

DFO Welcomes New Assistant Director

Meredith Best2The DFO is thrilled to welcome Meredith Wooten as our new Assistant Director. In her new position, Meredith will support the DFO’s mission of raising awareness of fellowship opportunities and helping students create strong applications though intensive advising and support. Meredith brings more than ten years of related academic advising and research experience to Drexel, as well as a strong commitment to the view that students who are engaged outside the classroom in experiences that connect with their studies will be more successful and become more engaged citizens locally, nationally, and internationally.

“This is an exciting time to join the Drexel community,” says Meredith. “I am looking forward to working with the dedicated staff of the Fellowships Office, who play a vital role in supporting Drexel’s mission by facilitating educational and professional experiences beyond the classroom that will prepare students to engage actively and effectively in the broader world.”

As Meredith begins to immerse herself in her new role, her immediate focus is to learn the needs of Drexel students and advisors, and to assist them with identifying promising opportunities and students and addressing any difficulties that may arise. Her long term vision includes further development of the Fellowships Office as a student-centered resource for advancing student achievement by expanding outreach efforts to identify and support students who can contribute to the vibrant research environment at Drexel. While Meredith brings fresh ideas about how to do this, she is also interested in hearing from students, faculty, and staff about the programs and resources they would like to see. To share your suggestions, you can contact Meredith at meredith@drexel.edu or stop by her office in Disque Hall.

A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Meredith previously worked as a graduate fellow at the Penn Graduate Student Center, where she focused on PhD support programs and outreach efforts to students from non-traditional and underrepresented groups. She has also taught American politics and political thought at Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, and the University of Pennsylvania. She focuses on advising students applying for NSF graduate fellowships and NIH research grants, as well as promoting research opportunities with faculty, students, and staff across the university.

 

Info Session: Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Program

Fulbright_logoTuesday, July 1st, 3-4 p.m.
Hassman Family Conference Room, PISB 103 (33rd and Chestnut)

As an ETA, you typically work alongside a teacher in an English classroom planning various activities to improve the students’ language abilities and knowledge of the United States. The Fulbright ETA is available in over 70 countries.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards funding for one academic year of self-designed study, academic research, creative projects, or teaching English in one of over 140 countries around the world. The program is sponsored by the Department of State.  Eligible students are US Citizens who will have a bachelor’s degree before the start of the grant (Fall 2015). Graduates and graduate students are also eligible to apply.

Fulbright Friday: Writing the Statement of Grant Purpose

Fulbright_logoFriday, June 27, 12 – 2 pm
109 Disque Hall (32nd and Chestnut)

The Statement of Grant Purpose is where you outline what you plan to do during your Fulbright year and why your project is a good fit with the country you are applying to. This workshop will help you understand what to address, how to get started, and equip you with strategies for revision.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards funding for one academic year of self-designed study, academic research, creative projects, or teaching English in one of over 140 countries around the world. The program is sponsored by the Department of State.  Eligible students are US Citizens who will have a bachelor’s degree before the start of the grant (Fall 2015). Graduates and graduate students are also eligible to apply.

This is a repeating event. Make sure to visit our website for the full schedule.

Fulbright Reflections with Lauren Forbes

Lauren Forbes cropLauren Forbes (Public Health, MPH ’13) recently returned from her time abroad as a Fulbright Student Scholar in Ethiopia. We asked her to share some of her reflections on that experience with us.

What did you do as a Fulbright Scholar in Ethiopia?

I ended up doing something very different from what I proposed in my application, but somehow I think I expected that. My proposed project was a tentative adolescent reproductive health project, but I was informed at the last minute that my affiliation would no longer be able to host me. Subsequently an advisor connected me with World Vision Ethiopia (WVE) where I ultimately worked with the Education Department to design an early childhood development (ECD) program for community-based resource centers that would be piloted in rural communities across the country. While at WVE, I also helped to write a community mobilization toolkit that will be used by field staff for conducting participatory research across all sectors and supported the expansion of a highly successful literacy boost program.

Lauren Forbes2What was the most rewarding and the most challenging part of the experience? 

Definitely the relationships that I was able to build with my coworkers. There was never a dull moment with them, and they always made me feel welcome despite the language barriers. Outside of the job, my most rewarding experiences were working with the preschool Sunday School class that I volunteered with on Sundays and the 5th grade class at a local elementary school that I worked with during the week. The 5th grade class had a welcome song that they sung me every time I came to work with them! It was incredibly humbling to see the dilapidated conditions in which they were learning, and yet their fervor for learning and hospitable welcome to me as an outsider.

sunday school

The most challenging part was my inability to go to the field, which was due to management decisions outside of my control. Going to “the field” is a part of any international development work, especially as a public health professional, because without seeing the local context and interacting with the people who will be impacted by the program one really can’t design a program localized for the community it will affect. City life in Ethiopia is vastly different from rural life, and I worried about how the lack of visits in the field would compromise the quality of my work and somehow invalidate my experience in Ethiopia. Ultimately I realized I was still contributing in a meaningful way to the organization by laying the framework for this ECD program.

Was there a particularly surprising or memorable event from your time abroad that you feel comfortable sharing? What did you learn from it? 

I learned endless life lessons from some of my most trusted taxi drivers. Most of the drivers that I relied on worked in my neighborhood and have given me many rides around the city, as I only sparingly used the more common and less reliable minibus transport. Over time we developed close relationships, and I would often ask them about the health of their families and children while we drove around the city. Upon finding out about my own marital status, many of them would proceed to give me unsolicited dating/marital advice in broken English, and their opinions varied from “you’re getting older, it’s time to get married now and start having children” to “you are still so young- don’t get married unless he’s the right one.” Rather than being offended, I was entertained by the irony of it all and delighted that they felt comfortable enough with me to give me these sorts of life advice like I was their niece or little sister. And the joy and excitement that they seemed to have when talking about their own families was contagious, despite the obvious hardships and economic stressors that they faced working in an industry with very little regulation and virtually no job security.

christmas dinnerDid you have a support network while you were there? If so, can you tell me how you built that and what kind of support you received? 

I had a tremendous support network while in Ethiopia, which was key to making this such an enjoyable experience and smooth transition into Ethiopian culture. My primary foundation was my friends and family in the U.S whom I regularly kept in touch with via Skype, email and my blog. I also had the support of my coworkers and senior management, all of whom I built strong relationships with. I had friends through the church I attended, who often gave me advice on where I could find certain items and other things important for new arrivals. Some of them also hosted me for holiday dinners like Ethiopian Christmas and Easter; thanks to them, I never had to spend a holiday alone. I had an expansive network of expat and local friends whom I met mostly through my roommates and other Fulbrighters, so not only did I get to meet people from all over the world but it was also great for professional development and networking purposes since many of us had similar interests. Finally my roommates and downstairs neighbors – we all became the best of friends. In fact, we still keep in touch regularly and are planning our reunion in the U.S.

Has your experience as a Fulbright Scholar changed you (or your ideas/goals/beliefs, etc.)? If so, how? 

This Fulbright experience has reminded me that to whom much is given, much is required. I saw this demonstrated by those like Haile Gebreselassie, the great Ethiopian distance runner, who is one of the wealthiest men in Ethiopia. He and many others continually give back to fellow Ethiopians through philanthropy projects. This attitude of altruism and social responsibility reminded me of my own responsibility to support those who are disadvantaged in my own community in the U.S. I have come to realize that the urban poverty challenges facing African-Americans have much in common with urban poverty in many African nations, and my goal is to work on integrative solutions to collectively and sustainably address these issues.

Wenchi_Crater_Lake_tripThe Fulbright experience also enabled me to see the amazing transformation of Ethiopia, which I think is largely unknown to the rest of the world which continues to view the country as the epitome of poverty and suffering. Not only is Ethiopia one of the fastest growing economies on the continent, but the health sector has been revolutionized by the massive health extension program (HEP) which has brought primary healthcare and health education to millions of rural Ethiopians.

I have also grown through this Fulbright experience to be increasingly comfortable with starting a conversation with complete strangers and interacting with people who have very different circumstances and backgrounds than my own. I feel confident that I can adapt well to any situation that I find myself in, whether that be a social event with friends or a career related event where I am suddenly put on the spot. For some, this might be second nature, but for me this is something that developed over time and will be great benefit throughout the rest of my life.

 

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