Three professors shared their experience as past Ford Fellows and advice for applicants. The advice below is compiled from the panel, consisting of Curtis Marez, Past Postdoctoral Ford Fellow and Associate Professor & Chair of Ethnic Studies, Sara Johnson, Past Postdoctoral Ford Fellow and Associate Professor of Literature, and Mark Lawson, Regional Liaison for Ford Foundation and Professor of Reproductive Medicine.
Applying for fellowships is a time-consuming, yet rewarding experience, even if you do not win. Completing the applications helps you to focus on what your argument is and what the stakes are. Applicants must answer the question, “How am I relevant?” and the best answers are those that address the core of why you are doing this work.
Becoming a Ford Fellow is more than just getting a check; all panelists spoke of becoming a part of the Ford “family” that supports you throughout your career. This award is not necessarily given to the person who has the most awards or grants. They look for someone doing compelling work, who is truly interested in diversity, and has a direction and goal that will further your career and contribute to the diversification of the academy. Award include predoctoral, dissertation, and postdoctoral fellowships.
Evaluators spend time looking over the entire application package, and are divided into broad academic categories, such as life sciences, arts & humanities, etc. People do apply more than one year in a row, particularly for the postdoctoral fellowship. They advise looking at resources on Ford website, such as the SSRC’s Art of Writing Proposals and Preparing a Successful Fellowship or Grant Application). Mark Lawson expressed his willing to help with students preparing Ford fellowship packages.
Timing is everything
Consider starting your fellowship application as far ahead as three months ahead of time. Revisions are very important and take time. Most competitive applications have been read by numerous eyes, including mentors, advisers, and peers. A long lead-up also gives your letter writers a chance to write you a good letter. A month’s notice is ideal; last minute-requests can be irksome to letter writers. Some letter writers like to give input into the application, which can improve your package and ensure that their letter matches what you are actually doing.
The Ford Fellowship Postdoctoral Fellowship requires applicants to have a mentor and logistics set up ahead of time. You must allow for time to find and contact a mentor, as well as work out nitty-gritty details such as office space, library privileges, lab space, etc. This is also true for grants such as the UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow. For the UC fellowship, your mentor must write a letter of support too demonstrating that they are invested. Their letter should complement what you say.
Grant writing tips
There is a formula to grants, and much of it is spelled out in the call. Mention all the things they ask for and use the same language. Use the space allotted wisely and appropriately. Demonstrate why the work matters, what the stakes are. Ask yourself, what does each paragraph in this application do? Be specific about how you will spend your time. Be realistic. Don’t say you are going to finish your book. Avoid specialized jargon. Ask yourself, is there a more straightforward way to say this? One strategy to recognize if your prose is still jargon-filled is to get someone outside your field to read it.
When writing your research statement, remember that you need to grab their attention in first sentence. They are reading a big stack of applications, and you want yours to present an elegant research question that intrigues them. The first paragraph should read like an abstract: a clear and straightforward statement of the project and its significance. Lay out your methodology on both the conceptual and practical level. This means that you must explain the intellectual frameworks that govern a particular way of doing research and say precisely what you will do in a hands-on way. What specific steps will you take?
When writing your personal statement, be sure to address all the things they ask for. Continual, engaged work related to diversity stands out. An applicant’s actions matter much more than what “boxes they can check.” They are looking for a person who is committed to diversity in a substantive way. Everyone has a story, and that may present a compelling reason to garner support. Even apparent challenges can be a strength. For example, if you have only done informal mentoring rather than more formalized programs, recognize that this may be because of a lack of structural support—something you can help change in the future!