Monday, July 27, 2009

Applying for a Fulbright Research Grant

One excellent opportunity for students and academics to conduct research on a topic of interest (including health-related research) is through a Fulbright research grant.

Alison Flamm, a 2009 Swarthmore College graduate, is a recipient of a Fulbright Grant to conduct economic research on the health hazards of water pollution in China. I asked her about the application process for the first post in our series on Fulbright grants:

1. Tell me a little about your background. How did you become interested in applying for a Fulbright grant?

I was a Chinese and Economics double-major in college, and the summer after junior year, I wanted to find a way to combine these interests. I became a research assistant for an economist who was doing a project on the health effects of water pollution, and conducted research both in Beijing, China and in the U.S. I became intrigued by the complexity of the water pollution issue and the importance of addressing an issue that appears to have serious health consequences for a very significant population.

At the same time, I became aware of the complexity of my role as a researcher from a developed country examining the challenges of a developing country. A Fulbright grant seemed like a great opportunity to continue to explore this topic while focusing on cross-cultural understanding and making an effort to gain the Chinese perspective on the issue.

2. Describe your experience with the application process. What was most helpful during this process? What did you find most challenging?

Preparing to apply for the Fulbright took a lot of thought and discussion; actually writing the application was fairly simple. Once the idea of a Fulbright grant occurred to me, I had a lot of ideas for research projects. I settled on the issue of water pollution because it was the only one where I could demonstrate my ability to successfully conduct a project. All of my previous research and all of my connections were related to the water pollution issue, and they were crucial in conveying the viability of my project in my application.

My biggest challenge was in finding a university affiliation in China. I had to get up a lot of courage to do all the emailing I did to find a connection to my final affiliation at Nanjing University. It was a lesson in networking, which is even more important in China than in the U.S.

3. Do you have any words of wisdom for someone thinking about applying for a research Fulbright?

It's hard to get motivated to do an application for something you might not get, but the Fulbright application is simple enough (and the reward great enough if it works out) that in most cases it's worth a shot. If you have a project that you're excited about and believe in, and you have a genuine interest in understanding the culture of your host country, you'll be able to write a strong application. Your passion and preparedness will shine through in what you've written, and will lead your referees to write enthusiastic letters of recommendation.

Also, never underestimate the number of people who are willing to help you! Have anyone who shows any interest in your Fulbright aspirations read over your application. Everyone I showed my application to caught something different, from awkward sentences to things that could be politically controversial.

Keep your eye out for more to come on the Fulbright experience. If this is something that might be of interest to you, check out or talk with the Fulbright contacts at your academic institution (you can apply through your university or college or at-large to the agency responsible for the program in which you are interested). But start soon, because applications are due in October!

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