Posted by: unlikelygrad | September 24, 2010

why I apply for fellowships I’ll never get

As far as I can tell, last year I was the only member of my cohort who applied for applied for a fellowship.* This year it seems to be that way again. “Why do you do this?” people ask. “Your advisor has funding for you.”

True enough. But even though I have absolutely no chance of winning a fellowship (I still have no publications–one of the primary complaints my reviewers had about me last year) I still am going for it. Why?

First of all, as SL said, if I intend to go into academia I have to get used to this process. You apply for funding, you get rejected, you apply for funding again, you get rejected again…and so on ad infinitum.

The second reason is because I want to stretch myself. Most of the students here are funded by external grants. Thus, they are forced to work on a particular project of their advisor’s design. True, they do contribute their own ideas to that project (e.g. tweaking the methodology or suggesting a different approach for solving the problem), but the basic project idea is not their own.

But I didn’t come here to do my advisor’s project–even though that’s what I’m doing right now and will probably continue to do until I finish my dissertation. I came here to learn how to do my own projects. Writing a fellowship proposal forces me to come up with a relatively novel idea and find the methodology which could potentially disprove my hypothesis. Here in lab, I use pretty much the same methodology every day. In my fellowship proposals I can not only apply that methodology to a new field but also toss in methods I’ve only used once or twice in a lab class–things my advisor would never use because they’re “Dr. J’s methods”.

Coming up with a hypothesis and the methodology to test it is the hardest part of writing a proposal for me. But it’s a skill I need to learn to become a professional scientist. And so I’ll practice it, over and over, until I’ve mastered it.

*One of the second years successfully applied for the NSF last year. I’m only talking about people who started with me.

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