To those who haven’t heard of the Fulbright grant, a Fulbright is funding to do research or teach English for one year in a foreign country. Because everything is paid for, you can imagine it’s fairly competitive. (For more info, go to http://us.fulbrightonline.org)
I was lucky enough to be selected for one. Next year, I’ll be carrying out a Fulbright research grant at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, in Germany, studying the intersection of great tit personality and social behavior. One of the projects I’m looking forward to working on is examining how birds of different degrees of boldness rely on conspecifics to find food. One application of this is ensuring beneficial human-animal interactions; understanding how knowledge about foraging sites travels through groups can help us predict native bird populations’ responses to anthropogenic habitat change, for example. I will be working with Dr. Niels Dingemanse, a researcher at the MPIO and also a professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University, in Munich. The Institute is located a forty-minute train ride south of Munich and I’m very excited to explore the city and learn about German culture. Hopefully a year of German at U of I is enough to let me get by, though I’ll be keeping a dictionary close by!
I first learned of the Fulbright a year ago, when I was looking at graduate schools. I found a girl doing really cool research on tiger-human conflict in India and e-mailed her, asking if she had any advice for how she got to where she was. In her very helpful response, she mentioned her Fulbright year in India and how it’d helped her decide what to do for a PhD. Shortly afterwards, I met with the head of my research lab, Dr. Alison Bell, and asked for her help finding someone with whom I could do research abroad. Dr. Dingemanse’s research interested me the most, and after an e-mail that took me a few tries to write, I received a good response! We e-mailed back and forth over project ideas and came up with a tentative project. Meanwhile, I was working on my Fulbright application with the help of the National and International Scholarships Office at U of I (http://topscholars.illinois.edu). I’m very thankful to Laura Hastings and David Schug, who helped me through every step of my application. I would recommend to anyone even considering pursuing the Fulbright to fill out an application; the process of organizing your life up to this point and deciding what direction you want to go with it now was immensely helpful.
I was on the waitlist for ten weeks, so I feel very, very fortunate to be in this position. My advice to anyone considering applying for a Fulbright comes in four parts. First, start early! It’s crazy to think I started working on my Fulbright application over a year before I heard the final result. First drafts of essays are always terrible and it takes everyone a while to find an angle to their application. Keep pushing. Have friends, family, and professors give you feedback, and you’ll end with something you’re happy with. Second, find very good reasons why your Fulbright has to be in the country you chose. If you want to teach English in Ecuador, why not Colombia, Peru, Chile, Panama, or Spain? How is a neuroscience lab in Switzerland better than MIT or Cambridge? Outside of research, what can you offer Madagascar that you couldn’t to South Africa or Ghana? Third, be as specific as possible whenever possible. Anyone can write “I plan to volunteer while I’m in Vietnam” and get away with it. It looks much, much better to write “I have contacted this non-profit in the nearby town, which is ten minutes away by bike, and the head of the program, Mrs. such and such, has agreed that I can help on these projects.” Fourth, throughout the whole process, be humble and thankful. Your application needs to make you look awesome, true, but your success highly depends on the help of a lot of people. Say thanks to your letter of recommendation writers. Understand that the person you contact to do research with is taking a chance by responding to an e-mail from someone he or she has never met.
If you apply and you’re lucky, you will get to spend a year in another country learning from others and about yourself. But even if you don’t receive a grant, you will still learn from the experience and be better-prepared for selling yourself to graduate schools or potential employers. I wish you the best of luck! Send your applications to the National and International Scholarships Office before the July 1 priority deadline (if you can!), and please message me if you’d like advice or another pair of eyes on your essays.
IBH students travel the world, publish research papers, and do all sorts of amazing things