Sharing Writing Tips for Fellowships and Beyond

A student wearing a face mask and studying in the library

By Katya Hrichak

Many students prefer funding through external fellowships both for the prestige and the freedom to focus on their research. What can applicants do to increase their chances of success?

The answer, according to Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Jan Allen, is to start as early as possible.

During her Fall 2020 fellowship workshops, Allen shared fellowship application writing tips for success. When sharing comments from reviewers on rejected applications, Allen repeatedly returned to the importance of time.

“What we all say is, ‘I know what I would do if I had one more week to work on this, one more day. I know I could make this better,’” she said. “The way you give yourself the hours, days, or weeks is you start that much earlier.”

Starting an application early gives applicants time to write and revise their drafts, incorporate feedback from numerous sources, and, in the case of over 200 Cornell graduate students this fall, attend one or more of the five workshops offered by the Graduate School.

This fall’s workshop series offered a nuts-and-bolts approach beginning with information sessions on identifying appropriate fellowships, panel discussions, Q&A sessions with current and past fellowship recipients, and even the opportunity to have draft applications reviewed.

Gustavo Escalante, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, found the panel most informative. Panelists advised listeners to seek out students from various fields to review their statement drafts. After the session, Escalante followed this advice and connected with a panelist who reviewed his draft.

“My primary takeaway was that I should get as many eyes on my statements as possible,” chemical engineering doctoral student Aaron Wheeler found. “It was also in my best interest to look over as many former fellowship-winning statements as possible.”

Students who attended sessions were encouraged to review successful fellowship applications and given email access to materials in the Graduate School repository.

For future applications, Wheeler also noted he would heed Allen’s most important point: Readying his own fellowship applications for feedback early.

For Allen, the secrets to a successful fellowship application are the same as those for other writing projects. Learning to write persuasively with ample time for revisions and feedback are universal steps in developing a productive writing process that can be used in both academic and professional settings.

“Writing skills are generalizable, and writing a fellowship application is a good exercise,” she said. “All of us in the Graduate School are so proud of our students, how hard they work, and how competitive they have become in winning external awards.”

In addition to yearly fall fellowship workshops, the Graduate School offers a host of other programs throughout the year to support students in their writing goals.

Additional opportunities to support students’ academic, career, personal, and professional development can be found on the Career and Professional Development webpage.