10 Life or Death Tips for Fellowship/Job Applications

Two weeks ago I was sitting in DC reviewing $1 million health research applications.  Today I’m sitting on my sofa scoring summer research fellowship applications.  Although one application is for a million dollars and the other is for $6,000, the relative stakes are the same for both applicants.  But as I read the student applications I can’t help but cringe when I see an applicant with potential get a poor score because of errors that could have been avoided had the student considered a few essential tips when completing the application.

In order of importance, these are critical steps you must take to make your summer fellowship application or job application, stronger:
  1. Take a close look at the Fellowship/Job eligibility requirements.  If you are eligible for the funds, then consider applying.  If you are not sure you are eligible call the funder and clarify your eligibility.  There is no point in applying for an application if you going to be rejected right off the bat.  Of you are not eligible, find another.
  2. Consider at the timeline and decide if you will be able to complete the application.  Large applications could take 6 months to complete.  Shorter applications could be completed in 3 weeks, maybe less if you have some of the content written already.
  3. Read the application materials carefully before you begin to write your essays.  Applications are broken down into different sections that ask for separate material.  One section will ask about your previous research/work experience, one will ask for publications and presentations, one will ask for essays, etc.  When you read the entire application you can see where you have to place all of the content and begin to outline your content.  If you do not read the application in its entirety, you may end up talking about awards in your personal essay section…. and as an application scorer I can tell you that this results in lost points.
  4. Learn the goal or focus of the fellowship/job/funder and match it.  Each organization has its own subtle long term goal. They may want to increase the number of women in science, solve health issues that impact children, or examine how people with one leg longer than the other cope in society (or whatever, obviously).  If you learn what the long term goal is you can mention it throughout the entire application.  For example, you could say “I have long been dedicated to researching issues that impact adolescent health and look forward to a career where I can research…”
  5. Understand how each application is scored and make sure you address the criteria.  Now that you know (1) what is required in each section of an application, and (2) the goal of the funding organization, you need to know how each application is scored.  You can usually request a copy of the score sheet/criteria, if it is not already available publicly. Take a look at the score sheet and see if there are any critical issues that you must address.  If there are, address them.
  6. Answer each question and essay…. and be deliberate with your answer.  This may seem obvious, but be OBVIOUS with your answers.  I recently read 20 applications and only one stood out.  It stood out because the applicant was upfront and forward with their answers.
  7. Spell check your application. Typos result in lost point, if only because reviewers get annoyed.
  8. Ask your references if they can write excellent letters of recommendation. If not, ask someone else. Letters of recommendation can make or break an application.  I have seen one sentence letters and immediate kill the application. On the flip side, if I see a great letter I boost the applicant.  Be brave and ask references directly if they can write an “excellent” letter.  If not, move on to someone else that knows your work and will write you a great letter.
  9. Follow the 1 in 5 Rule of Grants and expect to get rejected and to apply more than once.  The good thing about applying and being rejected is that you receive grant feedback on your application for the following year.
  10. Celebrate completed applications (won or lost).  You never win anything by being timid and not getting into the ring.
If you follow these tips you will start to be successful at your job or fellowship applications.  These tips certainly apply for funding for research equipment or gear as well.  Do you have a tip that has helped you in the past?