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Writing a Fellowship Proposal

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Writing a Proposal for Summer Fellowships

Writing a Fellowship Proposal

Writing Partners give advice and tips about writing fellowship proposals.

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Tip: The Poorvu Writing Center offers many great resources that support student writing. Pair with a Writing Partner for one-on-one help in drafting your fellowship application.

What is a fellowship proposal?

The purpose of a fellowship proposal is to:

  • explain your proposed project and the motivations behind it.
  • introduce yourself to the committee.
  • reassure the committee that you are invested in this project and that you are the right person to carry it out.
  • demonstrate the preparation you have undertaken so far.

By the time applications are due, you will need to have done a lot of preparation and considered how your proposed experience fits into your “big picture”. However, it is understood that your plans will continue to evolve between the application deadline and your departure, so you may not have everything 100% finalized by the time you submit your proposal.

When selection committees read fellowship proposals, they are looking for evidence that:

  • the proposed activity is feasible.
  • you have the necessary background and skills to carry out the work that you are proposing.
  • you have clear and realistic objectives for the activity.
  • you have adequately researched and prepared for your project.
  • you will carry something forward from the proposed activity to your experience at Yale or beyond.
  • you have considered all the stakeholders, and their needs and expectations.
  • you have sought guidance from experts in the field and you have the support you need to successfully and responsibly carry out the work.

Below, you will find a list of questions you should aim to answer in your fellowship proposal. These range from questions about your exact plan to questions about how your proposed activity fits into your longer-term goals.

General advice

  • Start early.
  • Think of your fellowship proposal as a part of a larger whole that includes the letter(s) from your recommender(s) and other supporting documents (e.g., your resume and transcript).
  • Consider your audience; write for an intelligent non-specialist (i.e., make sure the terminology will be understandable to someone outside your field).
  • The tone should be neither too academic nor too personal. Aim for economy, enthusiasm, and directness; eloquence is welcome, but not at the expense of substance or honesty.
  • Make sure all information is accurate and that you will be prepared to discuss in some detail anything you mention.
  • Do not exaggerate your accomplishments, but also do not be falsely modest.
  • Do not try to guess what the selection committee might be seeking; they want to know you, not a fabrication.
  • All rules of good writing (clarity, conviction, correctness, and academic honesty) apply. Proposals are read as indications of clear and organized thinking and effective communication.
  • Ask for feedback. Consult especially your faculty advisers, recommenders, and your Writing Tutor. Ask your readers to tell you what questions your proposal raises that you might not have considered.
  • Revise. Plan to experiment and try completely different versions.
  • Keep to word limits and all other guidelines.
  • Proofread. Errors suggest you lack seriousness of purpose.

To get your pen/keyboard going…

If you can respond to these items clearly and thoroug​hly, you are in a great position to write your fellowship proposal:

  • What motivates/inspires you to pursue this project? Why is this project important to you?
  • With whom have you developed your proposed idea? Please note that any research projects should be discussed with a faculty mentor, and this person will be expected to write your letter of recommendation.
  • Where are you proposing to go, and why is it important that you conduct your project there instead of elsewhere?
  • If appropriate, describe your knowledge of the local language and/or the culture of the country to which you are proposing to go.
  • What contacts have you made (or do you plan to make) in your proposed destination?
  • What other coursework and job/research/extracurricular experience has prepared you to make a success out of your proposed activity? In other words, how are you qualified to carry out your project?
  • If conducting research, what theoretical framework will you employ and what methodology will you use? If planning interviews, is this acceptable in your proposed destination and how will you devise a valid interview instrument? If conducting interviews, or if your project involves human subjects in any other way, you must find out if you need IRB approval. If so, you must obtain this approval before you can receive your fellowship check, and you should start this process before you submit your fellowship application. Visit the Human Subjects Committee website for more information.
  • If participating in an internship, how will you be contributing to your chosen organization? The committees understand that you might not have all the details or even confirmation that you’ve secured the internship, but you should provide them with as much information as possible.
  • Provide a reasonable timeline and general explanation of how you will successfully carry out your project in the proposed timeframe.
  • What do you hope to accomplish as you carry out your project?
  • What are your longer-term academic and/or professional goals, and how might these benefit from your proposed experience? In addition to developing specific skills or learning more about a specific topic, you may consider how this experience might inform your choice of classes or major and how this experience might shape your career path or other future aspirations.
  • What challenges or difficulties do you anticipate to encounter, and how might you overcome these?
  • What aspects of your proposed project and/or preparation still need to develop, and how do you plan to address these before/while carrying out your project?

Other writing resources for undergraduates

  •     Style for Students, by Joe Schall
  •     Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr.
  •     On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
  •     Manual of Style, University of Chicago