It’s that time of year when future Fulbrighters are considering their applications, US affiliations, and so much more. For those of you who are thinking it’s just a dream, I’m here to tell you it’s not! It seems like only yesterday I was sitting in my office silently thinking to myself if I had what it takes. And here I am today, writing from Boston, in the early days of my Fulbright journey. I’m so unbelievably lucky to be here so I want to share my journey to receiving a Fulbright Scholar Award in the hopes that it will help anyone out there thinking about applying.
I’m going to start with the obvious. Fulbright is inclusive, yes it’s a prestigious programme, but there’s no sense of elitism. Those reading your application and interviewing you aren’t concerned with where you come from or where you studied, they are interested in what you can take from and give to the Fulbright Programme, they are interested in your academic ideas, plans for your Fulbright, but also the type of person you are. So with that in mind here’s my Fulbright Research Scholar journey. So far…
So, if you’re thinking about a Fulbright Research Scholarship, you’re going to have an idea of what you want to do. Take that idea and find an institution that specialises in that area. For me, I lucked out. Knowing I wanted to learn more about UDL I went straight to CAST who linked me in with potential hosts around the States. Boston College was one of those connections and, as they say, the rest is history. Having a host, Dr. Richard Jackson, that worked in Boston College and CAST, would give me the opportunity to double my exposure to inclusion and UDL expertise. Emails with initial ideas, introductions to the School chair, and what my time at BC (which grew into time at CAST also) would look like passed back and forward and I soon had my letter of invitation!
The application process.
There’s a couple of steps to the application process. I’m going to talk about referees, your personal essay and your research proposal. I’ll post about my interview experiences closer to the time they take place.
Choose your referees wisely! Don’t just think academic and make sure to get references that will show the real you. I chose to ask my EdD supervisor because, after years of working together, I knew she could speak to my academic skills, my commitment, and resilience. My second referee is a well known and respected name in inclusive education in Ireland so to have his recommendation would mean a lot to me. Because he knew me as an early researcher, an inclusion advocate, and through informal meetings, I knew he could speak to my passion for inclusive education and my desire to ‘get it right’. My third referee was my current employer who could speak to my work ethic, collegiality, and interpersonal skills. Finally, I asked a previous principal who knew me as teacher, SEN coordinator, Year Head, and in a personal capacity. This, I believed, would give a holistic view of who I am from the perspective of those who I worked with. And, one final piece of advice about referees, contact them early in the process and remember to invite them to complete the online reference. I didn’t notice this so while I had my referees it was last minute for them to actually complete it because I overlooked this aspect.
Next, came my personal essay. At the time, this came later in the application ‘to do’ list. However, I felt I knew what to write for my research proposal but this was where those deciding my Fulbright fate would get to know a little about the non-academic me. Writing it was difficult. After years of academic writing it was hard to be personal and conversations with previous awardees really helped, here and in all aspects of the application process. In the end I wrote about my love of reading, where this came from, and how this helped my UDL learning. You can read my personal essay here but do feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like to chat about this or any aspect of your Fulbright application.
Personal essay finished, I turned to the, research proposal. What I learned here is that its about the potential of the idea, showing that you have thought about how you will use your time in the US to achieve this. The literature section is for you to show the direction of your reading. I put my research questions in the research objectives section and spent time developing my methodology. The directions for completing the proposal are really clear so follow Fulbright’s guidance and you can’t go wrong! The most important part is possibly the justification for US residency so think about that and thread connections to your host/host institution throughout. Proposals do change and my delayed departure to the US due to Covid means I am here a year later and UDL awareness in Ireland has grown since I wrote my proposal, and that’s a good thing as it gives me more potential to grow while I’m in the States. You can read my proposal here.
The time between submitting your application and hearing if you are called for interview is six to eight weeks, but again Fulbright Ireland will clearly highlight this for you- to the exact date you can expect to hear from them. And that day is a whole new level of learning patience! But that’s where I’ll leave you for now. I hope it helps and I’ll post about the interview process later. So for now, go make that application! M