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Applying for Scholarships and Awards

Applying for graduate fellowships, scholarships, and awards
requires a commitment of time, energy and effort. The following outline is
intended to be of assistance to graduate students in preparing such
applications.

Describing the Research Project

The research proposal
constitutes the single most important part of the application. It offers the
selection committee not only a description of the problem to be explored, but an
example of a student's ability to write with brevity and concentration, to
construct logical arguments and to comprehend major critical texts.
Consequently, students must set aside a considerable amount of time to revise
and rewrite the description of the project in order to present a coherently
organized application. Consultation with your supervisor is highly
recommended. While each proposal will have its own distinctive character, it
should cover three overall areas:

  • formal definition of the research area or problem to be investigated;
  • a detailed outline of the methodology or approach which will be used as a general interpretive
    framework in the project;
  • a tentative outline of the research stages necessary to complete the project.

 

This obviously does not
require that a student should report on the results of her/his research in the
preliminary outline. Rather what is expected is an indication that a student
knows how to design a research project and is aware of what will be necessary to
carry it out.

Definition of the research area

This section ought to indicate the question or problem that the
research will address. Ask yourself, what is the investigative question around
which the material will be organized? What is distinctive about the
problem/theme under consideration as compared with other approaches? Describe
how the project is related to and different from contemporary discussions in the
field of study. In this context it is especially worthwhile to be able to refer
to books or current journal articles and to suggest the ways in which the
research project will engage these issues in an innovative manner.

Outline of the methodology

The outline should indicate what methodological approach will be
taken. Ask yourself, how will you investigate the question or theme at issue?
What is the interpretive model, critical or theoretical approach to be used in
the study? This section should also justify the approach by giving some idea of
what (new) insights the study hopes to uncover by the employment of this
methodology.

Outline of the research stages

This section should sketch out a reasonable
timeframe for the completion of the research in as much concrete detail as
possible. For instance, if a student will spend the next year completing course
requirements, she/he might also indicate which courses will provide necessary
background or contextual studies for the research project. The stages of the
project ought to suggest a planned and disciplined progression (i.e. the precise
statement "I intend to have working drafts of the first two chapters completed
by the spring of 2004" is preferable to the vague "I intend to write part of
the thesis next year"). The completion of a well-constructed research proposal
is vital to a student's progress. Once completed, it can be submitted as part
of an application "package" when applying for Departmental, university, and
national awards and become the basis for the thesis proposal.

Obtaining Letters of Reference

Consider carefully your choice of referees. Instructors who write supporting
letters on your behalf must be able to give a full and detailed account of your
work. If you have a supervisor, she/he ought to write one of the letters. If
you are just beginning your graduate degree it might be more appropriate to
request at least one letter from an instructor more familiar with your work,
such as one with whom you studied for an earlier degree.

Approach potential referees well at least three weeks before the deadline. If
you plan to approach faculty members who are away from campus, allow extra time
to make sure you can contact them.

Ask
your potential referees whether they think they can write in strong support of
your application. An indifferent reference letter won’t help you much. If a
potential referee seems less than enthusiastic, consider asking someone else.

Be
prepared to give your referees a portfolio of materials that will help them
write a strong and specific letter. The portfolio should include copies of
essays you wrote for them with their comments, transcripts, a copy of your
research proposal, a curriculum vitae, and any other significant information,
including jobs, awards, travel, or volunteer experience related to the area of
research. Explain any extenuating circumstances to your referees so they can be
addressed in the letter of reference.