Posts Tagged ‘Research’

Eliza Collison-Fulbright Recipient-Nicaragua

Eliza Collison-Fulbright Fellow-Nicaragua

Eliza graduated from UCI in 2014 with a B.A. in International Studies and minor in Spanish. She also earned a Certificate in Contemporary Latin American from the Pontifical Catholic University in Santiago. Upon graduation, Eliza participated in the UCDC program in Washington D.C., interning at a small non-profit working in youth service learning programs. Following UCDC, she spent ten months on a Fulbright grant in Nicaragua, researching factors that influence civic engagement among Nicaraguan youth. Eliza now works in Washington D.C. in the field of international education, gaining experience working with the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. She hopes to apply to a graduate program in International Relations next year, and continue to find opportunities to live and work abroad. 

What did you study at UCI and how did it inspire you to pursue a Fulbright?

I graduated from UCI in 2014, and as an undergraduate I majored in international studies with a Spanish minor. I spent my junior year studying abroad in Chile, and that was really the experience that set off my interest in international relations and living abroad. The time in Chile really inspired me to pursue a Fulbright.

Torres del Paine national park in Chile

How was your Chile experience influential?

While I was abroad in Chile, I took classes at a local university and I was also working on my senior thesis on Peruvian immigration to Chile. One of my Campuswide Honors Program advisors said I should consider applying to the Fulbright. So I looked into it, and realized that my experience studying abroad in a Latin American region could boost my application and chances, so I looked into those possibilities, and ultimately decided to apply for a Fulbright doing research in Nicaragua.

It was really my study abroad that inspired me to pursue it and so I spent a summer after graduation in D.C. doing an internship with a nonprofit in UCDC, and then I spent 10 months in Nicaragua involved in civic engagement. I soon found out that doing research in Nicaragua would be quite different from my study abroad experience. In Nicaragua, it would just be me, and it definitely was a more independent experience.

Tell me a little bit about how you described your project when applying for the Fulbright. How did you build a case for travel? Why go on location to Nicaragua and what did you want to accomplish there?

I picked the region before I picked the project. I had been in Chile before and in the context of Latin America, I would say that Chile is on a different economic spectrum. There are so many variances within Latin American countries and so I looked for a unique country that would offer me a more viable and realistic option to be awarded the Fulbright.

Some countries can be quite competitive. I looked into possibilities regarding research, with an eye for specific themes that interested me, like civic engagement. This topic is at the center of important debates in central America, and within Nicaragua, and so I crafted my project around that topic. I decided to look into the process for obtaining national ID cards, which Nicaraguans use for voting, opening bank accounts and applying for employment. One of the most interesting aspects to me was exploring the reasons behind the Nicaraguan early voting age of 16.

I wanted to explore that a little more. Why was their voting age so young? During my study abroad experience, the study abroad director in Chile was important in inspiring my proposal. He was the one I would talk to regarding how to choose a country, and weigh out the pros and cons because every country in the Fulbright program is a little different. They have different requirements. Given my academic background and experiences, Nicaragua seemed like the most viable option.

This was a professor in Chile who helped you brainstorm and prepare the background study for research in Nicaragua?

He was my director of study abroad. He was actually a UCSB professor who was doing a 2-year contract as the director of the Chile program. He was really helpful, as was my thesis advisor at UCI who was immensely helpful as well.  He was especially good at asking questions: what does this mean? Can you clarify this?

My honors’ advisor, too, offered guidance and support and was one of the individuals who helped write the letters of rec, and helped plant the seed.

So, when did the seed get planted? Was it at UCI? Was it in Chile?

I was in the Campuswide Honors Program when I was an undergraduate and I remember the end of my sophomore year hearing about 2 people in the honors program who had gotten a Fulbright. And I thought, that seems interesting, and then it didn’t cross my mind for a while until I was in Chile for my senior year when my honors’ advisor contacted me and said, have you considered a Fulbright?

How did SOP help you navigate the application process?

The process is pretty long. I looked through the website to find all the different resources. The pre-application deadline was in April and the campus deadline was August, so at first, I was pretty overwhelmed.

I found that the SOP online resources were so helpful. I spent a whole summer dedicated full-time to applying for the Fulbright, which led to the endorsement interview on campus in August.

SOP has a lot of resources on their website, and they are really on top of things. It was a grueling process but SOP was really good about having me submit multiple drafts of my project statement, personal statement and even my letters of recommendation were carefully read. They even suggested that I ask the director of the Honors Program to write a letter on my behalf. They discussed strategies for asking the right recommenders to increase my chances.

I believe that the endorsements were ultimately what allowed me to get the Fulbright. I cannot imagine applying at-large. I think I would be so overwhelmed and not know where to begin.

Tell me a little bit more about your experiences in Nicaragua. What happened when you first arrived? Where did you stay? What was a day in your life like? Who did you meet?

It was a little bit overwhelming at first. I stayed in the capital of Managua. When I applied for the Fulbright, I had to get a letter of affiliation from the host organization. If you are granted the award, these would be the organizations on the ground that would support you on location. My host institution was the Martin Luther King Institute at the Polytechnic University. They were really my main point of contact from day 1.

My research group at Martin Luther King Institute,

They actually picked me up at the airport. They brought me to their office, gave me my office space, and introduced me to the staff. I think that people don’t realize that a 10-month grant may sound like a long time, but it’s not. When you are actually there, it goes by so fast, especially when you are trying to execute a full-blown project.

How did you break down the project into doable parts? What role did the host organization play?

The first 3 months were really spent establishing contacts. My host reached out on my behalf telling the community, we have someone doing a research project; she’d love to set up an interview, and so for the first half, I interviewed with local civic organizations working in the electoral process and committed to transparency. I interviewed them asking them a lot of questions about the purpose of the national ID card for Nicaraguans; what was it used for? What are the obstacles to obtaining this? What are some issues behind it?

The importance of getting multiple perspectives

I always tried to make sure to interview people from different backgrounds because it definitely was more of a controversial topic, so I had to make sure that I was capturing different backgrounds. I interviewed a few young people from different political parties and actually from the Sandinista party, which is the party in power, and got to hear their perspective. And then, I interviewed a couple of other people from different political parties and understood what the different views were in respect to youth voting and the level of engagement and factors that might affect people’s engagement in society.

Then, the second half was more of a focus group approach, so I worked with a local contact and she was great because she worked with a lot of youth groups–young adults from ages 16 to their early 20’s–and we held a series of focus groups where I asked them questions, such as, what does it mean to be young in Nicaragua? What was your process for obtaining the national ID card?

Some of them shared their personal experiences with going and obtaining these cards and getting their right to vote. I found that the focus groups gave them a chance to interact with their peers in a more informal setting as opposed to 1-1 interviews that can be a little intimidating.

Eliza posing with a colleague and the magazine the institute publishes.

What did you learn as a result of this project?

I came into the project at an interesting time. Soon after I started, I found out that the president had actually changed the constitution and introduced new dynamics. In short, the impact of the ID card had to do with the region. Among the challenges for obtaining one, research showed that there were economic barriers; it actually cost money to get the card. Spending a whole day to get the card, taking time out of work, and when people live day to day, they don’t think about political engagement, so economics were a big factor. This, in turn, played into a lot of other categories. You may not have access to higher education, for example. There are so many layers to it.

Were there other Fulbrighters in the area?

There were 2 others that also went during my year, but they were in different regions. One went north of the capital, to Matagalpa, to do research on coffee farming; the other was way off in the Atlantic coast. We were all in different regions, but I did get to see them once or twice during a briefing or when they came to the capital for a conference. We met for coffee and talked about our research.

Posing with friends after my Nicaraguan friend's thesis defense.

How comfortable are you with Spanish?

I’m fluent. It definitely helped to go to Chile for a year. I became fluent in Chilean Spanish and in Nicaragua, people were surprised. The stereotype is that Americans don’t speak very good Spanish, so they would ask, where are you from? Are you from Spain?

Having that experience in Chile and being confident in Spanish was so helpful in Nicaragua because there are situations when you have to be on your toes and having that local language adds an extra layer of comfort.

Did you feel safe?

Yes. I would tell students, you have to be aware of your surroundings. Managua is a big city, but I never had any issues. The biggest thing was talking to locals, especially other women. They would tell me, it’s okay to go here. They would give me advice on taking a taxi, for example, or what places to avoid after dark or general advice. I never felt unsafe but I also knew how to be cautious.

What advice would you give someone contemplating doing a Fulbright in South or Central America?

I talked a lot about research, but the Fulbright, more than anything, is a cultural exchange. They are looking for an individual who is open-minded, flexible, open to other cultures, who can engage with other cultures and can be a cultural ambassador to the US because the Fulbright program is funded by the Department of State.

It is seen almost as a citizen-diplomacy program. I would tell students, even if you don’t necessarily have experience in South America think of ways in which you can show how you’d be a good cultural ambassador. I think that’s what’s really important and maybe if they consider teaching, and they have teaching experience, bringing that experience to light, that would help. Or if they are looking at research, and they’ve done research on a certain topic, even if it’s in another region,  it can still be relevant to South America. I would bring that up, too.

How can you convey in a personal statement, research proposal or teaching statement that you are all these things, open-minded, culturally aware, diverse, how does that come across?

I think there are two components to the Fulbright. I can’t speak as much to the ETA, since I did research, but I definitely would say, don’t discredit your personal statement. That’s really your place to tell your narrative. You start with sharing your experiences that demonstrate your cultural adaptability and your interest in the program because the Fulbright is not like any other program where you get a grant and focus on what it can do for you.

They are really looking for that mutual exchange. In my personal statement, I shared a lot about my experience in Chile, where I went, how I learned a lot, but I also discussed what I shared with locals there and emphasized that I built lasting friendships after my time in Chile. That’s what they are looking for, too. They are looking for someone who builds lasting connections.

Have you stayed in touch with people in Nicaragua?

I have. My host institution actually publishes a magazine and it’s all in Spanish but they write their abstract in English and they still send me pieces to translate from Spanish into English. They recently wrote a card inviting Angelina Jolie to their institution because they are interested in her work as a UN Peace Ambassador, and the mission of the institute I affiliated with was trying to create a culture of peace, so I translated that letter for them.

When you returned how did you connect with the DC opportunity?

When I did UCDC the summer after graduation, I was bitten by the DC bug. I wanted to move out here for work, and I actually found my current position through a staffing agency. My current position was supposed to be a month contract and luckily, they hired me full-time.

Are you working with the Fulbright program?

I’ve been back in D.C. for about a year and half. I’m actually working for the Institute of International Education. The program focuses on senior level professors and professionals who are going to exchanges abroad. The interesting aspect of this job is that it allows me to work on it from the other side. I’m with the scholar program.

The student program is based in the New York office, but the DC office works with the scholars, and I’m actually working on programs with the Europe-Eurasia region, which is a new region for me. I’ve had so much experience with Latin America, and I’m now learning about all these countries in Europe and the priorities for those countries as far as research and teaching, so it’s been a really interesting and growing experience.

How would you say the student and the scholar Fulbright programs differ?

I would say the student program is everything leading up to the Ph.D. and so the student program can be anything from recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree to still doing their dissertation and so they tend to be earlier on in their career. The scholar program is everything from recently received the Ph.D., onward, so we have everything from post-doctoral scholars to scholars distinguished in their fields and there are so many awards in the scholars program; some are teaching, some are doing research and some a combination of both which they can do through a visiting professorship at a university to an institution. Fulbright offers lots of opportunities for exchange.

It has definitely been life-transformative for me, and I encourage everyone to apply.

Eliza documented her Fulbright experience in Nicaragua. Click here to read her blog.

For questions about Eliza’s Fulbright experience in Nicaragua, she can be contacted at eliza.collison@fulbrightmail.org

John Naviaux-Fulbright Scholar in Norway and NSF Research Fellow

Myself suited up in a drysuit before taking the boat out to collect glacial runoff samples (again near Ny-Ålesund, Norway) in summer

Myself suited up in a drysuit before taking the boat out to collect glacial runoff samples (near Ny-Ålesund, Norway) in summer

John Naviaux graduated with the Chancellor’s Award of Distinction from UC Irvine in 2012 after receiving a B.S in Environmental Science and a B.A in Business Economics. He worked on a variety of projects while at Irvine that included the economics of urban bus pollution, the study of graviton decay at the Large Hadron Collider, and the optimization of electrode design in microbial fuel cells. After graduating, John spent a year abroad in Norway as a Fulbright Scholar studying mercury pollution in the Arctic. He received a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship upon returning and is currently in Caltech’s environmental engineering PhD program working on the chemistry of storing CO2 in the ocean as a means to combat climate change. In the future, John hopes to continue his research and work in environmental policy.

Recently, we caught up with John Naviaux to ask him about his experiences after winning both the Fulbright in Norway, and the NSF. Below, are his thoughts, experiences and tips on how to apply and how to enjoy these unique experiences. He hopes that those contemplating either a Fulbright in research or the NSF will find his story helpful. He is also available to answer questions regarding his experiences. Please see below.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your experiences with SOP.

Of course. Anything for UCI and the SOP office.

 What Scholarships Did you Win? How did you Learn About Them?

 Fulbright and NSF. Both, with the help of the SOP office. I learned about them because the scholarship office was sending out targeted emails. I was also part of the UCI CHP Honors Program, and they were also sending out emails telling us we should apply for these scholarships, and reminding us that we had a valuable resource in SOP.

How did you Work Together with SOP to figure Out Which Fellowships you Should Pursue?   

I was contacted by someone in SOP who told  me, “with your GPA and your honors background, you should apply to these opportunities.” I went in, and talked to them and they said they had a number of scholarships. We went over a few. The Rhodes scholarship, for example; I didn’t apply to that one. Rhodes requires 6-8 letters of recommendation, and I only really had personal relationships with 3-4 professors who would be able to write strong letters.

Then, there was the Fulbright and the NSF. Talking with SOP, we discussed what I had the best shot of winning. We went over my goals, and how my resume backed those up.

After going back and forth, SOP recommended the Fulbright and the NSF. Along the way, I figured out that a lot of the scholarships have similar requirements. So, while I was initially interested in the Fulbright, I realized that I could write about my research experience and propose projects and future goals that would work well if I decided to apply for the NSF.

So I decided to pursue both. I went to the SOP office and we started working on my personal statement. I ended writing almost the same personal statement for the NSF. With SOP’s suggestions and the work I had invested in the Fulbright application, I was able to adjust my applications, and incorporate tips that would be better for each.

So, Did you Apply at the Same Time?

I applied to both during the same year. That was part of the pitch that the scholarship office had: that all these things require similar applications, but not exactly the same, so I ended up working with one of my professors to have a different proposed project for the NSF than the one for the Fulbright, but the statement of purpose was very similar, with a similar research background and so I was able to change small things to apply for both.

Were you a Junior or a Senior at the Time of Application?

I was a senior when I applied. Part of the reason I applied then was that I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do after graduating. I thought grad school was a possibility, and this is what I’m doing now, but I wasn’t sure at the time and I wanted to apply to a lot of different opportunities and see what would work out. The SOP office pointed out that I could use my application to apply for graduate school, which was great, too.

SOP’s advice was invaluable in telling me, this works for this, this doesn’t for this one, and reiterating by going back and forth what would make for the strongest application and how. They suggested to me, change this, change that. It was worth it. I was able to adjust my statements to write winning applications.

How Did you Juggle the Fulbright and the NSF? Was there a Conflict of Timing? 

Yes, but it ended up not being a problem. I found out about Fulbright, NSF and grad school all within a week of each other. They all want you to commit, so I talked with the different schools and the NSF director at each school along with the acceptance committee at each school and told them:

Look, I have all these things. I really want to do the Fulbright abroad in Norway. What can I do about this?

None of these schools had a problem at all. They said, not a problem we will just defer your admittance until you get back. The NSF is a 5-year scholarship, but only 3 of the years are paid and 2 of the years are for deferring, so it worked out because I was able to defer for the first year because of the Fulbright. I also accepted the NSF, and accepted Caltech as my graduate school of choice. They fund you the first year there so I was able to defer again and once the school funding ran out, I was able to start the NSF funding.

I was surprised by how easy the transitions were, and it really was because all these different academic communities are very supportive of these scholarships, and they want the students to have these things, so they were willing to work with me a lot in order for me to participate in all these different opportunities that did conflict in time, but worked out in the end.

Every school told me, yes, please go on your Fulbright. Come back. We will have a spot waiting for you. There was really no issue at all, especially for graduate school. They value their students having these experiences.

So, What did you do for your Fulbright? Where did you go? What was your experience like, and for how long? 

My Fulbright was 10 months long, and I went to Norway. I stayed in the middle section of Norway working with a professor who was studying the presence of mercury in the environment, which worked well because I was interested in the Arctic environment. One of the things that was intimidating to me was that you are supposed to come up with a research project. Other Fulbrighters that I knew did have specific research projects. But for me, I was an economics undergrad who later added an earth science focus, so I knew I wanted to do earth science-related things. To get started, I looked at countries that I was interested in, and one of them was Norway. I looked at what the faculty were doing there, and found this professor and started thinking of a project that would be suitable to my interests.  I learned he was researching mercury pollution in the environment. I thought, this is perfect. I thought of Norway, specifically, because it is in the Arctic. I would have easy access to the Arctic and that was what I was interested in. I was able to work with this professor and come up with an idea as opposed to coming in with a project that I wanted to do from the very beginning.

Trondheim church (called Nidarosdomen) in winter

Where Did you Stay? Did you have any Language Barriers?

This question relates to why I decided on Norway. When it comes to the Fulbright, there are tons of countries you can apply to that  have language requirements and others don’t. For me, I only speak English so that really cut out a bunch of countries. Like Germany and France, where you have to be fluent in those languages. Of English-speaking countries or with no language requirements there were: the UK, Australia, New Zealand and some Scandinavian countries. Editor’s Note: SOP maintains a list of countries with no language requirements that include other geographical regions.

When it came to choosing, I was systematic about the countries that I applied to. In terms of the UK, I looked at the number of applicants that applied vs the number of spots available, and for the UK there is something like 10 spots for 300 plus applicants. I also wasn’t interested in Australia or New Zealand. I looked at Scandinavian countries and they had a much smaller applicant pool per number of spots.  The idea of going there, and the best odds for actually getting the scholarship influenced my decision.

I went back to Ny-Ålesund later in the year and this time needed to cross-country ski around to collect water samples. The scenery was gorgeous!

They didn’t have a language requirement and as it turns out, once I knew that I had the Fulbright, I contacted the university and they were able to get me international student housing.

Did you have enough money from the award to pay for everything that you needed?

I did. It varies based on the country so my stipend was probably not as generous in terms of cost of living that perhaps helps students in South American countries, but I did not have a problem and neither did the other Fulbrighters in the area. We had food and housing and transportation was all paid for, and the only times I spent any of my own money was doing extra trips. Even then, it was easy to budget without spending my own money.

 Some of my research in Norway was conducted in the research town of Ny-Ålesund on the island of Svalbard. They had polar bear warning signs posted around the town.

How long did it take you to adjust to Norway? Did you make friends right away? What was it like to adapt to a new society?

It was not difficult for me to adapt, partly because the Fulbright office is big on connecting you with other Fulbrighters, so the student body, and the location are two things to consider when applying and choosing a Fulbright location. I was in one of the universities where there were plenty of people who were my age and shared similar interests. And I was connected to the Fulbright organization and I learned there were 2 other Fulbrighters in my city. I got there and had an automatic network of Fulbrighters, and we did Fulbright events there. I’m still really good friends with them. I went to one of their weddings recently.

Meeting local students was also easy because I was in a university area. A contrasting story to mine: there was an English-teaching Fulbrighter who stayed in a really small town of like 200 people and it was harder to acclimate and get around. Someone’s experience will definitely be based on where they are in a certain country. When people ask me, what I should consider? I tell them:

You should consider what you want to do research-wise, but you should also consider the experience of the area that you are going to be in.

What was expected of you in terms of hours of work, and research projects, were you supposed to come up with something material by the time you concluded? Was a final presentation expected?

The Fulbright is very much a cultural exchange (in addition to the English-teaching or research exchange), so I am not sure how it is for other countries, but for the Norwegian experience, we had to write a mid-term report after 5 months. This was a 1-page statement saying, this is what we’ve done, and this is how we are adjusting. They had no pressure on having any set work done, or any kind of deliverable. With that said, conferences were encouraged and some were exclusive to Fulbright students. At the end of the year, all Fulbrighters get together and get to present on what they‘ve been up to. These presentations could be travel, cultural, or research-based. So it was not stressful to get these extras done.

 

Now for my PhD, here I am presenting for a field course at Caltech on glacial moraines at Convict Lake

Do you feel that you became a better researcher or gained more depth with your topic? Were you taught well by your mentors there?

Yes, I would say it was an incredibly valuable experience. I learned a lot about the specific topic of mercury in the Arctic. I also found it valuable to conduct research outside of the U.S. It was interesting to learn how different cultures deal with research and how they present in different research styles. It was also valuable trying to translate myself into another language because as a primary English speaker I had not done that before.

 

Myself overlooking norway Trollstigen road

What did you notice as the biggest difference between research in Norway and research in the US?

To be honest the biggest difference was work/life balance. It’s kind of common in the US to have a 60 plus hour week. The stipend for similar work in Norway is not $30,000.

In Norway a graduate student is treated as a regular full-time researcher holding a 9-5 type job and the stipend is around $80,000. There are costs of living adjustments but research is treated as a full-time job and they are paid much more. I did not make that salary when I was in Norway. I got the US stipend.

It was interesting to see that the quality of research is very high, outputting a lot, while working significantly less. They really value productivity while you are at work, and once you are not, you no longer need to be at work.

Norway, City of Trondheim

I was also exposed to different styles of presenting. In the US when you present your research it is very much a pitch: this is why your findings are great and amazing. In Norway the style is more, here are the facts. How effective you think my facts are is up to the audience. Just being exposed to all of this was very interesting.

When you wrapped up the Fulbright you moved into the NSF opportunity. How did the transition take place?

I accepted the NSF at the same time I accepted the Fulbright. I was able to postpone it until grad school. It was really easy. Every year, they send you a message: please update your NSF status, so when I started grad school at Caltech I filled out the update and pressed the button to activate my status. And that was it.

Rainbow over Norwegian area of Valldal

So once the NSF gives you the funding for graduate school, are there specific research expectations due to them?

No. It is pretty much a blank check. When completing their application, you have to come up with a research project and plan. It does not have to be related at all with what you will end up doing. When I applied to the NSF, I was working in a microbial cell lab at UCI.

So my project/pitch was based on doing more research in this area. What I’m doing is important. What I plan to do in the future is this. But, once I got to Caltech I decided, okay, I’m not planning on that anymore but NSF does not care about that. Once you have proven that you are capable of thinking of a strong research idea and writing out a plan for it, once you get the award, they trust you will continue coming up with new research ideas that are not necessarily the same as the one you originally proposed.

Each year I write a quick paragraph or so updating the NSF on what I’ve done in the previous year. For my first year in Caltech, I wasn’t doing much research so for my update I told them I’ve been taking classes and started new projects. So now that I’m doing more research my updates are more research related. I’m working on ocean chemistry now. I’m still getting paid by the NSF, but it’s not related to my application at all. There is no expectation that it has to be.

What do you want to do with your degree?

For graduate school, I chose the California Institute of Technology. I’m getting my Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Engineering. I had several ideas that potentially interest me. Part of my research is doing ocean chemistry for CO2 capture. The idea is coming up with a way to take out CO2 out of the environment to combat global warming.

We are trying to start up a company based on the work we‘ve done to capture CO2 and put it into the ocean and store it there without changing the ocean chemistry. We are setting this up. We are exploring the possibility of a start-up company that works on this topic, which is a popular thing to do. There is also another possibility of working for government research labs or major companies. My approach so far is to see what opportunities come up.

How influential would you say that the Fulbright and the NSF have been to your development?  

The NSF is invaluable. If you are a student and you have an NSF you can work pretty much at any university. Any university would want you as a student and any professor will work with you because you are free. As soon as you say that you have an NSF in your application all doors are open to you and you can do whatever you want with whoever you want. There are different professors who might turn away a student because the reality of funding in the academic world. “I’d like to work with you but, I can’t pay you.” But with the NSF you are paid for 3 years, so if you have your own research ideas a professor would support you because you are free or you’ll hop onto their project and they’ll love that because you are free. So, the NSF allowed me to switch between professors without any problems at all.

The Fulbright was also valuable in making your application stand out more. I would consider the Fulbright as an invaluable life experience. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. That was one of the best 10 months of my life. It was probably not a huge research contributor because I’m doing different research. But, it reinforced the idea that this was the field of study that I was interested in. I was developing my interests in environmental health safety kind of research.

What Tips would you share with a Student Contemplating the Fulbright or the NSF?

Go for it. It may be intimidating to apply to multiple scholarships, but with a small amount of extra work I was able to apply to multiple opportunities. You don’t have anything to lose by applying. The worst thing that can happen is that you write your strongest application yet. You can always use it to apply for other opportunities, including graduate school. If you get it, then you’ll have an amazing experience living and studying in another country. Also, with the NSF you can do whatever you want, research-wise. Some Fulbrighters don’t go to graduate school, so it is not a requirement. Still, being paid to live and work in another country can be an incredible experience.

What Tips can you Offer for the Application Process?

Regarding the personal statement, I would listen to you guys in the scholarship office. I struggle a lot with personal statements. I had to rewrite mine like 10 times. Writing personal statements is a different experience for me. It is not how I write.

The other parts of the process depend on the student. I was pragmatic about the whole thing. For example, I can only speak English; I want to research in environmental science; I want the best options to get in.  I looked at acceptance ratios and studied my chances to get in. I struggled between Norway and Sweden because both had interesting environmental programs, but I went with Norway because my chances to gain acceptance were higher. I knew that if I applied to Sweden and I didn’t get it, I would have kicked myself for missing a study abroad opportunity. If I didn’t go with the option that gave me the best chance, I would be very sad. Not everyone wants to be that pragmatic, though.  Some people have a dream: I want to go to place x, and this is why. To them I would say, go for your dream. My goal was to study abroad in an environmental field. I looked at Norway’s universities and the faculty there and looked for what was most interesting to me.

What about Professor’s Letters?

Plan ahead! Once I knew I wanted to pursue this, I started cultivating relations with professors more intentionally. Since I was working with professors doing research already, that was one letter. A summer before I had worked with another so that was another letter. For my third, I started going to my organic chemistry professor’s office hours. Talking to her more about what I wanted to do and explaining my back story. I told  her, I’m interested in doing this would you be willing to write a letter if we get to know each other and she agreed.

Thanks, SOP!

SOP’s help worked very nicely for me and my application process. Once I knew I wanted to apply it got easier. But it was intimidating to think about starting some of these applications because you always think you are not the best and you probably won’t get it so, why bother. I’m not sure how you overcome that hurdle. But I’m glad I did.

 

An exact copy of the rover currently on Mars is housed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, associated with Caltech). We got a tour of the facilities and saw the rover as part of our program at Caltech.

If you would like to contact John for advice on completing a Fulbright in Norway or the NSF process, he can be reached by email: jnaviaux@caltech.edu