Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Communications Tip: Responding to Fellowship Prompts

Fellowship prompts can often be long and overwhelming, but we have prepared a few tips to help you respond to them effectively.

Presentation developed by Kathleen Kokosinski and Lara Polansky for the Bren Communications Center.


Group questions by topic, as some questions may overlap. To organize your thoughts, outline responses to each question and choose a cohesive theme that mirrors your career objectives. Once you have a theme for the response, create topic sentences that relate to that theme.

Additionally, think about how you want to tell your story. Group your responses in a way that makes sense. You do not necessarily have to answer questions in the order they are presented. For example, you may want to describe your experiences in chronological order. Alternatively, you may want to group answers based on phases of experience (e.g., academic, professional, research, etc.) Remember to keep your end goals in mind when responding to the prompt by relating each question to your overall objectives.

Give Examples:

Give detailed examples of activities and leadership in order to thoroughly describe why you are a good candidate. Being specific and supporting your claims allow you to “sell yourself” to the fellowship organization.

Unspecific Example:

I have excellent leadership skills.

Specific Example:

I organized a sustainability conference to improve the environmental performance of local firms. This conference targeted 100 environmental professionals and received considerable media attention.

The above example is effective, because it outlines what was done, provides a statistic or number to describe the magnitude of the event, and conveys the impact of the experience.

Do Your Homework:

Incorporating research into your response shows that you have put time and effort into the fellowship application. Before you begin writing, research the fellowship organization and its mission. This will help you know your audience as well as allow you to frame your response to parallel the organization’s objectives.

Additionally, when asked about your future career goals, be as specific as possible by relating your interests to real jobs and organizations. For example, if you are interested in pursuing a particular job, give an example of a company that has created a similar position.

Unspecific Example:

In the future, I would like to work for an NGO promoting conservation of critical habitat.

Specific Example:

I envision myself pursuing a position in an NGO similar to the Sierra Club, enacting change via local participation in habitat restoration projects like those undertaken in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Modeling your responses after the above example will show that you are updated on the literature and news. Researching your own goals, as well as the fellowship organization’s goals, tells the reader that you have carefully considered your response, and you are committed to fulfilling the fellowship’s mission if chosen.

Last Suggestions:

Remember to always use active verbs. They are usually stronger and more descriptive, allowing your writing to appear confident and assertive. Examples can be found on the Communications Center website.

Finally, do not automatically dismiss the fellowship if it is not in your specific field of study. You can align your response with the fellowship’s objectives by linking it to your experiences and goals indirectly in order to sell your point. For example, the Doris Duke Fellows Program offers funding to students, “committed to careers as practicing conservationists”. However, if you are studying corporate environmental management (CEM) at Bren, you can still make a strong case as to why you should be chosen (e.g., think about discussing how a career in CEM will change corporations so that they use resources more efficiently, etc.). Do not sell yourself short!

Remember that the Communications Center is here to help. Please make an appointment in advance to discuss popular fellowships, such as Doris Duke and Switzer, as appointments fill up fast. Drop-in hours are also available, so be sure to check the Communications Center website for details. Good luck!

--Created by Kate Kokosinski and Lara Polansky, Winter 2008

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