Landing a Postdoctoral Fellowship

Securing a postdoctoral fellowship at a time of declining funding is becoming increasingly difficult for academics. But obtaining such a fellowship before starting a tenure-track position, or even after starting one, is a sure way to catapult one’s academic career. A postdoctoral fellowship provides valuable time for research and writing, as well as an opportunity to expand one’s academic network.

Since completing my Ph.D. in 2014, I have applied for dozens of postdoctoral fellowships and been fortunate to receive offers for several prestigious ones — including those from the American Association of University Women and the Ford Foundation. In the process of applying for them, I have developed several strategies that I think will be useful for other early-career scholars who are seeking postdoctoral fellowship opportunities.

Do your homework. Before crafting a proposal or deciding to apply for a fellowship, you should spend considerable time doing research far beyond looking up details on the fellowship website. It is not a bad idea to contact previous recipients to ask questions about their experiences and if they would be willing to show you samples of their proposals. In some cases, scholars will not be interested in sharing these materials, but I have been surprised by how willing many have been to assist me — including people I’ve never even met.

The key is not to assume that every fellowship is the same. For some, having a senior mentor at the institution will largely determine if you land the position. For others, final decisions are largely based on the fit of the proposal and perhaps how it adheres to a specific theme. Once you have done significant research, you can then devise an effective plan of attack.

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