Like many large grants, Fulbright applications require candidates to compose a number of small written components throughout the document. Most people speed through the process of writing these blurbs, fiddling with word combinations within the live application platform to get the character-count just right. But these small clusters of writing should not be an afterthought to the larger components of the application. In fact, these are likely the first parts of the application that will be considered by the grant offering organization’s review committee.
Why these bits of text are so important
Usually, large grant application and review processes include a dramatic “first cut.” This refers to a moment before review committees actually consider all of the components of an application. Here, they first consider the smaller texts associated with the application and make a first round of decisions without ever reading the longer essays. A huge percentage of candidates are taken out of the running in the phase of the review process.
To make sure that your long-form writing is actually read, do not shortchange the smaller aspects of your written application materials. If you find yourself at the end of the application process and you’re frantically trying to copy and paste pieces of larger content to see what will fit into small spaces, then you’re missing out on a great opportunity to rope your reader into your project with carefully composed, albeit small, headlines.
Not only are these headlines the first pieces of text that the committee will use to assess your application, but they also serve as short reference points that will stick with your readers throughout a relatively long review process. The words that you put together in these small sections should clearly distill the most important components of your project, your self, and your potential impact.
When I applied to the Fulbright, there were five important mini-texts that I composed. The exact categories or requirements for these types of written components vary for every application. By analyzing the successful samples that I wrote for Fulbright, I plan to show how my overarching understanding of the application review process shaped my composition of these materials.
The 5 mini-texts required by the Fulbright 2016 application
- Project Title
- Abstract/Summary of Proposal
- Host Country Engagement
- Plans Upon Return to United States
- Host Country Experience
My overall strategy for composing these mini texts as headlines
Imagine for a moment that you are a member of a prestigious grant organization’s application review committee. At the beginning of the cycle you receive hundreds, possibly thousands, of applications to review. Over a period of up to six months you will read, categorize, evaluate, and rank these applications in dialogue with other committee members. Whether you want to or not, you’ll develop a shorthand way to remember candidates that stand out to you.
For example: “The PhD from UCLA who is working on digital collections in Northeastern Brazil.”
This is just how the human memory works. Review committees are trained to address their own biases, of course, but they will still take in your project and your person and develop tricks for remembering you when the time is right. By carefully composing the small texts associated with your application, you have a chance to shape the words and references that make your proposal memorable over a period of time.
I wrote my blurbs after I had already drafted the larger portions of the application, but I gave myself plenty of time to strategize the best possible use of these small spaces.
I chose not to repeat myself at all in these sections, and I treated each as an opportunity to contribute to an overarching message about my goals and why they mattered. Each description did its part to communicate the main themes, components, and contributions of my proposed research and relevant qualifications to carry out that work within the mission of the Fulbright organization.
Here are examples of my own short written components, and my analysis of what worked. Though these were part of a winning application, there is always room for analysis improvement.
Redistributing Popular Culture: Technology, Libraries, and “Literatura de Cordel”
Characters (with spaces): 81
Analysis: The title for my project changed multiple times throughout the writing process, but it was something that I was always thinking about as I developed the details of the proposal. As I discovered new avenues for research and collaboration, the overarching themes of the project crystallized, and I used the smallest written component to highlight the consistent issues that pulled the rest of the application together.
The title clearly highlights the project’s:
- Main fields of inquiry: Popular culture, technology, and library or information science
- Object of study: Literatura de Cordel
- Research of cultural processes that change over time: Redistribution
Abstract/Summary of Proposal
An essential consideration of literary archives, information science, public memory and cultural literacy, this project investigates the ways in which evolving technologies have had profound effects on the poetic narratives and the cultural dissemination of Brazilian “literatura de cordel.” As a result of collaborative research alongside Brazilian archivists, I will return to the US and complete the digitization of a selection of UCLA’s collection of “cordel.”
Characters (with spaces): 464
Analysis: The proposal abstract elaborates on the main fields of inquiry, the object of study, and various forms of technological transformations, as mentioned in the title. But it also adds specific details about my collaborators: “Brazilian archivists,” and the project’s most impactful outcomes “digitization of a selection of UCLA’s collection of ‘cordel.’”
Host Country Engagement
Describe briefly how you will engage with the host community. Give specific ideas for community engagement.
In addition to participating in university research seminars as a student at UEPB in Campina Grande, I will join public sports activities like swimming and dancing forró. Once settled, I will also volunteer in local literacy programs. By visiting archives and printing facilities that produce and preserve “literatura de cordel” in multiple states, I will engage with Brazilian communities who consume, produce, and passionately preserve popular culture.
Characters (with spaces): 454
Analysis: Given the Fulbright organization’s overarching mission to create cultural ambassadors, it was incredibly important for me to demonstrate my awareness that part of my project was to engage with the host country’s community in a thoughtful way. A few points as to why this was successful:
- I stated that I would engage in activities like dancing and swimming, not just because they were something to throw in there, but because close examination of my resume reveals that I have a long history of swimming with U.S. Masters at UCLA, and that I frequently engage with the arts in the greater Los Angeles area.
- I also used this space to prominently display that my activities would take place in Campina Grande, Paraíba, a city that is less commonly traveled to than the Southeastern destinations of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
- Finally, I demonstrate that the nature of my research project self-consciously necessitates community engagement, as the value and preservation of popular culture is my main theme.
Plans Upon Return to U.S.
After completing the Fulbright project I will digitize a selection of cordel at UCLA Special Collections and complete my PhD. With a degree in Comparative Literature I aim to become a professor who encourages the study of literature and language as tools that facilitate greater awareness of the cultural content we encounter in daily life, regardless of our chosen careers. I also aim to teach students how to generate and share information in useful ways.
Characters (with spaces): 457
Analysis: Here I clearly articulate both the short- and long-term goals that will be enabled by my Fulbright project. Not only do I outline my plan to bring my knowledge directly back to UCLA’s Special Collections, but I show the reader how this project is part of a larger career trajectory in which I will educate students about cultural awareness, and the useful generation or distribution of information.
**Though I clearly state my aims to be a professor in this blurb, my personal statement goes further to address the importance of “facilitating greater awareness of the cultural content we encounter in daily life, regardless of our chosen careers.” There, I go into more detail about how I see my future as an educator regardless of whether or not I become a professor. But in these short texts it made sense to use “professor” to encapsulate that mission in a word.
Host Country Experience
Use this space to discuss frequent trips to the host country and to indicate the purpose and dates you are or will be in the country to which you are applying.
Most of my experiences abroad revolved around language learning or specific programs of study. In past trips I have spent a total of 10 days in the northeastern states of Brazil. I look forward to enriching my own knowledge of Brazilian culture by living in Campina Grande, Paraíba. I look forward to engaging with scholars and archives through research driven questions and goals.
Characters (with spaces): 381
Analysis: In this section it was important for me to show the reader that I know the difference in value between the kinds of experiences I have already had in the host country, and the experience that Fulbright will enable me to have. If I can’t make a meaningful distinction between past and future engagement with Brazil, the committee will be less likely to consider my proposal as an advancement in my own professional and research trajectory.
The main themes I addressed here were:
- The difference between language learning programs abroad, and traveling with the intent to conduct independent and collaborative research.
- The value of spending a significant amount of time in the northeastern states of Brazil, which is different from previous engagement in Southeastern Brazil.
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