In this three part series, I share advice received when I asked a dozen faculty from my institution who review fellowship applications what they look for in a strong application. Part 1 discussed when to submit and logistics around submitting an easily reviewable document. Part 3 provides insight on the mentor’s role, letters, and interacting with the PO. Here, in Part 2, I share the advice they provided on crafting strong training and research plans.

Training Plan, Training Plan, Training Plan

Almost every reviewer I spoke with said the training plan was the most important element of fellowship applications. One faculty member stated, “Remember, this is a training grant. The science has to be good, but what makes the best applications is the training plan.” Additional advice shared regarding the training plan:

  • Start with the training plan and work outwards; great science and a bad training plan will not get funded. Great training plan and ok science likely will get funded.
  • Have a personalized training plan that discusses your short and long term goals. List specifically what you want to get out of your training experience and what events/training you will participate in (what, when, where). This can be similar to others in your lab or training program, but it should reflect your goals and long term career plans.
  • Make clear what the award will offer that your current training does not. If you receive the award, what additional skills will you develop and why are these fundamental to your long-term goals?
  • What is the mentor’s role in the training plan? The mentor’s statement and the training plan should mirror one another.

Strong Research Plan

Having a well written and thought out research plan was the second most common piece of advice. One reviewer stated, “Research isn’t supposed to dominate scoring for these applications, but always does if it’s not very well written.” Additional advice:

  • How does the science relate to your training and the training relate to your career goals? Integrate training goals into the research plan. Describe how a specific method or type of science gets you to your training goals.
  • Don’t try to make the science too exciting. Demonstrate science that will meet your training goals and make the research possible. What makes R01 science good is not the same for a fellowship.
  • If you’re writing an application early in your training, you may not have much preliminary data and that’s ok. If you didn’t personally gather the data you’re referencing, be sure to be clear about what you did and didn’t do. Also, show evidence from undergrad that you can be an experimentalist.
  • However, if you’re submitting an application later in your training (third year or beyond) and it doesn’t include gathered data, that becomes a red flag.
  • Make sure aims have threads in common but can stand alone. Dependent aims are the kiss of death.
  • Reviewers look at the feasibility of your proposed research plan.  It’s better to have a smaller, well focused plan with a potential path to completion (along with a description of risks and alternative paths to completion), than a grandiose plan that suggests you don’t know how to systematically investigate a problem.

And the Winner for My Favorite Piece of Advice…Alien Abduction Model

My favorite piece of advice came from a senior faculty member. “If the person writing this application was abducted by aliens would it affect science? If yes, then we should fund them.”

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