UCSC BME 200/205 Fall 2008

Applying for a graduate fellowship

(Last Update: 11:05 PDT 22 September 2008 )

This assignment is required for both BME 200 and BME 205, but those who are taking both courses need only turn it in once (for BME 205) to get credit for it in both courses.

Your task is simple: find a graduate fellowship that you are eligible for, and fill out all the application materials. For this assignment you need not actually submit the application (though we strongly urge all students to do so).

There is a fairly good list of fellowship opportunities at http://www.cbse.ucsc.edu/academics/acad_fellship_student.shtml

There is also some information on graduate-student funding in the UCSC catalog http://reg.ucsc.edu/catalog/html/grad_studies.htm#support, though many of these fellowships are ones that you apply for when you apply for admission to UCSC, so current grad students are generally not eligible.

When I was a grad student, I had an NSF grad fellowship and a Fannie and John Hertz Foundation fellowship (not at the same time). I've also done reviewing for NSF fellowships and for NIH post doc proposals. I believe that this experience will be useful in providing good feedback on your applications. The students that we accepted into the UCSC bioinformatics PhD program all had very strong records---all should have an excellent chance at getting a fellowship. Note: there is always some randomness in any selection process, so you are better off applying for several fellowships, rather than just one.

For the foreign students, finding a funding source may be more difficult, as most of the US universities only keep track of domestic funding sources. You should try to find a funding source for which you can apply---either a private foundation that does not have US residency requirement or a source from your country of citizenship. You might want to investigate http://www.edupass.org/finaid/, http://www.edupass.org/finaid/databases.phtml, and http://www.iefa.org. If you cannot find a funding source you are eligible for, then you must give me a list of at least 40 funding sources that you examined and do a dummy application for NSF or NIH.

For the re-entry students, particularly those with doctoral degrees already, you may not be eligible for some of the standard grad student fellowships, since they want to avoid funding perpetual students. If you are changing fields drastically, you may be eligible for standard fellowships, but be held to stricter criteria. You may, if you wish, write an application for a postdoctoral fellowship, which is longer and requires a more detailed research plan.

Those who already have fellowships should share the secrets of their success with others in the class. They should also turn in the technical part of postdoctoral fellowship application or grant proposal (that is, a research plan) or a real grant application. (One year a student turned in a proposal for an equipment grant from Hewlett-Packard, which was subsequently funded.)

A good fellowship applicant must be well-prepared for the graduate program they are proposing entering. Good GRE scores and grades are also useful, but almost everyone applying for a fellowship has at least decent scores, so you won't stand out just on test scores. Having undergraduate research experience, particularly experience that resulted in publication, is a strong plus. The research experience need not be exactly in the field you plan for grad school---for a bioinformatics proposal, research in any of biology, chemistry, computer science, math, statistics, or biophysics would be quite relevant.

A specific research plan is also a plus. Seniors in college are not expected to have extremely detailed research plans (they generally don't know enough yet to formulate one), but they should have a pretty clear idea what they want to do. First-year grad students are held to a somewhat higher standard---you're a lot closer to having to pick your thesis topic!

Vague statements about winning the war on cancer or how exciting bioinformatics is are pretty useless. There is also little point in talking about how you always wanted to be a scientist or how some 6th-grade science teacher turned your life around. What the fellowship reviewers are looking for is evidence that investing in you will have a good payback---that you will become a solid researcher (or doctor or teacher, depending on the fellowship). They want to know what you will do in the future, and they want to know enough about your past to be convinced you can do it.

Letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation, particularly from researchers who have worked with you closely, are extremely important for a real application. Real letters will not be required for this assignment, since the labor of creating them should not be imposed without reason.

Quite often, the way to get a good letter of recommendation is to draft an honest, detailed assessment of the work you did, and to e-mail it to the person you are asking for a letter. If you write the assessment in the third person, they can cut-and-paste it into their letter, editing out anything they disagree with. This saves them a lot of work: looking up your project, remembering what your contribution was, and coming up with descriptions of it.

It is a good idea to write up a quarterly progress report for each research project you work on, so that you have material readily available for such a request.

Write and turn in a one-page draft of the e-mail or letter you would send to request the letter of recommendation.

Due date Fri 17 Oct 2008 (before bread and tea)

I want paper copies of two documents: the application and the request for recommendation. The application should be a readable, stand-alone document. If the application process requires a number of answers to questions, then what you turn in should include the questions, and not just the anwsers. Turning in a description of the fellowship and its requirements (usually from the website for the fellowship) would help me assess your application in the correct context.

Note: this deadline is getting close to the real application deadlines. There should just be time to give you feedback before you turn in any real applications.

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Kevin Karplus
Biomolecular Engineering
University of California, Santa Cruz
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