Monday, July 18, 2011

Fellowship advice: How to Make Life Easier for your References

Courtesy of Florida Informational Technology Clearinghouse
As I've mentioned earlier, when applying for fellowships, you should apply for as many as possible, to maximize your chance of being awarded one.  You might worry about the burden this places on your references, but as long as you are well organized, the only difficult part of being a reference is writing that first letter.  The rest is, or should be, easy.  The more letters I write for others, the more it becomes clear how being organized at the beginning can help your references effectively help you.  Here's what works:
  • Contact your references six weeks or more ahead of your first deadline to ask whether they can write letters for you. Along with your request, paste an abstract for your project in the text of your email, and attach a draft proposal and your c.v.
  • One month before your first deadline, send them ONE email that contains:
    • your final proposal for one of your fellowships;
    • your c.v. (again -- so it's all in one place);
    • a link to your web bio and/or SSRN page, if you have one;
    • a list of all fellowships you're applying for, their deadlines, and other details (see below).
  • Do extensive research, identifying all possible fellowships and grants, so that you can do your best to include EVERYTHING in one email to your references.  
  • List fellowships IN THE ORDER OF THE DUE DATE.
  • Indicate whether the recommendation must be uploaded to a website, sent by email or sent by postal mail.  
  • If a letter must be sent in the mail, specify whether the deadline is a RECEIVE BY deadline or a POSTMARK BY deadline.
  • Include links to fellowship websites, if available.
  • Include all other information needed, including the precise address and contact person.  Include a postal address even when the letter will be uploaded.  (Some old-fashioned letter writers -- like me -- like to include the postal address in a fully formatted pdf file of the letter they're uploading.)
  • If you are applying for a travel grant to do archival research, be specific about the records you want to see, and their relevance to your project.
  • If you are a student seeking a letter from one of your teachers or advisers, include specific information about what you've done with that teacher (courses and grades, topic of papers, assignments handled as a research assistant, etc).  Attach a copy of any papers you've written, preferably with an abstract, or examples of your RA work.
What if you come across an additional fellowship after sending in your list?  This happens, and you should ask your references to write another letter.  But avoid sending many separate individual email requests for each fellowship.  That makes it hard for your busy reference to keep track of everything, and it means that a deadline could inadvertently be missed.  Instead:
  • Send an email that adds the new fellowship into your master list.  Perhaps highlight the new one by putting it in a different color.  And send ALL the information you sent previously -- your proposal, your c.v., and all the other reference deadlines.  This way everything remains in one place -- which makes it easier for your reference to keep track of all your information.  Put the new one in DATE ORDER, not at the end of the list.
When your deadlines are approaching:
image source
  • Send a (polite!) reminder email about the upcoming deadline about a week in advance.  Only send one email a week, so if you have three deadlines close together, mention them all in one deadline.  Most references appreciate reminders.  But don't hound them, and don't ask them to confirm that your letter has been sent.  An occasional reminder is helpful, but too much email is annoying and doesn't help your references.
I can always find things most easily when I have them on my computer.  But hardcopies are usually also helpful.  I will often keep a folder with material relevant to particular deadlines in an easy-to-see place in my office.  Consider putting your materials together this way:
  • Purchase a few colored file folders -- all in one color.
  • Label a folder with your name, and something like "Fellowship Applications, 2011-12."
  • Put a hardcopy of all the info mentioned above in the folder.  A top document in the folder should be a memo to your reference listing all fellowships in order by due date.  Include a project abstract, a fellowship application, your c.v., etc.
  • If additional fellowships come up, use the same folder color, and the same file name, adding something like "supplement #1" to the file name.
When I receive a well-organized packet of information, if I have time I put all the fellowship deadlines on my on-line calendar.  I also like to put a print-out of the list of deadlines on my bulletin board.  If a revised list comes in, I can toss the old one and post the new one.