Applying for Fellowships? The 3Ps - Picture of a job application form

What are the 3Ps and why are they important when applying for a fellowship? 

Are you thinking about applying for fellowships?  The topic of my blog today about the 3Ps, what they are and why they are important.

The 3Ps are very, very simple but they are the key ingredients in a fellowship application and by fellowship, I mean a personal research funding award. Someone is giving the grant to you, as opposed to a research group and quite often these are given to people in the early stages of their career. Before you can apply for formal grants, you could apply for a fellowship because you can hold that in your own right. It’s tied to the person not the faculty position.

P is for Person

The biggest P that makes it different perhaps from a grant is that it is a focus on you as an individual. Therefore, the first P is person and we really need to focus on ourselves.  This is very hard to do for most researchers because we don’t naturally tell the world how great we are. It’s not a normal thing and we’re very used to writing, certainly myself as a scientist, very collectively.  For a fellowship application, rather than speaking as a ‘we’, you need to be speaking as an ‘I’ which can be really difficult.  The panel will be judging your application, your track record so far and your potential. These will all be unique to you.  You need to emphasise why you are the right person to be applying for the fellowship.  Some of that may involve demonstrating how you match the funding call.  Why you should be doing this fellowship as opposed to someone else.  Use your unique set of skills!  They can be technical or personal.  Give details of your background, for example, there might be parts of your history that fit really nicely with the proposal that you are putting in.  What the panel really need to know is that you as a person, can deliver on the project. 

They need to know that you have the relevant skills or experiences.  More importantly, as quite often fellowships involve some training, they need to be confident they have the right people in place to give you those skills and experiences. 

The other thing that people forget to talk about is any leadership experience that they’ve had.  This may not be formal but you will have helped students along the way.  You might have taught students and again that can be pivoted to show mentoring and leadership.  The panel need to see that their money is in safe hands. In the UK in most researchers now have around 10 days personal development and fellowships are trying to support this. So do make sure that you have outlined firstly, how you’re going to develop yourself, because a fellowship is a is a training time, how you going to develop yourself but also if you put in for staff, how you’re going to develop them, or how you’re going to nurture their development, someone else might be running a course for them, but what are they going to be doing? 

Don’t forget your involvement in the wider scientific community. If you’ve done reviewing conferences, you’re a member of learning bodies, etc. All that really cements you as a potential academic researcher. Don’t forget to add those things in.

P is for Project

The next P is project is the part that researchers are usually absolutely fine with on the technical details of their project. However, with a fellowship application the panel needs to know much more than that.  You need to have a clear project plan with clear deliverables. For example, I will publish in Science or Nature after nine months and then I’ll publish here and go to these conferences throughout my fellowship. 

They need a Gantt chart with clear milestones tied to outputs. When are the publications going to come? When are the conference proceedings going to come?  They also need (this is where people tend to dilute themselves) and answer to ‘why is this project important?’  Why are you passionate about it? 

These three P’s aren’t standalone they need to be constant threads throughout your application.  Does it align with some national strategies or some global strategies? When it comes to explaining why it’s important, start with the human dimension. The other thing that I think we need to bring out is your passion. Why are you interested in this? Quite often, we think if I am writing a formal document, I cannot possibly convey my own excitement and passion. However, it is a personal award, so you need to make sure that comes across! You also need to show the importance, relevance and timeliness of the project. You are going to be competing with other projects, in probably a similar field, depending on which fellowship you apply for. All of those projects can be great, you have to demonstrate to your funders that your project is the one that needs funding now, not in two years’ time, now and this is why because it’s important and this is why I’m great to do it, because I’m passionate about it. I’ve got the right skills and experiences and I’m eager to take it forward.

P is for Place

Finally, the third P is place. Where are you going to host your fellowship? Out of all three, the place one sometimes feels like the little lost cousin in things but is important to consider and to explain the why of where you have chosen. 

If you’re applying for a fellowship in a university that you have been at since age 18, you’ve been there a long time. My question as a panel member is ‘are they just trying to fund another postdoc just in a different way?’ They just want to stay here. Have they just been asked to write a fellowship on their PI’s behalf? That’s not what fellowships are about. Funding bodies are really, really touchy about this. It has to be your idea, and it has to demonstrate that you want to be an independent researcher. 

One of the best ways of proving independence is leaving home! That’s what a fellowship panel wants to see is to show that you are a growing an academic learning to stand on your own two feet. If you stay in exactly the same place, the panel are going to have questions. If you have good answers to those questions, that is fine but you have to state them. For example, state if you have to do your research at a certain location because that is the only piece of kit in the world.  That’s a good reason. 

The other thing about host organizations is that for you, it might be an opportunity to expand your academic network to try out other universities, it might be a chance to move overseas, if that’s what you’re looking for, or to just different parts of the country.

The other thing about location is do emphasise what else the location brings. So, I do a lot of work for Imperial, Imperial have a fantastic Postdoc and Fellows Development Centre as do several other universities. They provide training and development, especially for fellows. So that would be a good thing to highlight in the application. Think about what else the university or research institute can offer you and make sure that you’re highlighting what the institution of bringing. 

Okay, so you’ve got your three P’s! You need to make sure that all of these threads weave through your whole application.  When you’re talking about the background to your research project, you need to emphasise your skills, or perhaps where that particular institution has expertise, so that they’re coming into the project description, we’ve got those threads running through. When you talk about yourself, you want to emphasise your skills and experiences in relation to the project because it wouldn’t possibly happen without you. Don’t just think of writing project in the methodology section and then talking about yourself in the CV, personal history section. Think about weaving them through in a way that can develop and convince the panel throughout the application that they have the right person with the right project in the right place? 

If you need help with applying for a fellowship, I do offer a personal application clinic, just get in touch with me and I can tell you how that works. I also have a writing fellowship online course.

In the meantime, good luck with your applications and I look forward to hearing how you get on.

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