How to win a Fulbright award: Professor edition
Kerry Neville, GC author and English professor, was recently awarded the prestigious Fulbright Foreign Scholarship to teach creative writing in Ireland.
Neville will travel to the U.K. this fall where she will teach at the University of Limerick’s creative writing program.
Neville is the author of two award-winning short-story collections. Her first collection, titled “Necessary Lies,” has been featured in publications such as the Washington Post and the Huffington Post. Her second publication, “Remember to Forget Me,” came out in October 2017. She is currently working on writing her personal memoir.
Since 1946, the Fulbright Program has offered grants to both students and professors in over 155 countries. Professors interested in applying for a Fulbright must consider five major steps when applying.
Step 1: Choose a country.
There are many options to choose from when considering which country to apply to, but it’s best to choose one with a personal connection.
“I chose Ireland because of my connection to that university and to the faculty there,” Neville said.
A year ago, Neville travelled to Ireland and led a writing discussion at Dublin’s famous Trinity College. Neville has also facilitated a community writing workshop at the University of Limerick, which led to her being asked to teach at Limerick’s Summer Writing Program at NYU.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Neville said. “My family and ancestors are from Ireland, so it was sort of a natural fit for me in terms of applying.”
Step 2: Achieve letters of recommendation and invitation.
Professors applying for a Fulbright are required to submit three letters of recommendation. These might come from department chairs, deans or colleagues who can advocate for the person’s teaching abilities and past accomplishments. Most importantly, professors are required to have a letter of invitation from their host university.
“I have colleagues who I’ve worked with in the creative writing program at the University of Limerick, and the director of that program wrote me a letter outlining what he hoped I could bring to the program,” Neville said.
Step 3: Write a detailed personal statement and project proposal.
Having a convincing personal statement and project proposal is the most important element of a Fulbright application.
“These are really about how you’re prepared to do this grant, and also how it’s going to help you fulfill your professional and academic goals,” said GC National Scholarship Coordinator Anna Whiteside.
In Neville’s project proposal, she outlined her teaching abilities, plans inside the classroom, how she would contribute to the Limerick community and what she plans to bring home to GC. Her proposal also included a plan to research her ancestral heritage for her memoir and facilitate community writing workshops around ending mental health stigma.
“Having a specific, rather than a general idea of why that particular country, why that particular institution and what I could bring to all of [it], I think is the reason why I made it through,” Neville said.
Step 4: Research a foreign language.
While not required, having some familiarity with a foreign language is a big advantage for applicants and can make academic and cultural exchanges more meaningful. During her Ph.D. program, Neville studied Irish Gaelic, a Celtic language still spoken along the west coast of Ireland.
“I’ve forgotten most of it, but I’m going to undertake a study again in the next couple of months to try to at least know some words and key phrases,” Neville said.
Gaelic is only spoken by a small minority of Irish today, but many road signs still use the language, as well as some TV and radio stations. Putting in a few months of language research before traveling abroad can help lessen culture shock and make daily life easier.
Step 5: Think about your future goals.
There are plenty of great reasons to apply for a Fulbright, but applying simply to travel and sightsee will usually result in an unsuccessful application.
“You [have] to be really passionate about the country,” Whiteside said. “Fulbright doesn’t want to give these grants to people just for fun; they want to know how it’s going to change your life.”
For Neville, the chance to teach in Ireland will help her make connections that will impact the rest of her teaching career.
“Really think about how it could impact your future plans and think about what you’re bringing to the Fulbright,” Neville said. “A lot of people would like to work in an overseas capacity, but [ask yourself] what is it that you can specifically offer in that experience.”
While Neville’s students will miss having her on campus next semester, the University of Limerick will be gaining a dedicated writer and professor.
“There’s no way she’s going to leave there and not make an impact on those students,” said junior Beth Renfrow, an English creative writing major. “She is an amazing professor, and I can’t wait for students in [Ireland] to get to experience that.”