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Stories from the community: Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Research Fellowship

Chandrika Konwar

In this tenth article as part of community voices for our international Grants Awareness Program (iGAP), Chandrika Konwar shares her experience, some to-dos, and tips for a successful Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Research (FNDR) Fellowship application. Chandrika is a Fulbright Nehru Doctoral Research Fellow at California Institute of Technology.

Chandrika Konwar
Chandrika Konwar 

I had applied for the Fulbright Fellowship as a third-year PhD student filled with dreams of conducting an unconventional aspect of my research project in the United States. And with this fellowship, I was able to take my academic journey to the next level.

As a Fulbright Scholar at the California Institute of Technology, USA, I experienced a world of opportunities that went far beyond my expectations. From collaborating with top-notch researchers to presenting my work at scientific conferences, participating in hackathons, mentoring STEM enthusiasts and students, and delivering invited talks and interviews as a subject matter expert, I could immerse myself in a holistic scientific experience. As an added bonus, I even got to try my hand at 3D printing and explore a world of different cultures and cuisines.

If you’re looking to gain exposure, expertise, and invaluable experience in the United States, the Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Research (FNDR) Fellowship might be the perfect opportunity for you. The application process involves three steps: 

  • First, you need to find a host lab. This can be an affiliation with any US institution that provides you with a letter of invitation. While the letter is not mandatory during the first stage of application, it is highly preferred.
  • For the FNDR application, you need to submit your research proposal, personal statement, recommendation letters, and other supporting documents online. If your application is shortlisted, you will be invited for an interview.
  • Finally, if you’re nominated by the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF), you’ll need to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and secure the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FFSB) approval. The journey might be long, but the rewards are endless.

Here are some useful tips for prospective applicants: 

Step I: Choosing a host institution

When it comes to securing a host institution for your Fulbright application, timing is everything. While it’s best to start searching for potential hosts six months prior to the application call, it’s never too late to get started. And even though you only need one U.S. host to support your application, it’s always a smart move to have multiple hosts lined up just in case.

There are three main approaches you can take when it comes to finding a host institution. First, consider collaborating with any existing contacts or collaborators you have. Reach out to them and ask for their help in finding potential hosts. Alternatively, attend international conferences and use your networking skills to connect with researchers or individuals who work in relevant labs that may be able to assist you. Lastly, if you have no leads at all, don’t be afraid to cold email researchers in your field of interest until you receive at least one positive response.

As a C. elegans researcher who was stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I took the initiative to identify worm labs in the U.S. and cold email them. Additionally, I used my networking skills to connect with fellow researchers in the Genetics Society of America International C. elegans Conference. With some persistence and a bit of luck, I was able to secure a host institution for my Fulbright application. So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and make some bold moves in pursuit of your dreams!

Step II: FNDR Application

To help you prepare for the application process, here are some basic to-dos that you should keep in mind:

  1. Start early: The Fulbright application process is lengthy and requires several supporting documents. So, even if you are still searching for a host institution, it’s best to start preparing your application at least one month in advance.
  2. Read the FNDR call details thoroughly: Make sure you go through the current FNDR call details at least thrice. USIEF has several online resources, such as interviews and research profiles of Fulbright Scholars on their website. Going through them can help you prepare a stronger application.
  3. Pay attention to the research proposal: The research proposal is the heart of your application. Along with your main project, highlight the reasons for conducting research in the U.S., the unique resources or equipment available there, relevance in your field of research, opportunities for professional growth, and career development.
  4. Personalise your personal statement: Your personal statement should reflect your personality and highlight your achievements, future aspirations, and plans to serve as a cultural ambassador of India.
  5. Showcase your contributions to the field: Though having a publication is not mandatory for a successful Fulbright application, it’s advantageous to show your contribution to the field. An original peer-reviewed paper is preferred, but you can also submit presentations from conferences or refined extracts from your research thesis.
  6. Include all letters of invitation: If you have more than one letter of invitation, include all of them in your application. Even if you receive one or more letters of invitation after the application deadline, forward them to USIEF immediately.
  7. Choose your referees wisely: Obtain recommendation letters from people who can advocate for your research, skills and contributions outside research, and suitability for the fellowship.
  8. Reach out for help when in doubt: If you have any doubts, reach out to Fulbright Scholars with an active profile on LinkedIn. But always do your homework before seeking help.

Step III: Interview

For the interview, besides being well-prepared with a deep understanding of your research proposal and personal statement, brush up on your knowledge of the United States and its cultural ties with India. Don’t forget to let your unique personality and strengths shine through, so that you can make a memorable impression on your interviewers.