For Faculty & Staff

The National Fellowships Program is grateful to faculty and staff for their expertise, insight, and collaboration in supporting our work in fellowships advising.

This section outlines some key ways in which faculty and staff can help.

Refer Students

Refer Students to Us

If you know a student who is interested in exploring national fellowships, or you think would be a good candidate for a fellowship program, please send them our way! It’s never too early – or too late – for students and recent graduates to start a conversation with us about fellowship opportunities.

Feel free to send us an email introducing us to your student, or ask the student to reach out to us – they are always welcome to email us or make an advising appointment at their convenience.

Serve as Mentor, Campus Reviewer, or Practice Interviewer

Serve as a Mentor, Campus Reviewer, or Practice Interviewer

We are always grateful to hear from faculty who wish to help students by participating in nomination processes, practice interviews, and mentoring. In many cases, the time commitment is only a few hours once a year; in a few cases, we ask for a more substantial commitment.

Below is a list of opportunities for faculty to engage specifically with the National Fellowships Program’s students and our processes. This list is not comprehensive, but rather representative of our most common opportunities.

If you have any questions about these opportunities, or additional ones, please reach out to Kathleen Barry, Associate Director, at kbarry18@jhu.edu. Thank you!

STEM Faculty

Astronaut Scholarship

What is it?: up to $15,000 for undergraduates with exceptionally strong STEM research and academic records (modeled after the Goldwater, but not as well known). The name comes from the Mercury astronauts who founded it, but applicants can be in any STEM field. Students can apply in their 2nd or 3rd year (juniors predominate in the applicant pool).

Ways to contribute: serve as an application reviewer, reading all apps and rating them, to facilitate choosing two JHU nominees from a pool of 15-20 applicants.

Essential qualifications/expertise: we tend to have large numbers of applicants in BME/biological sciences, so faculty in those fields are particularly helpful, but any and all STEM faculty would be welcome.

Estimated time commitment: 2-3 hours for reading and rating apps, in early to mid-March.

Goldwater Scholarship

What is it?: the premiere undergraduate STEM award in the US, which provides up to $7,500 for 2nd or 3rd year students with exceptionally strong STEM research and academic records. Juniors predominate in the applicant pool.

Ways to contribute: serve as a selection committee member. This requires reading all apps and rating them in advance and then attending the selection committee meeting where members choose four or five JHU nominees from a pool of 15-20 applicants.

Essential qualifications/expertise: we tend to have large numbers of applicants in BME/biological sciences, so faculty in those fields are particularly helpful, but any and all STEM faculty would be welcome.

Estimated time commitment: 2-3 hours for reading and rating apps + 1-1.5 hours for the selection committee meeting, in early to mid-January.

Faculty Across Fields

Fulbright U.S. Student Program

What is it?: the leading cultural exchange program sending American students and young alums overseas for a year of research, graduate study, or teaching English and American culture. Sponsored by the US State Department, Fulbright offers research/study grants in ~140 countries, and English Teaching Assistantships in ~80 countries. Applicants are rising seniors, graduating seniors, recent graduates, and graduate students.

Ways to contribute: participate in a campus interview for Study/Research applicants or English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) applicants, who total about 40-50 per year.

Essential qualifications/expertise: We welcome a wide range of areas and faculty specializations. When we schedule interviews, we try to match study/research applicants with faculty in their field or closely allied fields, and we try to match ETA applicants with faculty and staff who are experts on the host country or region and/or language pedagogy.

Estimated time commitment: 0.5-1 hour to review applications in advance + 1-1.5 hours for panel meeting, in September.

Faculty/Staff with Knowledge of Fellowships that are Especially Competitive/High-Profile

P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

What is it?: funding of up to $90,000 for one-two years of graduate school in any field at any accredited university in the US. Applicants must be “New Americans,” i.e. immigrants or children of immigrants.

Ways to contribute: serve as a practice interviewer, participating in a panel interview with a finalist. We are by no means guaranteed to have a finalist each year, given the extreme competitiveness of this award (in 2020-21, Soros received nearly 2,500 applications and interviewed 77 finalists for 30 awards).

Essential qualifications/expertise: faculty with some special insight on the Soros selection process or that of a similarly high-profile, competitive award (e.g., Rhodes, Marshall, Truman Scholarships).

Estimated time commitment: 0.5 hours to review application in advance + 1 hour for panel interview session and advice/feedback for the candidate, in late January.

Truman Scholarship

What is it?: funding of up to $30,000 for graduate school and cohort-building opportunities for juniors with an exceptional commitment to public service and strong academic record.

Ways to contribute:

  • Provide feedback on a near-final set of application essays in which students discuss their leadership and public service, plans for graduate school, and their core issue in public service, and offer a brief policy proposal.
  • Serve as a practice interviewer, participating in a panel interview with a finalist. We are not guaranteed to have a finalist each year, but we have had at least one per year in recent years.

Essential qualifications/expertise: for feedback, faculty with expertise in the field in which the applicant’s core issue and policy proposal fall (sociology, political science, public health are commonly seen fields); it is also helpful to be familiar with the Truman and its selection criteria. For practice interviewing, we look to faculty with some special insight on the Truman selection process or that of a similarly high-profile, competitive award (e.g., Rhodes, Marshall).

Estimated time commitment: For feedback, 1-2 hours to review application and provide written or verbal feedback, in late January. For practice interviewing, 0.5 hours to review application in advance + 1 hour for panel interview session and advice/feedback for the candidate, in late February or March.

UK & Ireland Scholarships – Churchill, Gates Cambridge, Marshall, Mitchell & Rhodes

What are these?: these highly competitive scholarships all provide funding for 1-3 years of graduate study in the UK or Ireland. They all prize exceptional academic achievement and potential to be a leader in one’s field and beyond; ambassadorial potential and commitment to service are important selection factors as well. At JHU, we create a cohort of applicants each spring who will apply to one of more of these five awards and go through an intensive advising process with our office.

Ways to contribute: We seek to maintain a standing committee of faculty and administrators who contribute as they can to the following:

  • Offer workshop on how to determine the best fit among these scholarships and academic programs in the U.K. and Ireland (late spring)
  • Mentor an individual cohort member, helping them choose programs, refine interests (late spring)
  • Provide feedback on a near-final set of application essays (late summer/early fall)
  • Serve on a selection committee to choose two Churchill nominees (September; STEM faculty)
  • Serve as a practice interviewer, participating in a panel interview with a finalist (November for Marshall, Mitchell, and Rhodes; January for Gates Cambridge).

Essential qualifications/expertise: we look to faculty with some special insight on one or more of these fellowships and their exacting selection processes, and/or academic life at Oxford, Cambridge and other British and Irish universities.

Estimated time commitment: For workshop, preparation + one hour for session with Q&A. For mentoring, 1-2 hours (or more if desired) to and confer with applicants. For essay feedback, 1-2 hours to review application and provide written or verbal feedback. For practice interviewing, 0.5 hours to review application in advance + 1 hour for panel interview session and advice/feedback for the candidate. Specific times of year noted above. Overall, 5-10 hours per cycle for an active committee member participating in most or all activities.

Letters of Recommendation

Writing Optimal Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendations are a critical part of an application for a nationally competitive fellowship or scholarship and can be a make-or-break factor in whether students are selected. We deeply appreciate the time and consideration that busy faculty and staff put into writing letters for students for fellowships as well as graduate schools, jobs, etc. We offer the advice and resources below to help ensure letter writers can have the impact they hope to in supporting a student’s application.

What’s most helpful in a letter of support for a fellowship?

Letter writers can best help applicants by:

  • addressing the selection criteria directly and the student’s suitability for the chosen award.
  • providing details and examples that serve as evidence of the applicant’s qualities and accomplishments (and how they have bounced back from failures, if applicable).
  • including a brief description of your credentials and work, to establish your frame of reference for readers.
  • following any formatting requirements or page limits (if there are none, 1.5-2 pages is a good target range), using letterhead, and providing your full title and a signature.
  • submitting your letter on time or even early, saving students (and their fellowships advisors) last-minute worry.

Letters that may not help applicants are:

  • short and/or don’t include specific examples as evidence of the assessment of the student.
  • long on context but short on discussion of the applicant’s accomplishments.
  • generic/written for another purpose and not tailored to the specific opportunity at hand.
  • only cite experiences or achievements from several years ago.
  • offer only faint praise (saying student merely met expectations and/or has admirable qualities not relevant to the opportunity, e.g. punctuality).
  • more critical than intended. Honesty is appreciated and can benefit the applicant, but critical sentiments that sound like reservations will be taken seriously by selectors and may be disqualifying.

We encourage students to help you by:

  • asking well in advance (we advise asking for a letter at least a month before the deadline).
  • providing clear information about the fellowship, selection criteria, and deadline, as well as any specific guidance for letter writers pertaining to content, format, length, etc.
  • offering application materials for your perusal (essay drafts, c.v., etc.).
  • noting how your letter fits in the range of letters they have solicited for this opportunity and if there are particular aspects of their candidacy they hope you can discuss.

Sometimes it’s better to say “no”

Whether it’s lack of time, knowledge of the student, or enthusiasm, there are times when a faculty or staff member isn’t able to provide an effective letter of recommendation. In those instances, the best outcome for everyone is for the faculty or staff member to politely turn down the request and offer the student guidance on finding a more appropriate reference for the opportunity at hand.

Students should not be asked to draft their own letters

While this may seem like an easy way to make the letter writing process more efficient, it puts the student in, at best, an awkward position and rarely results in a letter that may truly help them. Even students who can capture their own accomplishments effectively (a tall order) cannot put them in perspective in the way that reviewers expect and rely on. Instead, a letter writer should ask the applicant to provide relevant information to enable the faculty/staff member to compose a strong letter.

JHU is a member institution of the National Association of Fellowships Advisors whose code of ethics states that applicants should “neither compose their own letters for faculty to sign (even at the request of faculty) nor ask faculty members to show them their own letters of recommendation.”

Avoiding unconscious bias

Studies have shown patterns of gender and racial bias in letters of recommendation that harm female candidates and candidates of color. To give just one example, letters for women and applicants from racial minorities feature more “grindstone” adjectives (e.g. “hardworking,” “careful,” “dedicated,” “thorough”) that focus on effort rather than ability (e.g. “brilliant,” “talented,” “capable”) than letters for white male candidates. Bias can also be evident, if unintended, on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, sexual identity/orientation, politics, religion, and disability. Below are some tips and resources for avoiding unconscious bias in letters of recommendation.

Tips to avoid unconscious bias include:

  • Only address race, gender, and other personal characteristics if they are relevant to the opportunity (examples where they could be relevant include the Soros Fellowship for New Americans, where immigration status of the applicant or their parents is a crucial qualifier, or a scholarship for women in STEM).
  • Never disclose someone’s disability without their approval; if you feel it may be relevant to include, discuss with the applicant first and, if they agree, find out what language they would prefer you use.
  • Scrutinize a given letter and consider whether any of the adjectives or examples would change if the applicant’s gender, race or pronouns changed.
  • Compare letters you’ve written for applicants from different genders or races but of equivalent or near-equivalent levels of achievement to see if any unintended bias emerges.

Resources on writing letters of recommendation

General:

  • Joe Schall, “Writing Recommendation Letters Online”: a six-chapter guide to writing letters by a long-time academic writing specialist and teacher (hosted by Penn State)
  • Sarvenaz Sarabipour, Sarah J. Hainer, Emily Furlong, Nafisa M. Jadavji, Charlotte M. de Winde, Natalia Bielczyk, Aparna P. Shah. “Writing an effective and supportive recommendation letter,” FEBS J. 2021 Mar 5. doi: 10.1111/febs.15757 (specifically for letters for STEM opportunities)

Avoiding biases:

Komal interviewing Dr. Mueller. Adaptation. Resilience. Courage. Innovation. Resistance. These words now have new definitions for me. Innovation does not have to come from an abundance of resources, but rather the opposite. Working in a resource-limited setting has shown me the other face of innovation. The Fulbright afforded me the opportunity to experience this growth and catapult my career from opportunities locally to globally. Lesson learned: challenge the status quo. Komal Kumar, Fulbright Study/Research