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Tips to Prepare a Fellowship Application

Prepare to apply

  • Do your homework. Find others in your program who have earned a fellowship using NIH RePORTER, ask peers and mentors to share strategies, consider eligibility and the intent of fellowships. Search links to "prepare effective graduate fellowship application" for detailed tips. Read, and re-read the NIH program announcement.
  • Communicate with your research sponsor, mentors and institutional officials. NIH applications are submitted electronically by the institution, and your grants or sponsored research office can help you with the eRA Commons account you must use. Consider who will provide your letters of recommendation and the process for submission. Talk with your research sponsor(s) about what you each will do for the application, and for the proposed fellowship.
  • Contact the program officer at NIH if you have any questions about the application process.
  • Plan your time. It will take a couple of months, part-time, to prepare an effective application. Do you have the time and focus to prepare an application? Remember to give all the others who will help you enough time, as well.

Draft a proposal

  • The fellowship requires both a research plan and a career development plan, and both are important.
  • Spend time developing the specific aims, and then seek input on the aims before preparing the whole proposal.
  • Develop the proposal. Address hypotheses, rationale, experimental design, measurable results and interpretation, the impact if your ideas are right and alternative approaches if something doesn't work. Consider how your proposal develops skills you need—new techniques to the sponsor lab, new collaborators, experience presenting your ideas, etc.
  • Draft a career development plan. What are your short term and longer term goals, and how will completing this fellowship develop the skills and knowledge you need? Who will teach you, when and how? Do you need local or national courses or workshops? How will you demonstrate your progress?
  • Seek advice from your sponsor(s) and internal reviewers. Look for faculty who have served on fellowship panels who might provide advice.
  • If personal or professional issues negatively affected your academic route (e.g., poor grades, semester off, etc.)  take the time to explain it in your personnel statement.
  • Think like a reviewer. Read the review criteria in the FOA and be sure that each is addressed clearly in your proposal.

Submit (and Resubmit?)

  • Following instructions from your grants or sponsored research office, your application will be submitted. Follow its status in eRA Commons, and eventually, you will get a priority score, a percentile score and summary comments.
  • Contact the program officer indicated on your summary statement to discuss the review comments and next steps.
  • If awarded, your grants or sponsored research office will need to follow the NIH policies for allowable expenses, and you will need to provide a report on your progress every year. See the relevant fellowship FOAs (PA-16-306, PA-16-309, or PA-16-308) and NIH’s NRSA Policy for additional guidance on terms and conditions of the individual fellowship awards.
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This page last reviewed on September 06, 2017