Office of Graduate Student External Grants and Fellowships | GradFund

Fulbright: What If My Project is Controversial?

by | Jul 17, 2017 | Advice, Best Practices, Featured Awards, Fulbright, Fulbright Application Advice, How to Write a(n)...

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What should you do if you are applying to the Fulbright-IIE, but your project engages with diplomatically sensitive topics? This issue comes up often in our meetings with graduate students who are interested in applying for the Fulbright, but who fear that their project could yield results that paint the host country in a negative light. Since the final stage of the review process and decision for approval of your Fulbright grant is determined by officials in the host country, it is correct to be aware of ways in which your proposed work will be perceived if it sheds light on issues such as human rights violations, environmental destruction, or the status of marginalized groups.

First, note that we at GradFund place no value judgement on your research. It is up to you to consult with your adviser as you craft your research question, methodology, and proposed contribution to the literature of your field. However, there is a distinction between your research project as it is being developed to fulfill your degree requirements on the one hand, and the nature of a Fulbright project on the other. The Fulbright-IIE is not intrinsically designed as a dissertation research funding grant. Its goal is to enhance cultural exchange and mutual understanding between the United States and other countries.

With this in mind, it is important that you approach the Fulbright application process by playing to your strengths. In your first drafts of the two required essays of your application — the Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement — aim to discuss your project and career goals in ways that highlight your fit with the Fulbright mission. This is not to say that you should misrepresent the research you plan to conduct. You should not lie or mislead the reviewers about your work in any way. Instead, think of how you can finesse the description of your project so that it reinforces how your receiving the grant will help you advance the goal of mutual beneficence between the United States and the host country.

The specific ways you will tackle this task of pitching a potentially controversial topic should be customized and tailored to your particular case. We encourage you to meet with a GradFund fellowship adviser as soon in the application cycle as possible, and to solicit feedback on your application drafts from your recommendation letter writers iteratively.

If you are interested in applying for the Fulbright-IIE, make sure to consult the specific country requirements for your destination of interest. Be sure to also review our previous blogposts on other aspects of crafting a competitive Fulbright application and to visit the GradFund Fulbright resource page. The on-campus deadline for graduate students applying for the Fulbright-IIE this cycle is September 1, 2017.

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