Tips for Writing the Personal Statement

The second essay that forms part of your Fulbright application procedure is the Personal Statement. This essay is probably one of the trickiest to write because there really is no strict format to follow. As with the Research Objectives essay, however, Fulbright will provide some general information as to what should be included. Again, it’s a relatively short essay, about fifty lines of text, and you should share your work with others so that you can get some constructive feedback. Start writing early as you will undoubtedly write multiple drafts.

One of the best tips I read in relation to the Personal Statement was, if your essay sounds like it could have been written by someone else then it’s not personal enough. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what site I read this on but if I come across it again I’ll make sure to post the link.

Obviously, the Personal Statement has to be personal. But it should also be academic. You need to find a balance. I think my first draft was way too personal and my supervisor advised me to insert some academic information, such as my achievements to date and plans for the future.

I don’t have any tips, as such, for writing the Personal Statement so I’ll just give you a brief outline of what I included in my essay.

In my Personal Statement, I basically outlined my academic trajectory.

I began my essay by discussing what motivated me to study American History. In the ‘About Me’ section of this blog I explain that my interest in the American South was inspired by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I then proceeded to explain how my parents were very strong influences because they always encouraged me to find an occupation that I love. Teaching and researching is my passion so I’m glad I followed their advice. Even though I’ve been a ‘poor student’ for longer than I care to think about!!!

The next section of my essay discussed my academic qualifications and experiences. I explained how my B.Ed with History degree made me uniquely qualified to carry out the proposed research, the awards I received and the conferences I will be presenting at.

The remainder of my essay discussed how I planned to disseminate my research, how this dissemination would benefit Fulbright, Ireland and Mary Immaculate College, and what I planned to do when I returned to Ireland.

So that’s it. I hope it helps! Ultimately, I don’t believe that anyone else could have written an essay too like this. Everyone has different interests, inspirations and motivations. Equally, everyone has different academic achievements and plans for the future. So just be yourself!

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Academic Writing Tip #1

I am by no means a superb academic writer. But I hope that by sharing the mistakes I’ve made with with you here, others will avoid making them also.

My first academic writing tip is: Reference as you Write.

This may seem obvious but, unfortunately, I didn’t do it. In History, we use the footnote system of referencing. As I wrote I inserted footnotes when needed but only a very brief citation, such as the author’s name and page number. Sometimes I didn’t insert any citation!!! And that’s something I deeply regret now, namely because I spent two days inserting full references into a 17,000 word document and I’m still not finished. And it’s tedious work let me tell you. So if you’ve any sense you’ll learn from me and not make the same mistake. Thankfully I only did it in one chapter and as I write my current chapter I make sure to insert full references every time!

Tips for Writing the Research Objectives Essay

In order to apply for the Irish Fulbright Student Award, you have to write two essays: a Research Objectives essay and a Personal Statement. The Fulbright Commission of Ireland will provide an outline of what information should be included in these essays. They are relatively short, about fifty lines of text if I remember correctly, although application procedures may be different in other countries.

In this post, I will share some of my tips for writing the Research Objectives essay. These are my tips only and are not endorsed by the Fulbright Commission of Ireland. My thoughts and ideas regarding the application procedure are entirely my own. I’m simply sharing with you what I believe to be the most important things to consider when applying for a Fulbright. Other people may have different interpretations so don’t limit yourself to what I say here.

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FIRST things first, if you are thinking about applying for a Fulbright award you need to understand what the Fulbright program is about. You will find this information on any Fulbright site but I found this essay (here), written by Kieran McCarthy, particularly useful. As I understand it, the Fulbright Program is designed to facilitate cross-cultural exchange in order to reduce global conflict. You won’t necessarily discuss this information in your essay but it’s important to be aware of the aims and motivations of Senator J. William Fulbright. In my opinion, if you are not committed to achieving Fulbright’s aims and objectives then there’s no point in applying for the award.

BEFORE you even begin writing your application, it’s worth considering what potential contribution your work will make to your country, your institution and the wider world. This, I believe, is a significant part of the application process. Fulbright aren’t going to give just anyone an award. They will probably choose proposals that have the potential to make a difference in society. Every proposal has the potential to make a difference, you just have to figure out what that is.

PLUS, as you may know, if you receive a Fulbright Student Award you are subjected to a two year home residency requirement, meaning you have to return to your home country for two years after your time in the US . This is understandable considering Fulbright will probably offer you an award on the basis of its potential to make a difference in your home country. And your home country won’t benefit from the study you conduct in the US if run back to the states as soon as you finish up in your home institution!

ANYWAY, this part of the application process can be one of the most difficult but I can guarantee you that every proposal has the potential to make some kind of contribution to society. It’s not all about “filling the gap” or “contributing to knowledge and understanding”. So spend some time thinking and talking about this. Your supervisor and academic friends will be a great help so talk to them.

NOW you need to start writing your application. I advise you to start early because you will write multiple drafts. You should also share your writing with someone. My supervisor was fantastic and really pushed me to promote myself a bit more – I’m a typical, modest, Irish girl who doesn’t like to “brag”. I also spoke with a previous Fulbrighter at my institution and she was a great help.

THE structure of you application is paramount. I’ve been very fortunate to secure four grants and I am convinced that it’s down to the grant writing template that Dr Karen Kelsky created. It can be found here. (I find this entire site fantastic – from CV tips to conference proposals, it has it all). The ‘Foolproof Grant Template’ can be frustrating at times because the structure is so rigid but it will really help you to organise your thoughts and ideas more clearly. I cannot stress how useful this template was for me.  That being said, Fulbright will probably give you a fairly comprehensive outline of what information should be included in the essay. For my Research Objectives essay I didn’t stick entirely to the ‘Foolproof Grant Template’ but I did for other grant essays. You just need to be flexible.

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SO that’s it. I hope it helps somewhat. Check out other blogs and see what others have to say also. And if you’re applying this year – the application process will be open soon – best of luck!!!

This was me on the day that I received my award. If I can do it anyone can!

Two Questions

The two questions people always ask me in relation to my research are:

  1. Why did you choose to study African American education?

and

  1. Why did you choose to base your study in North Carolina?

Although Irish people have never really questioned why I chose to study black education, Americans, in general, are really surprised!  So for those of you who are interested, let me begin by attempting to answer the first question.

I’ve always had an interest in American History, particularly that of the American South, and race relations have intrigued me ever since my first reading of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I suspect that this was because the world Lee presented in her seminal novel was so alien to me. I grew up in the 1990s and during that time Ireland was a relatively homogenous country, dominated by native, white, Catholics (I’m one of them!). Although Ireland is much more diverse nowadays, as a child I never witnessed racism and I struggled to comprehend discrimination on the basis of skin colour. I found, and still find, such discrimination completely repulsive.

In 2011 I graduated from MIC with a Bachelor of Education with History. When I decided to pursue postgraduate study, I wanted to combine my interest in, and expertise of, both History and Education. Black education in the American South has always been a “hot” topic but when I began my studies it was of particular scholarly interest, namely because a recent study had challenged the accepted image of the freedmen’s teacher to reveal that northern white women, or “Yankee Schoolmarms”, were not the only teachers of the freed people. Essentially, this study paved the way for a fresh analysis and reinterpretation of freedmen’s education, particularly at state level.

This brings me onto my second question, why North Carolina?

The answer is simple. North Carolina is a unique southern state, socially, culturally and geographically. Historically, North Carolina was known as “racially humane” and unlike many other states which were dominated by plantation society and culture, North Carolina had a relatively large number of non-slaveholding yeomen farmers. Moreover, North Carolina was home to a large Quaker population, a group who were manifestly opposed to slavery and active in black education since the mid-18th century. Knowing this, I was eager to investigate how the complex interplay of slaveholder, Quaker and yeoman farmer worked to influence North Carolina’s post-emancipation system of black education.

So there you have it! I am a firm believer in engaging in research, or any kind of work really, for the love of it. This was the advice my father gave to me when I first began thinking about postgraduate study. Obviously I worried about the logistics of it all – how was I going to study North Carolina from a little town in Ireland!?!? And sometimes it was frustrating. But thankfully we live in the digital age so it all paid off.