Fall is Finally Here…

…and it’s beautiful in Chapel Hill! The air is crisp and cool, the sky is blue and the sun is shining, the fallen leaves crunch under your feet and the squirrels (which are practically everywhere) are searching for acorns. Autumn is definitely one of my favourite times of year and I could not be in a better place to enjoy it.

When I initially started blogging I intended on posting once a week but that hasn’t gone exactly as planned… I’ve just been really, really busy.

So what have I been up to? Well, unsurprisingly, most of my day is spent…researching! So far that’s been going really well. And I’m getting lots of my thesis written too (more on that soon). I’m really trying to make the most of having access to such a wide range of sources so I’ve divided my day into two and three hour chunks – some are devoted to research and others are spent writing. So far this system has worked really well for me and I’m being really productive.

Other than that, my days are spent meeting friends or colleagues for coffee or lunch (Chapel Hill has some really great restaurants) and attending seminars or classes. Although I’m doing independent research, I’ve slotted into some classes that are related to my field and both the classes and the professors have been really helpful. 

Two evenings a week I train with UNC Boxing Club. The classes are ridiculously hard…I’m not even joking! But like a friend back home used to always say, ‘you never regret a workout’. These classes are two hours long and are divided into cardio, which is hell, strength, which can be hell and technique, which I love. The trainers are really enthusiastic which I also love. They’re really upbeat and their positive attitude helps you to push yourself way harder than someone shouting abuse at you! I’ve met so many people through the classes. Like I said in my previous post, it’s really easy to make friends here.

My weekends are for downtime. Every Friday a group of us from the History Department head out for drinks in a local bar. These evenings are really fun. They’re a great way to unwind and catch up with everyone. They also provide a great opportunity to discuss your work and to share new ideas and perspectives – a fundamental aim of Fulbright!

Recently I attended a football game which was fun except for the rain! It literally poured the whole time. As you may or may not know, UNC is a huge basketball college – Michael Jordan went here! So when the season starts a few of us are going to get together to head to a game. The tickets are supposed to be hard enough to get but my friends seem confident we can get them.

This weekend a group of us are going to the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh which I’m really excited about so I will fill you all in on that later.

Bye for now…

Go Heels! (They won)

Go Heels! (They won)

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!

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!