Friday, February 9, 2018

Lessons learned from applying for scholarships

As a graduate student (many moons ago), I applied for the Gertrude M. Cox Scholarship from the American Statistical Association. The purpose is "to encourage more women to enter statistically oriented professions". I was a woman pursing a PhD in Statistics and wanted to enter a statistically oriented profession, so I wrote an essay and submitted an application. In the essay, I explained how I got interested in statistics and why I decided to pursue a PhD. At the time, I did not have many examples of "acts of leadership", but I had done some community service and/or mentoring as an undergraduate student. Afterwards, I was sad to find out I was not selected. However, forcing myself to go through that process taught me a few general lessons when applying for scholarships (and more general things e.g. grants, papers) that have stuck with me over the years. I figured it might be worth sharing them here.

  1. As a student, it is easy to feel like your resume/CV is sparse or you do not have much to write about. You may have started a graduate program right after completing your undergraduate degree without any work experience. You may still be taking a lot of classes or not have much teaching experience. You may be early in your graduate program without any research experience or peer-reviewed publications. What is most important is your ability to communicate why you are interested in your area, why it is exciting, and why others should be excited about it. If you have done work or made contributions in the area, great. Write about it. However, as someone who now reviews applications for a full-tuition scholarship for women interested in STEM funded by Cards Against Humanity I believe it is much more important to say why you are passionate by whatever you are interested in, irrespective of how much you may or may not have accomplished. 
  2. Recommendation letters matter. You want to ask individuals who really know you. If you ask a professor who only knows that you made an A in their class and can't say much more, that comes across loud and clear in the recommendation letter. You want to ask individuals who will actively advocate for you. 
  3. Rejection is part of life and do not it deter you from pursing your passions or dreams. I will be honest: I am still struggling with this one even to this day. However, it has gotten easier over the years because I have learned to not take it personally. But seriously, some days I want to scream at the top of my lungs 'WHY DIDN'T YOU PICK ME? WHY DIDN'T YOU SELECT MY GRANT? WHY DIDN'T YOU ACCEPT MY PAPER?', etc. During those moments, I just remind myself I only have control over the next award I apply for, the next paper I submit, the next grant I write. 
Anyways, if you are woman in a full-time graduate Statistics program (MS or PhD) and a citizen or permanent resident of the US or Canada, I would encourage you to apply for the Gertrude M. Cox Scholarship. Applications are due two weeks from today (February 23, 2018). For what it's worth, I posted my (unsuccessful) application essay for the scholarship. Maybe it will help someone else write their essay! 

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