Fellowship Hunting

By Dave Papendorf

As a late-stage PhD student working to finish my dissertation, I have quickly begun to come to grips with the facts.  Specifically, though I was fortunate enough to have funding through my university, my funding package would not cover me completely as I finish my dissertation.  In other words, I wasn’t going to get paid for the final year and a half of my program. Years one and two were breezy and care free; I was just a portion of my time into my program, still learning the ropes, and living blissfully in the time when my biggest worries were seminars and colloquia rather than the dissertation lurking behind every corner. Thankfully, I received advice from some of my mentors to go fellowship hunting.  And away I went.

There are lots of funding opportunities out there, but that doesn’t make any of them less competitive or exclusive.  So, the daunting task began.  Because I study European history, I was naturally drawn towards fellowships that afforded me time to research in Europe and be close to my important archival sites.  After countless hours of research and filling out applications, I fortunately received a six-month fellowship at the Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte in Mainz, Germany.  The IEG is a non-profit research institution founded to further scholarship in European history and promote collaborative research between the countries in war-torn Europe.  Currently staffed with a large contingent of senior researchers in two divisions (Western Religious History and Universal History), the IEG continuously houses around 40 research fellows (Stipendiaten) who are working on their dissertations.  Housed in the Domus Universitatis (a building built in the 17thcentury to house Jesuit monastics, pictured above), the researchers also have access to a wonderfully-stocked library.  The highpoint of the week at the IEG is the Forschungskolloquium – a time when all of the researchers and fellows gather to hear a presentation from a peer or senior researcher.

Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled to have received this fellowship.  Since January 2018, my wife and I have lived in Mainz – a historic city along the Rhine which was both inhabited by the Romans as early as the first century B.C.E. and the hometown of Johannes Gutenberg and his famous printing press.  Just living in Mainz alone was worth applying for the fellowship.  However, my experience here has been much more significant than simply living in another country.  I was able to pick the brains of German and European scholars who have offered differing perspectives on dissertation methodology.  It has also been stimulating to work and live with other doctoral students from all over the world and to chat about common experiences (and, let’s be honest, fears concerning the job market).  Moreover, presenting my research to a room of experts on European history was also equally helpful in crafting the intricacies of my dissertation.  In short, my experience at the IEG has been both formative and invigorating as I continue to march forward.  My experience seems to be similar to many of the other fellows that have passed through the IEG.  With this in mind, I recommend that any PhD student seriously consider applying for domestic or international fellowships.  It will give you unique life experiences, allow you funded time to work on your dissertation, and likely, as in my case, give you continued traction to push on with your project.

One final note…although I was successful in my IEG application, I was rejected on five other applications.  It was difficult to remain upbeat through the discouragement of rejection letters, but just remember:  you will get rejected more times than you are accepted.  This is a hard pill to swallow for most PhD students – a group of over-achieving, intelligent, successful, top-of-the-class people. Resist the urge to be discouraged through applications, because the applications are good training for job ads and often serve to make you think more critically about your work and even your CV. In conclusion, apply for fellowships! Keep grinding, and you’ll likely get the opportunity to move somewhere new, receive insight from senior scholars, and get an extra boost of encouragement just when you need it. Good luck!