Consultants and Winning Reference Letters
Aside from the applicant's own ideas and initiative in developing the proposal, the next most important factor is the input and reference letters of professors and professional experts. Ideally, at least three professors--experts of varying experience--would agree to meet with you individually to discuss your proposed project. They can provide valuable information about the relevance of your idea as well as the validity of your objectives, the applicability of your methods, and the feasibility of pursuing the project in the host country you have selected.
The first task, then, is to identify advisers/mentors with the knowledge, experience, and willingness to advise you on how to design and develop your idea into a strong proposal. Faculty members can not only be resources themselves, but they also may be able to recommend other colleagues who might be helpful. Besides professors from whom you've taken classes, consider consulting faculty and specialists in the various MSU International Studies and Programs area centers such as: the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), the African Studies Center, the Asian Studies Center, the Center for Gender in Global Context, the Center for the Advanced Study of International Development (CASID) and the Center for European and Russian/Eurasian Studies (CERS). In addition, professors who teach the foreign language(s) of your intended host country may also be able to assist as well as recommend contacts. So too might industry or government officials with experience in international programs.
Before you approach your professors/reference writers, prepare for the meeting as well as possible with background research to demonstrate a connection between their expertise and your project. Learn about their research program(s) and other subjects that interest them. Go to the library and search the Internet to learn what they have published. The more you know about your reference writer, the easier it will be to interact and relate to him/her. Next, prepare for the meeting by creating a briefing document that explains your proposal and your qualification to execute it. Include the relevant courses taken, language training and proficiency, publications and/or experience related to your project.
On-campus faculty members are the most likely consultants close at hand, and a first priority is to develop a cordial mentoring relationship. This is best initiated no later than the spring semester to prepare for the MSU application deadline. If you don't know the person, perhaps a faculty member with whom you are acquainted might provide an introduction either by phone or e-mail.
Initially, arrange a meeting to discuss your ideas for writing the proposal and solicit an evaluation. Prepare by dropping off a briefing document in advance. It should explain your project and your qualification to execute it. Include the relevant courses taken, language training and proficiency, publications and/or experience. At that first meeting, ask the faculty member, first of all, whether your idea is feasible. Then ask for suggestions to develop the language proficiency and cultural understanding needed to expand it into a strong proposal.
During the meeting, ask for feedback on the relevance, objectives, methodology, feasibility, and likely impact of your proposal as well as any suggestions on ways to strengthen it. During the course of this or subsequent meetings, if you feel that the faculty member's expertise fits well with and is supportive of your proposal, ask if she/he would be willing to write a letter of recommendation.
If the consultant agrees, offer to write a few descriptive paragraphs about your project, any appropriate prior experience related to it, especially overseas, and your qualifications to complete it successfully for his/her consideration in writing the letter of recommendation. If this offer is accepted, deliver your suggestions promptly with the MSU Fulbright Adviser's address and the deadline. In case each reference writer includes some of your descriptive paragraphs, your drafts should vary.
Then continue to communicate with the professors/consultants as much as is appropriate according to their and your time constraints before departing MSU for the summer and then by e-mail and/or telephone. Be sure to express your appreciation for their contributions to the development of your proposal.
Additional information on requesting and writing letters of recommendation is available on-line as follows:
- Requesting Letters of Recommendation by Joe Schall;
- Obtaining a Stand Out Letter of Reference by Anon.;
- Ten Commandments for Writing Recommendation Letters by Joe Schall;
- Writing the Fulbright Scholarship Recommendation by Joe Schall;
- Tips for Letters of Reference and Language Evaluation by Valerie Hymas.