Advanced Study Grant Advice
university fellowships committee
The value of these Grants is perhaps best stated by the students who have taken advantage of this opportunity and offer encouragement and advice to other students in their own words.
Comments below were made by recent Advanced Study Grant winners, before an audience of students at a University Fellowships Committee luncheon.
Advanced Study Grants for 2002 - 2001
Mr. Pasha Mirazimi
Class of 2003
"A Summer with Feynman"
To support intensive study of The Feynman Lectures on advanced electromagnetic theory, ordinary differential equations, and quantum mechanics. 2002
"Classical Physics and Vector Calculus"
To support summer study in theoretical Biophysics at Harvard. 2001
Before I offer you some advice on how to approach the application process—and encourage you to, well, approach it in the first place. It seems reasonable that I start by speaking about the difference the Advanced Study Grant program has made in my life.
But I do not wish to offer you the standard "spiel" about how the ASG changed my life, helped my personal and academic growth, provided the groundwork to study advanced topics in mathematics, chemistry, and physics, and conduct "original" research in the interface between these various disciplines, and so forth. Nor do I wish to go on at length about the valuable first experiences in applying for fellowships and having become as a result of my experiences a stronger student and a stronger candidate for other fellowships I wish to pursue in coming months. Not to say that any of what I just mentioned in passing is not true. On the contrary, it is all true.
I feel, however, that my limited time with you is better used offering some general advice on the applications process.
Show a sense of direction. In other words, talk about the ASG in how it is part of a greater vision—as a few positive steps down the path to a successful future. Understand that you may not be among the few who would be bold enough to state so early in their college experience / life experience what precisely you wish to do in the future—And trust me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, I would argue from experience that it is best to keep an open mind throughout your time at Boston College, as you are surrounded with a great many opportunities that likely many of you have never been exposed to.
Yet, that having been said, a stronger candidate would be one that exhibits a great deal of creative energy with foresight and a sense of direction. Talk about how your plan could potentially strengthen you as both a student and a human being.
Think of the long-term. There is inherent in the mission of the ASG program an emphasis on the long-term. You should ask of yourself: How will this strengthen me as a student in any given academic discipline? How will this lay the "groundwork" for future accomplishments? How will this accelerate my personal and academic development at Boston College and allow me to participate in advanced research projects that build in meaningful ways on the classroom experience in the coming years?
Now—I should stop myself here for a moment and stress this point. All this talk about original work / research and so forth. It is more than a mere résumé builder. I have learned a great deal more struggling to put what I have learned over the years into practice than study problems that have been solved and resolved for centuries. That is the ultimate test of whether you have understood what you have learned, and a chance to do what has conceivably never been done before. I assure you the experience is invaluable. I strongly encourage you all to work to attain this level of sophistication in your respective fields. An ASG would allow you to spend an entire summer to this end working on a proposal of your choice. That, my friends, is a great deal!
Relationships with Your Professors. Now listen—I am not talking about approaching professors with the mindset that you will need to have faculty member vouch for you and write letters of recommendation for you in the future and that there is a strong need / almost an urgency to develop meaningful relationships / partnerships and so forth to that end. Not at all.
This is something I have found occurs naturally. If you respect, admire, look up to faculty members. If you are interested in the work they do. Do not be afraid to approach them. Express your interest in their work and so forth. Be honest and forthright. Ask how you could be involved in what they do, if possible.
Never lose sight of the fact that the faculty members of Boston College have devoted a great deal of time and energy to their research and their students. I have not met one academic who does not love what they do. A great many of these men and women are more than willing to mentor / work with students who show a special "spark" of scholarly initiative / talent / enthusiasm. If your heart and mind is in the right place, it is more than likely that your professors will wish to help you along to achieve your goals and fulfill your dreams.
Many of them have benefited from faculty that supported and encouraged them when they were in a position similar to yours. They were not born Boston College professors, teachers and researchers—this much is for certain! Rather, many have had the benefit of influential friends / role models / mentors that helped them develop into the scholars that they have become—to achieve their goals and enjoy success. For those special students who enjoy learning / challenging themselves and others intellectually—Those who are motivated and work hard . . . for those who appreciate and do not take for granted the honor and privilege of a Boston College education—They will want to help you as they have been helped. They wish to see such students succeed—To develop trust and friendship with students, to work with them.
In other words, do not be afraid to approach faculty members and discuss various ideas for an ASG proposal! I found that every faculty member I spoke to was very receptive to the idea, and eager to assist me. And I discussed a variety of ideas with three faculty members from three different departments before I arrived at my proposal!
Stay true to yourself. Do not be superficial in any way. It is not only dishonest, but it defeats the spirit of the endeavor—the very purpose of the process . . .
Work hard to represent yourself in an honest manner. Try and communicate to the committee your aspirations. Outline a plan for the summer that will take many elements of your experience at Boston College and tie them together in a creative, coherent, and realistic manner.
Never give up. If you truly wish to do what you propose to the committee, what you desire to do with your life, do not allow yourselves to be discouraged by a less-than-desirable decision.
Never, never, give up! Give it your best. This is meant to quite a bit more than a check and a pat on the back! This is a learning experience - A chance to expand—A chance to challenge yourself—To learn about yourself. To learn about others. To learn about the process of applying for fellowships. To put yourself in a position to be in contention for a multitude of prestigious fellowships in the coming years that could change your life.
You have the chance. The fact remains that every one of you in front of me have an "exceptionally strong" academic record. With a strong, creative, constructive, and feasible proposal, any one of you would have an excellent chance to be awarded an ASG.
When I was in your position two years ago, I felt as nervous and anxious as many of you may feel at the moment. Instead of wallowing in self-doubt and allow myself to be intimidated by a very large and talented applicant pool, I decided to go through the process. You cannot imagine how pleased I am that I ultimately made this choice. I am here today because I wish to encourage you to do the same.
I have opportunities I have been presented with to work closer with my faculty mentor today in large part due to the mathematical and physical sophistication that I have gained these past few summers. I am here to vouch for the fact that the ASG has made a substantial difference in my experience at BC. I am here to ensure you that it can make a substantial difference in yours should you choose to move forward with the application process! Trust me—I am not here for the food. In my humble opinion, Hillside would have done the job.
Concluding remarks. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions regarding the ASG program or about my specific experiences, as I understand I am speaking in rather general terms. I am here to help you, and to that end, I hope the words I have chosen to share with you this afternoon will have helped you along in this process.