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Question for Boren Fellowship Alums


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Hi Boren alums (and interested Grad Cafe folks),


My questions are for those Boren alumni who conducted research toward their doctoral dissertations as part of their fellowship.


1) At what point in your dissertation proposal writing process were you when you submitted your Boren application?  That is, had you just begun writing, written a substantial amount, already defended your proposal?  


2) And, correspondingly, how detailed was the research plan you proposed in your application?  Was it framed as preliminary research toward your dissertation, or did you outline a clear research plan for your dissertation work?


3) How did you fit the language requirement in with your research? For example, did you do 20 hours/week of language study and 20 hrs+/week of research?  Or, did you front load your language study and then do field research?


Thank you in advance for reading this!

No sleep 


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Hi there! I'm not a Boren alum (am currently in the application pool for the 2013-14 round), but I think I could give you some meaningful feedback on your questions. I'm also pursuing a Ph.D. and have already completed a year of fieldwork (funded by the Fulbright IIE), and am using the Boren as a shorter followup fieldwork project while I'm well into the dissertation writing stage. I'm not in your exact field, but I'm generally in the social sciences and so my experience probably has some overlap to your questions.

(1) I had barely begun my proposal when I submitted my application to IIE. As you might suspect, my completed proposal versus my Fulbright application look very different. This is primarily because of the very, very early due date for Fulbright (August of the year prior).

In hindsight, I probably would have had a more fruitful time in data collection had I been generally more prepared before going overseas. I was also pressed for time in getting a solid proposal together before I departed the following August while completing my qualifying exams. It was stressful! But I didn't want to wait an entire year, and in the end it was probably better that I went earlier rather than later.

Ideally, I would think that having at least some of the dissertation proposal drafted is a good idea just in terms of writing a solid fellowship application. But it's also safe to assume that what you write in either will not be what you will follow to a tee. Your dissertation project will end up evolving into a life of its own with issues coming up during your fieldwork that you cannot anticipate. So I wouldn't worry about how "perfect" your proposal is.

(2) I framed it as, definitively, my dissertation fieldwork. Not preliminary stuff. And I think this is important. Even if everything you write is speculative (I will do this... I will go here... etc.), I think it's important to use strong and certain language. I had a clear plan. I didn't end up sticking to it all once I arrived in the country, but the important part is that I knew what I wanted to do at the time of submitting my application.

Doing fieldwork, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast.

(3) As a Ph.D. Candidate, your primary reason for going overseas is your dissertation fieldwork. Language is supplementary.

In other words, 20 hours a week is way too much. Every hour in the classroom requires an equal hour of studying/homework outside of the classroom, at least. I've done 20 hour a week language intensives for multiple semesters, and believe me, they will take up all of your time, attention, and energy while the class is in session. You cannot expect to complete any of your dissertation fieldwork or writing during this time.

If you want to do a 20 hour a week language intensive program, then I suggest front loading it for a semester. This will also give you time to "settle into" your new environment because, even if you go in with a clear plan, your fieldwork will need some time before you're in full gear of data collection (at least a couple months). You need to do a lot of "soaking and poking" around before you feel like you're moving in the right direction. A few months of a language intensive can help with that.

You might consider a part-time language program that is 10 hours a week throughout the duration of your fieldwork, but again, your priorities will be on your data collection. While you may be able to study and do okay in the class, you probably won't give it your full attention and so you may not absorb as much language as you could. It's still something to consider, though, as you will get something out of it even if not to the fullest extent possible.

Another possibility is a combination of a front loaded 20 hour a week term, then private tutoring throughout the fieldwork months on a flexible schedule, and maybe even then ending with another 20 hour a week term following fieldwork towards the end of the grant period (if you have enough time). The tutoring is much more helpful than some part-time class and can be geared towards your fieldwork activities. Like, if you're doing qualitative stuff, you can practice your dialogue for interview in the language, and also go over with a native speaker your interview transcripts to pick up on the nuance and subtleties in the language you may not pick up on by yourself.

My own program was a combination of part-time 10 hours a week throughout the 9 months of my fieldwork. Then I ended with a 20 hours per week language intensive in the last 3 months since I was able to extend the Fulbright grant to 12 months. Looking back, I wish I had done private tutoring. I've had one before (when doing preliminary summer fieldwork) and it was so much more helpful than a class. I've included this component for my followup fieldwork in my Boren application.

Hope this helps and that you have a fruitful year abroad. Where are you headed to?

Edited by Ingenue
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