Monday, May 25, 2009

Fulbright: Research and Language Study

Sabaah El-Khier and Bonjour from Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia on a gorgeous May afternoon. While the beautiful warm weather is enticing me to make a trip to the beach today, I thought before I went, I would write a post for the Georgia Tech Fellowship Blog to discuss a bit the Fulbright program as well as my research experience. My name is Thomas Earnest (INTA ’07), and I am currently in Tunisia studying the country’s economic development narrative. For my blog post, I wanted to focus on two aspects of my Fulbright experiences that might be helpful to prospective applicants: (1) language acquisition while on your Fulbright; (2) completing research overseas, especially what to do with all your work at the end of your grant.

Living in Tunisia, I have the valuable (and sometimes challenging) experience of living in a bilingual country where French and Arabic are used almost interchangeably--sometimes a sentence will be composed, for example, of an Arabic subject, a French verb, and an Arabic adjective or adverb. This process, coupled with the fact that Tunisia is one of the few remaining countries in the world where the common populace has barely any knowledge of the English language, has made my Fulbright experience almost as much about enhancing language skills as it has been about actual field research. So if you are excited about or wanting to practice or learn a foreign language, then the Fulbright experience is definitely one to consider.

And the great part is, depending on where you choose to do your research, the Fulbright grant will pay up to six months of in-country language study before you begin your research through the Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA), a supplemental grant available through Fulbright for students pursuing research in areas of the world where “critical-need” languages are spoken. Examples include Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Korean, Hindi, and Bengali, just to name a few. Iif you are interested in a part of the world where few Americans speak the language, you’re probably eligible for the CLEA award. And I highly, highly recommend your applying for this supplemental grant for the obvious reason that you are getting up to six months of (free) language training, a personal advantage but also extremely helpful for conducting your research in your host country’s native language. However, there is a more subtle reason that has a long-term benefit on your research. With the typical Fulbright grant period lasting nine or ten months, by the time you truly get settled and comfortable in your new surroundings and academic environment, it's almost time to leave. However, with the CLEA program you get to spend your first months getting settled both personally and within your academic research environment while you complete language study; and when it is time for the research portion of your grant to kick in, you are completely settled and ready to hit the ground running with your work. You maximize your research time this way, and undoubtedly your final research product will reap the rewards from these extra months in the country.

The second topic I wanted to discuss is actually completing research during your Fulbright. If you are considering applying for a Fulbright, you probably suspect researching abroad is an experience unlike anything you may have had at home (or at least, it has been for me here in Tunisia researching in the Arab world), but know that it is an extremely rewarding, intellectually stimulating experience as well as a time of personal, professional, and academic growth. In your host country, you learn to operate in new professional, cultural, and societal norms and sometimes are forced to revisit your research proposal if you find it needs to be reworked to be more flexible. Overall though, it’s a pretty awesome experience when you realize that the success or failure of your research experience rests completely on your shoulders. You created this proposal, secured funding, and now that you are in country, it is your sole responsibility to see the work through to its end.

To give you a brief look into my research experience, I arrived in Tunis is September 2008 with plans to create a documentary film on the Tunisian development narrative, after completing my CLEA grant. I had some experience in documentary films in college and wanted to get on the streets and really examine the current state of Tunisia’s development. It is a country that on the surface looks to be head and shoulders above many of its neighbors; however, I had become skeptical of these lauded successes and wanted to explore them in depth through film. Unfortunately though, when I arrived in Tunis, I realized my project may have been a bit too ambitious because I met resistance and caution to my idea of filming. People here are wary and hesitant to put their faces and voices before a camera--especially if discussing the government or its policies. Naturally, this setback was a disappointment; but committed to the essence of my research, I returned to my proposal and began to rework and refine my ideas. It was an evolving process that spanned the initial weeks and even first couple months of my grant period. In the end, though I believe my research is stronger, more focused, and has a more realistic and attainable end-point.

So here I am now, eight-months after I arrived in Tunisia, with the end of my Fulbright experience quickly approaching (my grant ends in August, but I am considering extending my stay in country following my Fulbright). The question on my mind now (and one you may be considering for yourselves as a current applicant) is what do I do now that I have this wealth of research at the conclusion of my Fulbright grant? It is an important question because you have invested an entire year of your life into a research experience, and you want to share your findings with others. Do you write an article for publication? Submit an abstract to a conference to present your findings? Write an opinion piece for a newspaper? Submit your findings to a journal as research notes? The right answer or answers may be unique to your project, but it an important thing to consider before and during your research.

For me, I’m still working through ideas to decide which avenue is best for my research and am looking into working on an article and/or an op-ed for submission, but I have already taken a couple of opportunities to share my work that may be of interest to you. In mid-April, I attended a conference at the Université de Gafsa in Southern Tunisia to present some of my initial findings. This experience was my first time to present research in an official academic setting, and I think a similar experience would be perfect for any Fulbright researcher. I also recently traveled to Amman, Jordan for the annual regional Fulbright Enrichment seminar, which was a chance for Fulbright researchers in the Middle East and North Africa to come together, share their research, exchange best practices, and receive training on research methods. I am also planning a presentation for late July when I will present my final research findings at the Centre d’Études Maghrébines à Tunis to an audience of foreign and domestic members of the academic community in Tunis to share my research as well as receive feedback before I begin preparing my work for its final format (and hopeful) publication.

As I now realize that my entry has spanned over two pages in a word document and not wanting to risk loosing your attention, I will end here for now. But my hope is that this article will be a helpful resource for any prospective applicants or anyone curious about what Tech grads are doing overseas. Please feel free to contact me at thomasdearnest (at) mac (dot) com if you have any questions. Go Jackets!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Marshall Experience + Interview


My name is Inn Inn Chen and I was a Marshall in 2008. I first want to say to anyone reading this that if I was able to a fellowship, YOU CAN TOO. The experience of applying/interviewing for these fellowships was absolutely amazing (and that included a Rhodes interview in which I was slaughtered) and I would encourage anyone seriously considering applying to do so.

I'll keep this brief, but feel free to contact me with any questions you have. This post is in two parts, one about the "official" marshall experiences, and the second is about the two tips that I think are most important for the interviews.

Marshall Experiences:
-Marshall Orientation:
-Official visits to the State Dept. w/ a debriefing session with the Deputy Secretary of State (I'm sorry but there were so many debriefing sessions with politicians, I don't remember any others. . .)
-Official visit and lunch in the Senate Building
-Cocktail event in the Senate Building with various scientific lobby groups
-Q&A with some distinguished Marshall alums
-Tour of parliament
-Official visit to 10 Downing St. and sessions with the Prime Minister's staff
-GOOGLE PARTY!! (This is the highlight of the year--Google throws an over-the-top party at an amazing venue for all the Rhodes and Marshalls each year. They do some informal recruiting presentations, etc. but it's worth sitting through for the amazing (free!) dinner, reception, party, live entertainment, and alcohol. . . )
-Free invitation to the official London Inaugural Ball for President Obama--Another great party, better still because the tickets were all at least $100, but one of the Marshall commissioners is on the board of Democrats Abroad
-Annual Marshall Trip
-All the Marshalls have an annual trip to either Ireland, Wales, or Scotland. It's free.
-It's a packed trip with official visits with many of the heads of state
-This year, it was Belfast and Dublin, so we met with the leaders of N. Ireland, including Martin McGuiness and the Nobel lauruete John Hume. It was really incredible to hear their views about the state of the world today.
-For those Marshalls in Oxford, the marshalls and rhodes meet every week at a specific pub in Oxford. . . it's great for those politically-inclined scholars for networking. . .I must admit, I've only made it to two of the weeks since I've been in Oxford

My Interview Tips:
There are many tips, but these are two (almost conflicting) tips that I wish EVERY applicant considers.
-Wikipedia everything in your application--your interview panel will not be experts in your field but they will ask very specific questions about your area. While the questions will be very specific, the extent of their understanding of the answer will be "mostly" based on what wikipedia says, and not from the latest paper from your field's journals or esoteric knowledge. The panel is very diverse, and they do have to research the areas of all interviewees, so wikipedia is a common source. That said, you probably will have at least one expert in your area--so you are expected to answer in sufficient depth when they ask follow-up questions.
-This tip is in hindsight: Prepare for the interview, but understand that preparing for the interview actually doesn't make a huge difference in the end. I say this because when I look back, EVERYTHING I talked about in the interview was based on thoughts/ideas/knowledge that I had known/carried with me for some time. Cramming doesn't do anything for this type of interview. The interviewers are really looking for WHO YOU ARE, and who you are DID NOT suddenly appear just when you started applying for this fellowship. I wish I had known that before the interview, because honestly, I read a lot of things specifically to "prepare" for the interview. . . and they didn't help AT ALL.
-Oh one last tip: your favorite classical music composer is Handel. It just is. Several Marshalls were asked that question and they were all challenged why it wasn't Handel. He is a huge part of the heritage at Oxford. . . so just WIKIPEDIA him!

I hope some of this is inspirational for you guys! PLEASE feel free to contact me--Dr. Adams has my email.

GOOD LUCK!!!!!!!!

Inn Inn

What is a PhD?

[Caption: Managing time by preparing plates for experiments after a dinner party]

I am now at the beginning of my second year of my PhD and I am beginning to get a deeper understanding of the purpose of a PhD. I took up a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to research in microbiology at the Biochemistry Department at the University of Cambridge. When I first arrived, I had grand visions, to say the least, of using this opportunity to change the world, to make an impact in social and economic development. You're probably thinking that I have different interests from microbiology, but I have a vision where science and service for the advancement of civilization go hand in hand.

But back to the question of this post, 'What is a PhD?' I realized that I'm still quite young and require further training and preparation to be able to provide a meaningful contribution toward the social and economic development of the world. And this led me to realize that in order to manage a huge task like that, the PhD is equipping me with skills needed to do that by giving me training in project management. Therefore, a PhD is essentially training in project management. Up until now, through high school and undergraduate university, I've been taking classes to gain a foundation of knowledge and skills to be able to apply what I've learned toward a problem in order to come up with a meaningful solution. Along the way there were a few small projects, both on an individual and group level, to gain practice in applying those skills to solving projects.

But a PhD is essentially the first opportunity where I was a given a large project with a relatively long term time scale of 3-4 years to which I was given full responsibility to manage and carry it out, and for which I would be held fully accountable for my work and results by professionals in the field in the viva examination at the end. During this time I will learn how to be independent, adapt to different personalities along the way such as my supervisor and lab colleagues, and develop a system to manage an accumulating and large amount of information that I will have to synthesize into a coherent report, the thesis. This thought process is comforting especially if someone feels their project is uninteresting, for they can find motivation to carry on their project by seeing a greater goal beyond it.

At the end of the PhD, I will most likely get a job where I will be given another project to tackle another problem and come up with a solution. If you haven't already guessed it by now, you can see that a PhD looks like training to be a consultant. Of course this is based on what I understand at the moment in the second year of my PhD which is variable to change. But I suspect it is for this reason that top management consulting companies recruit PhD students, because consultants manage a variety of projects and the PhD is the first real training a student receives in project management. Perhaps some will say that a masters degree fulfills the same criteria. Well, perhaps that is true but I came into the PhD directly from an undergraduate degree. I did have two years of undergraduate research experience but the PhD is a significantly expanded project management experience.

And having done a year of research in Kuwait in 2007 on a Fulbright Scholarship where I researched the values of Kuwaiti youth to women's rights, that experience appears quite similar to my PhD in microbiology, a completely different field, when looked at the in the light that both were essentially training in project management where I was learning a key set of skills:
  • Developing a focused research question.
  • Managing accumulating and large amounts of information.
  • Synthesizing information and facts into meaningful insights.
  • Learning to adapt to and collaborate with different personalities.
I will end here now for my first post. Perhaps in a later post I will discuss how I plant to integrate my various interests in the future and how they overlap.