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  • Writer's pictureHeidi Waite

Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship

Hello! You've clicked on this post, so chances are you are currently applying or are planning to apply to the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship. Unlike the NSF GRFP, there aren't as many resources out there to help you write this application. For that reason, the goal of this post is to give some tips and share my own successful application materials. I was awarded the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship in 2020 on my second time applying. I received honorable mention the first time and made sure to include that in my second application. There seems to be a trend of getting it your 2nd or 3rd time, so don't lose hope! This past quarter I worked as a Fellowship Mentor at the University of California. My experience reading lots of applications and helping others refine their statements has inspired me to create this blog post.

Disclaimer: These are all my own opinions based on my personal experience applying and chatting with other Ford Fellows. Also, these are perspectives coming from a STEM background, not a social science one. These statements change over time and you should consult the fellowship guidelines for the most updated information.

Am I eligible?

First, check your eligibility here. This link will also answer a lot the questions you have about the fellowship, so check here first!

Ford's Mission

Next, it's important to know what Ford is all about. See their mission statement here. They call for increasing "diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students". As you can read, they really want to fund researchers whose goal is to become faculty members and who have a tract record of advocating for underrepresented groups (i.e. ethnic and racial diversity, disability, etc.) through outreach, mentoring, and teaching.


Alright, now to get writing! There are 3 statements including a Personal Statement, Statement of Previous Research, and a Proposed Research Plan. These might seem to blend, but I'll try to give you my take on what should be included in each statement. For official guidelines, check out this page.

My own statements/examples: GoogleDrive

Personal Statement

This is the statement where you show how your background and your previous experiences have furthered Ford's goals. Think mentoring, using diverse backgrounds as a tool for teaching, outreach, and advocacy. You might not be able to talk about everything, so choose the experiences you can give the most detail about and show your commitment.

  • What is unique about you?

  • Have you faced any barriers?

  • Two way of writing usually: chronologically or thematically. Make sure when you are writing thematically that within a paragraph you are still talking about events in chronological order – you don’t want to give your reader whiplash!

  • Focus on relevant experiences – does it sound like you’re listing off your CV? Find those key experiences and go more in-depth with them. What exactly did you do? How did they shape you? What did you learn? How does this tie into Ford’s goal?

Previous Research Statement

This statement is all about showing you have the skills to be a good researcher and to succeed in academia. You want to highlight not only the technical/lab skills you have, but also the "soft skills" (e.g. grant writing, scientific writing, research design, lab management) that make a good researcher. Make sure to point out when you've received a grant for or published any project. You could start with a good hook paragraph showing what sparked your interest in research. From there, go through your main research experiences with (1) a topic sentence, (2) brief sentence about the projects objective, and (3) skills gained - both soft and hard. Each is a sentence or two. See my essay (link above) for an example.

  • Show how you got interested in your topic (usually in your first paragraph)

  • When talking about each experience, be specific and explicit. *I would focus more on the research question and summarizing the skills (soft and technical/lab skills you gained) you learned. What was the question you were trying to ask for that project and what methods (very brief – a sentence)? What skills did you learn? (e.g. grant writing, different lab technique but write them out!, presentation, etc). Did you do any outreach etc associated with it? Did you publish? Present a poster/talk?

  • Connect the dots between experiences. How did this experience lead to the next? E.g I did this project, but I was super interested in …, so I did blah. Topics sentences help with this.

Proposed Research Statement

This is obviously about your research! However, you might not get someone directly in your field so avoid any jargon and reduce acronyms when you can. You want to make sure that you address: (1) broader implications of your work in your field and for humanity, (2) introduction with enough information that a reader can understand your work, (3) brief methods, (4) future goals. They also ask you to talk about your coursework and resources at your institution that will allow you to be successful. My advice is to have an introduction section where you get quickly to your research goals and overall impact, followed by your main questions and methods. Then, a paragraph on coursework, why your institution/advisor is good for this research, and current course/ways you're expanding your toolkit to complete this project. Lastly, a few sentences tying it back to Ford's goals and your own career goals of becoming a professor. The point of this essay is to show that you have the capacity to think through and propose a good project. I'd focus especially on how this contributes to the larger problems or humanity.

  • One way to structure: Large topic with brief lit review, however…  insert gap in knowledge. So ... insert your research question . Specifics about the project (background, location, context), methods, timeline, conclusions ("I expect this research to contribute to…")

  • Include hypotheses

  • Is it understandable for someone slightly outside your field?

  • Have you been as specific as you can about how you will test your questions/hypotheses?

  • Don’t be afraid to bold your research questions and the importance of your research

  • Really focus on the broader contribution to the field and humanity!

General tips for writing

  • Keep in mind Ford’s goal and bring it back to those goals (How will you further those goals? Why are you a good fit for that? How will having the fellowship help you be a good researcher and advocate?)

  • Make sure you really dig in on being “a professor”, reiterate in all statements

  • Try to create a common thread between statements

  • Avoid jargon!

  • Be specific & explicit! Quantify when possible, detailed timelines when you can. e.g. “I gained valuable experimental design and data analysis skills as well as expanded my knowledge of marine invertebrates and larval ecology.” or “I also learned to produce publication-quality diagrams, prepare a manuscript for submission, and respond to reviewers’ critiques. This research resulted in a publication (Waite et al. 2018).”

  • Make sure to use topic sentences in your paragraphs

  • Use bold to emphasize! (e.g. research questions, importance of study)

  • For every statement, step back and think: what do I want the reader to get from this? Edit accordingly.

Quick note on formatting: As of 2020, you have have 0.5" left and right margins and 1" top and bottom. This gives you a little more space!

I hope that helps! Please reach out if you have any questions. Good luck!

Last updated: 12/9/2020

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