Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Last-Minute Survival Guide to Sea Grant Fellowship Applications (IJC Fellow Edition): Advice from Allison Voglesong

The deadline to apply for the International Joint Commission-Sea Grant Fellowship is less than two weeks away. It is amazing to think that a year ago I was scrambling to finesse my essay, wrangle recommendation letters, and manage anxieties over whether my numerous inquiries to the Michigan Sea Grant staff disqualified me based on my apparent oblivion. For those of you doing now what I was doing last year, this blog may help. This blog provides tips for general Sea Grant Fellowship applications as well as specific pointers for the International Joint Commission Fellowship application.

This view could be yours!

Tips for Sea Grant Fellowship applicants:
  • Register your application ASAP. Do not wait until the last minute. Using the online application link, start your new application. You will get a fellowship code and a link that will allow you to go back in and submit your documents to complete your application. 
  • Ask questions. Between January and the February deadline, I sent msgfellowships@umich.edu a dozen emails with questions ranging from eligibility to support for my recommendation letter writers. The Michigan Sea Grant staff are helpful and prompt in their replies — and they will not think you are a basket case for asking many questions if you are polite, gracious, and to the point. 
  • Give recommendation letter authors adequate prior notice. In fact, at this juncture in the application timeline, my advice may be moot. If you are asking for letters of recommendation within a two-week timeframe, don’t be afraid to send them a draft letter you have written for them. Send your essay and resume and provide your authors with the key points they will need to endorse you. Check to ensure your authors receive the link to submit their letter, and if it was lost in the interwebs just ask the friendly folks at msgfellowships@umich.edu to re-send the link. 
    • Get a mix of representation. If you are not currently enrolled and wrapping up an educational program by the time the fellowship will start, get a recommendation from a teacher or advisor from your current or most recent graduate institution. For those of you who plan on continuing your education after the fellowship concludes: don’t include future academic references, unless they were also past or current educators. Ask your supervisor from a recent or most relevant job or internship to demonstrate your workplace experience and ethic. 
    • Ask someone close to you. Are you torn between two authors? Choose one from the most relevant experience instead of simply the most recent job. Related: request a recommendation letter from an author who knows your skills directly, rather than someone prestigious but with no intimate familiarity of your unique talents. 
    • Be a pest. Politely make sure your recommendation letter authors can and will complete your letters within the deadline. You can complete your Sea Grant application before your letters are in, and you will get an automated “APPLICATION COMPLETION” email after you submit your application through the online system. Be a gentle, polite pest and follow up with your authors to ensure their letters are in before your deadline.

Tips for International Joint Commission-Sea Grant Fellowship applicants:
  • Write to your best self. As always, the IJC is looking for the strongest overall candidate. When I applied, the IJC was also specifically looking for someone specializing at the intersection of Great-Lakes-water-policy-science-communication-multimedia-production. If you are a specialist in these same areas, great, I hope you apply! If you are a scientist who has the entire Lake Michigan food web memorized, great, I hope you apply! The Fellowship RFP is designed so you have the opportunity to highlight your unique skill set and expertise. Which leads me to my next tip: 
  • Do your homework. This fellowship will place you at the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Regional Office, so it will be very helpful for you to know what that means. Hint: you really MUST become acquainted with the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which spells out the jurisdiction of the Great Lakes Regional Office. It will help to know about the overall legal framework of the IJC (see the Boundary Waters Treaty). You may travel to either of the IJC’s section offices in Washington, D.C., or Ottawa, Ontario, that work on issues for other boundary waters as well, but you will work in snowy — I mean sunny —Windsor, Ontario, the headquarters for the IJC’s Great Lakes water quality work. Get to know the alphabet soup of acronyms relevant to the work here (there won’t be a quiz at your interview, but you will be better off the more you know): 
    • GLRO: Great Lakes Regional Office 
    • GLWQA: Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (“the Agreement”), and amendments
    • AOC: Areas of Concern 
    • BPAC: Binational Public Advisory Council 
    • LAMP: Lakewide Action and Management Plan 
    • CMC: Chemicals of Mutual Concern 
    • LEEP: Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority 
    • BMP: Best Management Practice 
    • AIS: Aquatic Invasive Species 
    • BWT: Boundary Waters Treaty 
  • Be clear about your intentions. What do you want to gain from this fellowship opportunity? How will a year at the IJC’s GLRO help you in your education or career? This fellowship will be a full-time job for you for 12 months, and you will want to make the most of it, so bring some ideas about the topics or projects you want to work on and benefit from in the process. Become familiar with the current work and priorities of the GLRO, which you can find out by perusing the recent news releases and following the IJC’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts. Yes, I know the personal education and career goal statement for the fellowship asks you what you expect to gain in the way of career development, but take it to the next level and be specific. If you do not have Great Lakes experience already, explain why you want to venture into this new-to-you field. If you are an old pro with Great Lakes water quality issues, how does the IJC’s unique binational, conflict-management position give you a new perspective on familiar issues? How do you hope to be challenged? These are the big-picture questions you are going to need to ask yourself to complete a top-notch application.

Other FAQs:
  • For whom would I work? You would work for the IJC GLRO Monday through Friday 9-5 (ish). However, you would not become a U.S. State Department employee, nor would you be individually contracted with the U.S. government. Rather, you get paid via Michigan Sea Grant. However, you do not work for Michigan Sea Grant; they sign your checks and help you get the fellowship, and occasionally you will blog for them. 
  • Should I be taking classes concurrently? As a Fellow, you are not permitted to take a class (or classes) toward a degree or certificate during the Fellowship; you should complete coursework by or on June 1. In my case, I deferred the start of my grad school until after this fellowship due to the full-time obligation of the Fellowship. In my opinion, it was a great decision. 
  • I submitted my application. What next? If (let’s be optimistic and say “when”) you are selected, you will receive an invitation to interview from Michigan Sea Grant. You will meet with a team of Sea Grant staff and IJC staff. Then this team will select the top few applicants to endorse and you will receive a Decision to Endorse email. The IJC will coordinate with you to schedule your second interview. You may be asked to submit additional documentation before this next interview, which will be in Windsor at the GLRO with several IJC staff including the GLRO Director. Then, I hope, dear reader, you will receive the fellowship offer email – make sure you are sitting down when it comes as you will likely be quite excited! 

I hope these tips help the prospective Fellows out there. If you are reading this blog, you are a step in the right direction for preparing the best application possible. The most important advice is: be yourself. Keep up the great work! The IJC will be lucky to have you at its service.

Allison Voglesong
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1 comment:

  1. Hi Allison,

    Congrats on your time at the IJC. I bet it was rewarding and fulfilling. I wanted to ask a question about your time at the IJC. Can you speak to your ability to build meaningful professional contacts while at the IJC? I have a graduate degree and want a fellowship that will foster professional growth while also connecting me with potential career opportunities. Thanks!