This past summer, I applied for two major fellowships to do a year of research at the University of Cambridge. I am hoping to live in the United Kingdom (UK) during the year after I graduate and before I matriculate in medical school. I am fortunate to have connected with a renowned cancer imaging researcher at the university named Dr. Sarah Bohndiek. She is a close colleague of the principal investigator of my lab at USC, Dr. Cristina Zavaleta. I can’t thank Dr. Zavaleta enough for providing me with so many opportunities to explore and contribute to the molecular imaging field. The United Kingdom is known for pioneering research in photoacoustic imaging (PAI), which is an emerging technology that reveals information about molecular processes by detecting sound waves emitted from tissue. Dr. Bohndiek is a world expert in photoacoustics, and she leads an international consortium of PAI researchers to accelerate the clinical translation of photoacoustic technologies. If I do get to go to the UK, I will be using PAI to enhance our understanding of breast cancer tumors’ resistance to treatment.
I applied for the Fulbright Fellowship and Gates-Cambridge Scholarship. If I receive the Fulbright Fellowship, my living expenses will be covered and I will receive a stipend to do research for nine months. Fulbright is a United States (US) program that sends students to countries all over the globe to do independent research projects or teach English. The purpose is to promote the cross-cultural exchange of ideas. On the other hand, the Gates-Cambridge Scholarship is specific to the University of Cambridge. The Gates Foundation funds students from across the globe to either pursue a PhD or MPhil degree at the University of Cambridge. I applied for the MPhil, which stands for Master’s of Philosophy. It is not what it sounds like; it is a year of research akin to a mini PhD. Thus, if I am awarded the Gates-Cambridge Scholarship, I will have my tuition paid for and receive a stipend for living expenses.
USC helped tremendously with the application process for the Fulbright Fellowship. The Academic and Fellowships Office held writing workshops and information sessions with previous Fulbright Fellowship recipients. They sent out a biweekly newsletter with resources and reminders about the application deadlines. I had to write two major essays: a personal statement and statement of grant purpose, which is a two-page essay stating my research project and why I am choosing to carry it out in the UK. I turned in my application to USC for a faculty committee to review it and give me feedback. A USC French professor on my faculty review committee edited my second to last draft of my personal statement, improving the flow and coherence. A few weeks ago, I sent in my final application to the Fulbright Committee. Wish me luck!
USC also helped me with the Gates-Cambridge Fellowship application. It was only one essay in addition to the application materials for the MPhil at the University of Cambridge. A USC staff member gave me valuable feedback on two drafts of my essay. The Academic and Fellowships Office also connected me with an alumna who did cancer research at the University of Cambridge during her gap year before medical school a couple years ago. She applied to both the Fulbright Fellowship and Gates-Cambridge Scholarship and received the Fulbright Fellowship! Shoutout to Sophie for guiding me through both application processes!
Though I won’t hear back from both fellowship programs until later in the spring and both fellowships are extremely competitive, I am glad that I gave both a shot. The application process improved my writing skills, and I will reuse a lot of my writing for my medical school applications. I recommend applying to any of you who want an experience abroad after you graduate and before settling down in the US to work!