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What Is a Graduate Fellowship?

C. Mitchell
C. Mitchell

A graduate fellowship is an academic position that centers on research, writing, or teaching. Fellowships are typically awarded to students beginning graduate studies, or to those who have recently completed graduate work, typically at the doctorate level. Most fellowships are funded with grant money, and the recipients receive a stipend. Receiving a graduate fellowship is usually a mark of prestige, and competition for fellowship positions is typically quite steep.

In a lot of ways, a graduate fellowship is like a scholarship in that it provides its recipients with a monetary award. The recipient of a the fellowship must usually do a lot more with the money than simply fund his or her education, however. For most graduate fellowship programs, the main goal is targeted research in a particular field or industry.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

A graduate fellowship is different from a postgraduate fellowship. While both are designed to foster focused research, a postgraduate fellowship is usually designed for students who wish to continue honing the ideas they learned in undergraduate school. The graduate fellowship, in contrast, is usually designed to specifically augment certain graduate level studies. Postgraduate fellowship recipients frequently pursue graduate school after completing their fellowship work, but there is not usually an expectation that they will. The same is not true for a graduate fellowship.

Different graduate fellowships work in different ways, but they are always geared towards specific research objectives. Recipients usually pursue a set research agenda, and often work under the guidance of experienced professors or industry leaders. The research and analysis conducted over the course of the fellowship usually augments or otherwise correlates with research done in furtherance of the graduate degree, and may also lead to publication under the fellowship sponsor's name.

Most graduate fellowships are awarded on an annual basis, though some are designed to span a number of years. Some fellowships are designed for students just embarking on graduate studies, while others are only open to those who have already completed at least one graduate degree. A graduate fellowship in the latter category may also be referred to as a postdoctoral, or "postdoc," fellowship.

Graduate research fellowship opportunities exist in almost every discipline, and there are many different types of fellowships available. Fellowships are often supported by universities, but can also be offered by government entities and private charitable or educational funds. Schools often use the promise of fellowship money to lure students who are perceived to be among the brightest. For governments and private entities, a graduate fellowship program can be a way to promote research in a certain area, particularly the sciences.

It is generally considered a mark of high prestige to get a fellowship at the graduate level. Sometimes fellowships may simply be awarded to promising students, but more often than not, one must specifically apply for a fellowship. Applications often require a detailed abstract of proposed research. Although there are not usually strict academic requirements for fellowships, award committees usually take applicants’ grades, coursework, and degree-granting institutions into account when making their decisions.

In some instances, the term “graduate fellowship” is also used to describe informal gatherings of graduate students. Graduate student groups that meet to share conversation, have political or religious discussions, or engage in some sort of shared interest can be called fellowships. This use is to be distinguished from the funded academic research positions more commonly associated with the term.

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