Provost's Undergraduate Fellowships

If you have a creative or critical project that involves research activities of one kind or another, consider applying for a Provost’s Undergraduate Fellowship to defray some or all of the costs. Funds are for research purposes only: living expenses and expenses associated with presenting research (i.e. conference travel) are not covered. Students from the sciences usually dominate these fellowships, but if you can surmount the initial challenges, you stand a very good chance of winning an award.


WHAT: see description at the Undergraduate Resource Center webpage. This website contains a great deal of useful information and general tips for applicants. Read it closely if you decide to apply. The additional info below is geared specifically toward prospective applicants in the English department.


WHEN: these grants are given out twice a year, with deadlines usually falling in early November and early May. The fall application pool is usually a little larger and perhaps a little more competitive than the spring pool, and the spring award allows you to fund research over the summer and in the fall. If you are a junior and have a strong idea about your Honors project (or a non-Honors project you’d like to pursue), applying for the May awards is recommended. Most students won’t have a well enough defined project to apply that early; in that case, the fall award can be used in the winter and spring terms to help complete your project.


TIPS: Compared with their fellows in the sciences and social sciences, literature students are at a bit of a disadvantage in this competition. While the former have ready opportunities to spend money on materials, assays, and surveys, much humanities research is low in materials cost and high in time investment. Unfortunately, there is no support in the PUFs for coffee, cigarettes, ramen, and library late fees. What then can you budget for?


Travel: if your project involves research at an archive, you can use PUF funds to pay for your transportation, room, board, photocopying, and incidental costs. This is probably the single biggest use of PUF funds among humanities awardees. To convince the reviewers of your project’s merit, you need to address—head on and in detail—why you need physical access to the materials. If they are unpublished and unavailable online, say so clearly. If they do exist in published form or online, there may still be many good reasons to travel to the archive anyway—to inspect manuscripts for details missed in transcriptions and digitization, to access the rich parafiles that usually accompany significant collections, or to consult with specialist librarians about the material, for example. Explain your need to go in person in detail.


Materials: incidental costs of research—access fees, photocopies, scans, etc.—can be included. Books can also be included, provided you give a justification for why simply using the UC library is not an option. (For instance, because the book is unavailable because it is too new or too in-demand, or because you intend to do heavy annotation that is inappropriate for a library copy.)


Workshops: though to my knowledge no one has attempted this before, it might be possible to use PUF funds to pay for a creative writing workshop. The key would be to convince the reviewers that the workshop will contribute significantly to the production of a finished creative piece.


Other: there may be other categories of expense undreamt of by the PUF review board. If you have an unusual idea and think you can justify using PUF money for it, I encourage you to give it a try.


Research Description Tips: PUF reviewers are looking for three things in a proposal (in order of importance): 1) a clearly defined and properly scaled research objective; 2) a viable, detailed plan of action; 3) evidence of faculty support from an advisor in English; and 4) a strong transcript suggesting the applicant has the ability and work ethic to carry out the project. Be sure to give adequate background information for your readers, who will be professors from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. Be doubly sure to specify your research questions and your intended method of finding the answers. (Students in the scientists do this as a matter of experimental design, and social science applicants are asked to submit a draft of any survey questions they propose to circulate; though few humanities students can match this preliminary precision, aiming for a high level of specificity is wise.) For example, saying that you want to go look at the Robert Lowell papers at the Ransom Center at Texas-Austin is inadequate. Instead, go into detail about what specific papers (the archive of the last 7 years of Lowell’s life) you intend to see, why (because they include many letters to Elizabeth Bishop, maybe), whether they’re available in other forms (not entirely), and what if anything has already been written about the materials in the scholarship.


Budgeting Tips: After selecting the best proposals on the merits, PUF reviewers go back over the winners to determine the precise amount of the award. Awards typically range from $200-1500, with the average award being around $1000. The reviewers are looking for things to cut in order to make the money go farther without compromising the research project. To get the most funding possible, supply very accurate estimates for various items. Rather than putting “$700—Airfare,” you should give the exact amount of the lowest and average airfares for your proposed dates and destinations, e.g. “$527-low” and “645-avg.” Do the same for hotel/hostel costs. Because the reviewers will be looking to give you the minimum in each category, you should provide accurate numbers in as many categories as possible. By including specifics like “3-day public transit pass: $27” and “airport shuttle: $46” you can make certain that your real costs are accounted for and covered.


Sample: here is an example of a very strong application from an English student that was selected and awarded $1,235 (her proposed minimum budget). The only objection that was raised to this application during review came out of concern that the student did not address the question of whether the manuscripts were available in facsimile elsewhere.


Good luck! If you have questions, please contact Professors Dolan and/or Ziser, both of whom have served on the PUF selection committee in the recent past.