The PhD Student’s Guide to Fellowships

A start-to-finish guide to help you land the perfect fellowship. Thousands of fellowships at your fingertips…

Written by

PhDs.me Staff

Last updated

Mar 10, 2021

When pursuing a PhD, you have so many factors to consider: the college you attend, the faculty within it, the degree and its value, and, perhaps most important of all: the cost. It’s no secret that graduate school can have a hefty price tag, but what may fly under the radar are all the scholarship, grant, and fellowship opportunities available to students on the doctoral track.

This guide is all about fellowships. It covers the types of fellowships out there, explains how they work, provides key steps to landing one, and includes a list of the 25 best places to find the right fellowship for you. Learn what it takes to get the fellowship you need to make your PhD more affordable.

The 25 Best Places to Find PhD Fellowships

Each year, PhD students apply for and earn thousands of fellowships to fund research projects, dissertations, and other doctoral-level studies in their chosen fields. While this is great news, too many graduate students miss out on tremendous funding opportunities for one major and painfully unnecessary reason: they don’t know where to look. They may be aware of two or three fellowship listings, or their advisor may steer them toward an internal directory, but there’s so much out there to explore, from other colleges, the government, and private foundations across the United States. To help you find the fellowship you need to pay for your PhD, here are 25 of today’s best directories, listings, and search tools to put thousands of fellowships at your fingertips.

Colleges & universities:

1

Columbia University’s fellowship search: Nearly 200 fellowship opportunities available and searchable by keyword: https://ogp.columbia.edu/urf/opportunities/search

2

Duke University: Duke’s funding opportunities database houses nearly 1,100 fellowships available to PhD students in dozens of subject areas: https://researchfunding.duke.edu/search-results

3

MIT Finding Fellowships: More than 100 fellowships listed in architecture and design, science and engineering, environment and energy, humanities, and policy research. They also have an extensive list of fellowships specific to women and underrepresented minorities: https://sfs.mit.edu/graduate-students/guide/finding-fellowships/

4

Rutgers University Grad Fund page: An interactive keyword and filtering search tool with hundreds of fellowships listed. The tool allows you to drill down by award level, degree level, program, citizenship, stage of study, and activity: http://gradfund.rutgers.edu/advanced-search/

5

Stanford University Fellowships, Internships and Service Programs (FISP) Database: A searchable database with an estimated 500 fellowships: https://haas.stanford.edu/students/fisp

6

UC Davis’s external fellowship database: 180 fellowships searchable by awarding agency, discipline, and funding type. (predoctoral or postdoctoral): https://ogp.columbia.edu/urf/opportunities/search

7

UCLA’s graduate funding page: Contains ~150 graduate and postdoc funding opportunities for both UCLA and non-UCLA students. Amounts range from less than $1,000 to more than $100,000: https://grad.ucla.edu/funding/

8

University of Chicago Fellowship Database: One of the fullest and most comprehensive fellowship databases available: https://grad.uchicago.edu/fellowships/

9

University of Illinois – Urbana Champagne’s Fellowship Finder: One of the most comprehensive and user-friendly databases out there, it contains more than 1,000 external fellowships for PhD students to peruse: https://app.grad.illinois.edu/fellowship/

10

University of South Carolina’s Fellowships and Scholar Programs: Contains 189 fellowships categorized by academic areas, areas of interest, student standing, and year for funding: https://sc.edu/about/offices_and_divisions/fellowships_and_scholar_programs/national_fellowships/competitions_and_deadlines/index.php

11

USC’s Awards and Fellowships Database: https://awardsdatabase.usc.edu/

12

Yale University’s Searchable Database: This database has unique search options that allow you to narrow down fellowships by type, e.g. research, tuition support, study abroad, and more: https://yale.communityforce.com/Funds/Search.aspx

Private foundations:

13

American Association of University Women (AAUW): https://www.aauw.org/what-we-do/educational-funding-and-awards/

14

American Psychological Association (APA): The APA offers a range of fellowships and scholarships for graduate students. Of course, all fellowship opportunities reside in psychology and related fields: https://www.apa.org/apf/funding/scholarships/index.aspx

15

Fastweb: An annotated list of more than two dozen prestigious fellowships for PhD students across multiple subjects and backgrounds: https://www.fastweb.com/college-scholarships/articles/prestigious-scholarships-and-fellowships

16

Ford Foundation Fellowship Program: Awarded to qualifying students in research-based PhD and ScD programs in the sciences, engineering, and medicine: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/pga/fordfellowships/index.htm

17

H-Net: Has a searchable database of fellowships specific to the humanities and social sciences: https://networks.h-net.org/

18

The Hertz Foundation: http://hertzfoundation.org/

19

IBM fellowships: The company offers dozens of fellowship each year in scientific areas such as AI/Cognitive computing, blockchain, cloud computing, data science, internet of things, quantum computing, and security: http://www.research.ibm.com/university/awards/phdfellowship.shtml

21

Pathways to Science: Nearly 200 fellowships listed for a variety of science-related disciplines: https://www.pathwaystoscience.org/programs.aspx?

22

Peterson’s: A database of 440 graduate fellowships searchable and filterable by numerous variables: https://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools/graduate-school-scholarships/

U.S. government:

23

Fulbright Program: An international program from the State Department with hundreds of research and fellowship opportunities worldwide. https://us.fulbrightonline.org/

25

U.S. Department of Energy Science Graduate Fellowship Program (DoE SCGF): Dedicated to exemplary doctorate-level students in physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, computational sciences, and environmental sciences: https://www.energy.gov/scholarships-and-fellowships

Comparing Fellowships to Other Funding Sources

When pursuing a degree, you have a variety of funding options available: loans, grants, scholarships, fellowships, internships, and assistantships. Each of these has pros and cons depending your situation. As a PhD student, the most common forms of academic financing are scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships. Here’s a glance at all three, along with a rundown of the nuances you need to know before you apply.

Scholarships

First and foremost, scholarships are free money. They don’t need to be paid back in any way, shape, or form. This makes them ideal. Scholarships can be need-based (according to your finances) or merit-based (related to short-term or long-term academic performance). For example, organizations, business, colleges, etc., award scholarships for any number of reasons, from essay contests and giveaways to long-term potential and overall promise in the classroom. For more information, read our full guide to scholarships and grants for PhD students.

Assistantships

Mostly at the graduate level, an assistantship is basically a job on campus. The two most common forms of assistantship are teaching assistance (TA) or graduate research assistance (GRA). In the case of a TA, the graduate student may earn a stipend for leading undergraduate discussion groups or grading essays or exams. GRA duties may include helping a professor compile research for work on a manuscript.

Fellowships

So how do fellowships compare? Like scholarships, it’s free money. There’s absolutely no need to pay anything back to the granting organization. That said, some fellowships do come with a service commitment, which can last one or more years and involve interning. Unlike scholarships, most fellowships target a certain research topic or project at the graduate level. Because they’re mostly research-focused and specific to a student’s academic track, they’re often highly sought after by PhD students.

The Fellowship Fine Print

Are fellowship dollars taxable? Usually not. Fellowship funds that go toward tuition, fees, and other education-centered needs are tax-free and can’t be touched by Uncle Sam. However, any fellowship dollars that go toward travel, personal bills, or other non-education-related needs may be considered taxable income. Make sure you check with your college and an accountant when receiving (and using) your fellowship funds. The same goes for scholarship money, too.

Types of Fellowships

Finding the right fellowship begins with knowing your options. There may be thousands of fellowships out there, but they come from a variety of distinct sources, begin and end at different stages of the doctorate process, and often have unique requirements. Before diving down the research rabbit hole and filling out applications, start broad and narrow your search from there. This will help you better gauge the type of fellowship that fits your academic program and career path.

Fellowships by Funding Source

Internal

A doctoral program may weigh down your wallet, but most colleges and universities want to make the experience more affordable for you. Many institutions offer internal fellowships that give their own PhD students that chance to advance their research or dissertation work while contributing to scholarship at the university. These fellowships often run for the academic year and vary from $1,000 to $50,000, although most are enough to cover much or all of a student’s tuition, fees, and living expenses for the duration.

External

The government, non-profit organizations, and private companies all want talent. One way to attract the top minds of today and tomorrow is with money and opportunity. Specifically, funding advanced research in a student’s area of interest and that jives with the organization’s mission. Depending on the entity, external fellowships can run between $1,000 and $150,000+. These fellowships are highly competitive but can be equally as lucrative.

Fellowships by Doctorate Progress

Pre-dissertation

Student-focused, i.e. coursework and exams. More flexible in topical area.

Dissertation research

Directed by topical area and a detailed student plan. If external, the organization wants to know if the student will have the faculty support and resources necessary to complete a top product.

Dissertation completion

To help student complete the paper and defense portion of the dissertation process.

Fellowships by Purpose

Teaching abroad

Teaching fellows abroad help with courses under the supervision of course heads, who hold formal teaching appointments. Duties may include teaching sections, conducting tutorials, recommending grades, supervising independent study projects, and monitoring students’ progress toward their degrees.

Study abroad

Study abroad fellowships may cover language study or area-specific research or both. For example, the Camargo Foundation offers a two-month residential fellowship in Cassis, France for artists or scholars focused on French or Francophone culture.

Research projects

These fellowships cover research projects unrelated to dissertations. This could be anything with substantive research in the awarding organization’s area of focus. These types of fellowships can be found in numerous subjects, but often within health-related fields.

Fellowships by Coverage

Fellowships also vary by the type of compensation the PhD student receives. In many cases, the fellowship covers tuition, fees, and some or all of the candidate’s living expenses. However, fellowships also exist that either cover tuition & fees only, supply tuition waivers to non-residents, or, on the positive side, add in perks such as health benefits. When researching fellowships, make the stated compensation package has everything you need. The last thing you want to do is spend your time and energy applying to a full-time fellowship only to find out that it doesn’t include any help with rent.

Also keep in mind that fellowships, unlike many employment opportunities, do not include vacation time, travel expenses, holiday reimbursement, or other perks you may see with a private business. Make sure you plan for those, as well.

How to Apply for (and Win) a Fellowship

Now that you know where to locate fellowships and which types make sense for you, what’s the next step? How on earth do you go about preparing, applying, and getting your PhD foot in the proverbial door? Each fellowship and awarding organization is different, but a few common denominators exist regardless of where you’re applying. Here’s a look at four keys to applying for (and winning) a PhD fellowship:

1

Know the eligibility requirements…well.
For every fellowship, know the requirements and follow everything to the letter. This includes the full list of all materials needed, as well as everything the awarding organization wants in a personal statement, research statement, work product submissions, etc. The last thing anyone wants is to fall short or get disqualified due to a technicality.

2

Know the organization’s goals…and how you fit.
This might be the most important point. Departments, NGOs, non-profits, and private businesses award fellowships for a reason – to further their research and capabilities in a specific area, and/or to attract and retain top talent. When applying to a fellowship, take the organization’s mission to heart. Of course, you should be applying to fellowships that fit your academic and professional goals anyway, but highlighting that relationship in your application materials can go a long way.

3

Get recommendations…from the right people.
Make sure your recommenders can speak to your qualifications personally and in detail. Select professors and mentors who know your strengths, weaknesses, and can discuss how you will contribute to the field and why you will succeed. Awarding organizations want to know, with as much certainty as possible, that they’re picking the right fellows.

4

Get feedback…from multiple qualified people.
Similar to your recommendations, ask professors and other subject-matter experts for candid and constructive feedback. Many professors have either gone through the fellowship process before or have been fellows themselves. Not only can they help you with the big application asks, but also with the finer and seemingly trivial details.

Further Reading

We always try to include as much relevant information as possible. But with so many great websites out there, it would be crime not to share other fellowship resources that could help you find and earn the money you need. Check out these top online (and free) sources.