process and tips for applying

all applications

  • Carefully read through all of the requirements for the application from start to finish, and make sure you’re aware of everything you and others will need to provide.  Also be sure that you closely read the eligibility requirements for the particular fellowship you’re considering, to be certain you can apply.
  • Keep your Grad Group in the loop. Let your GG Chair and Coordinator know that you plan to apply, and consider including the Chair among those to review your draft proposal.
  • Have your proposal drafted well in advance, so you can solicit feedback from your thesis mentor and others. It’s a good idea to have at least three people read your draft, and as noted in “Skip’s advice”, one or more of those individuals should be from outside of your own lab.
  • Letters of Reference: Many fellowship applications require letters of reference.  Contact the people you would like to ask for letters from as far in advance as possible, and make sure to provide any necessary forms and information about the deadline.  Offer to meet with them if they would like to discuss your application, and provide background information such as your CV and, if available, a draft of your research proposal.
    • Skip letter: [New June 2020] In the past, Skip typically provided TWO letters for most MD-PhD students who were applying, which had significant overlap in content. Based on a review of the typical content of both letters and reconsideration of what is most strategic for students, he is revising his guidelines on this. Skip will continue to provide the letter for the Description of Institutional Environment and Commitment to Training. However for the main letters of recommendation, he suggests that you prioritize mentors/faculty who have worked more closely with you in areas related to conducting research – e.g. rotation mentors; undergrad/gap year mentors; thesis cmt members; collaborators or perhaps others you have discussed research with extensively (e.g. a faculty course director for a small discussion based seminar). If Skip falls into one of these categories for you – e.g. you rotated with him or he is on your cmt, then he would be happy to write the additional letter of recommendation. Or, if for some reason you’re struggling to meet the minimum number of referees he can pinch hit if you are in a bind.
    • If Skip has agreed to write you a rec letter, please follow the below instructions:
      • Advance notice: Please let Skip know AT LEAST 6 weeks in advance. He's always happy to support students applying for fellowships, but the letters take time to put together and last minute requests are sometimes impossible to accommodate.
      • Request: E-mail your letter request to Skip Brass and copy Maggie Krall.
      •  Info Needed: In your e-mail to Skip, et al., be sure to include:

        1) the deadline
        2) instructions for submitting the letter (including your eCommons ID)
        3) a copy of your CV (note: a CV is more helpful than a biosketch)
        4) a paragraph description of your research project

      •  Follow-up: It's always a good idea to follow up directly with any faculty member writing a letter for you and remind them of the deadline about 5-7 days in advance if you haven't received confirmation that it's already submitted.

  • Curriculum Vitae: During the process, you should be prepared to provide a CV to the individuals writing letters for you. A well written CV will be helpful to your referees, and useful for you at multiple times in your training and career. You may also need to submit a CV or NIH biosketch as part of the application itself. If specific formatting instructions are provided, follow them carefully. Here are some resources to help you develop your CV:
  • Official Transcripts: Many fellowship applications require official transcripts or other documentation. Put in requests to the Registrar's Office for those materials early, so you’re able to meet the deadline.
  • Responsible Conduct of Research: Some fellowships require background information about Penn, the MD-PhD program, or specific aspects of training (eg responsible conduct of research).  If you have questions, be sure to ask someone (Marianne; Skip or Maggie; grad group leadership, etc). For NIH fellowship applications, contact the Associate Director of the Combined Degree Office for the template one-page RCR description for the MD/PhD program.

Applying for NIH individual fellowship (F30/F31)

  • Contact Marianne Altland Williams, Grants Manager, in the Finance Office, as far in advance as possible (at least 6 weeks before the deadline).  She will provide essential information and guidance about the budget aspect of the application, and the process for getting required approvals from the Office of Research Services. Proposal documents need to be uploaded into the PennERA system and to be reviewed by SOM and the Office of Research Services. There is an internal deadline (typically one week before the NIH deadline) of the final version, which Marianne will provide. Marianne will assist you in this process. Initial information you need to provide: title of proposal, mentor, and whether you will be using vertebrate animal and/or human subjects.
  • NRSA eligibility: Please ask Marianne for your remaining months of NRSA eligibility to help you plan the “Activities Planned Under this Award” section. The NRSA months of eligibility limit the maximum award period. Your NRSA eligibility will also be included in the Inst Env/Educ Info letter (see mention below), so we want to ensure consistency.

    - Most (but not all) of our successful F30/F31 applicants to date have had an award period of at least 2 years (i.e. 24 months of NRSA eligibility remaining).  If you would have less than 2 years, we encourage you to contact the relevant Program Officer to see if this would decrease the likelihood of being funded (eg. if they prefer a minimum of 2 years for the award period).  Also, if you are applying with eligibility that is insufficient to cover the remainder of your dissertation – eg. you have 12 months of eligibility, but anticipate spending another three years in lab, ask the Program Officer whether your research proposal should be tailored to your eligibility or should reflect the full scope of your dissertation plans.

  • NIH Page Limits for F applications
  • Sponsorship section: Dave Manning, Maja Bucan and Skip Brass have drafted Suggestions for Section II. Please read it carefully and share with your PI(s).
  • RCR section: contact the Associate Director of the Combined Degree Office for the template one-page RCR description for the MD/PhD program.
  • Institutional Commitment to Training and Educational Information letter: contact the Associate Director of the Combined Degree Office for the Inst Env/EI letter that is now required for all F applications: F30, F31, F31 Diversity. They will work with the student to create an individualized letter, which Skip will give final approval of prior to submission.
  • Letter of Recommendation from Skip: see Letters of Reference instructions above.
  • Biosketch: follow the NIH instructions for creating your Biosketch.
  • Just In Time (JIT): After your application is reviewed by the NIH, you will receive a score. If it is a favorable score, a Just In Time (JIT) link will automatically open in your ERA Commons site. Please wait until you receive a request for information. Forward that request to Marianne Altland Williams, who will help you get the info together. Then Research Services will submit the JIT info on your behalf.

Applying for a non-NIH fellowship

  • Contact your thesis mentor’s Business Administrator, as far in advance as possible, for assistance. Also, please notify Maggie Krall, as Skip would like our office to track the success rates of our students' fellowship applications.