Hello, everyone! I’m Kayla Matteucci (FCLC ’18), and I am currently living in London as the 2019-20 recipient of the Fulbright United Kingdom Open Award.*
At Fordham I majored in International Studies and Spanish, and I’ve been working since 2016 in the field of nuclear policy. As a Fulbrighter in the UK, I focus mainly on the political and security dimensions of nuclear disarmament, including how to verify the enforcement of nuclear arms control treaties. In London, I collaborate with King’s College London and the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office to interrogate these dynamics.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Fulbright offers a number of different types of grants, which you can learn about here. My particular grant is geared toward open research; rather than attending graduate school or teaching English, for example, I conduct scholarly analysis to make new contributions in my area of study, nuclear policy.
Given that my broader interest is in public service, nuclear policy has been a phenomenal lens for understanding the world. Although major powers continue to embrace nuclear weapons for their security and survival, there is a huge push by other nations to completely eliminate nuclear weapons. The tensions between those two viewpoints tell us a lot about where we stand as a society and global community. My studies in nuclear policy have certainly taught me volumes about emerging trends in defense and security. Above all, however, I have learned about human nature and come to more deeply appreciate diversity of thought.
Applying for a Fulbright grant provided an opportunity to refine my thoughts about the subjects I study, to practice explaining nuclear policy in an accessible way, and to witness just how amazing my support network truly is.
The application process can be really fun if you treat it as such. My number one tip is to lean on those that care about and believe in you as you work to complete your application. Beyond that, here are some other tips for those of you embarking on the same journey.
- Choose a subject that you are passionate about, and speak to the aspects of your work that are most exciting to you. Your readers don’t need to believe that you came out of the womb already understanding your field of study. Be vulnerable and explain to them how your education and interests have taught you more about yourself and the world. For example, as I wrote my Fulbright essays, I was able to reflect on why I am personally drawn to nuclear policy, and I realized that it had a great deal to do with being originally from New Mexico. Despite New Mexico’s prominent role in the design and testing of nuclear weapons since World War II, students in our state receive very little formal education about nuclear weapons and their destructive potential. When I began learning more about the history of nuclear weapons as I entered the field, I was frustrated by my own limited understanding of New Mexico’s continued role in the nuclear weapons industry. I made it my mission to become informed.
- Show rather than tell. This is an effective way to demonstrate competency without appearing arrogant. Instead of “I am the best candidate” or “I am proficient in this area,” you can say, “I spent six months conducting research on _______, and it was then that I fully grasped the importance of _____.” By adopting a descriptive tone, you can paint a picture of your past experiences, describing what you’ve learned from them and explaining how they connect to Fulbright.
- Solicit feedback from family and friends, top experts within your field, and supporters within the Fordham community. Especially for applicants proposing graduate study or open research, your job is to package your ideas clearly and concisely for audiences both within and outside of your field. Your application should be accessible to laymen, so if your family members and friends do not work in your field, they will make great guinea pigs. Still, your ideas should be convincing and palatable to relevant experts. You should aim to find the right balance, communicating in a way that shows clarity and proficiency. Finally, by working with advisors in Fordham’s Office of Prestigious Fellowships, you can better understand what is expected of Fulbright applicants; the people there have years of experience helping students and alumni to complete the process. Ultimately, your Fordham advisors are the best source of information for structuring your essays, creating a reasonable work timeline, and meeting milestones as you move through the application.
- Solicit feedback on your writing from cheerleaders and critics. Approach people who know you well and can draw out your passion, highlighting the parts of your drafts that are working well. At the same time, think back on the individuals who have been most critical of your past work, and ask them for brutal honesty. Varied feedback will allow you to maintain a healthy balance of confidence and humility, resulting in essays that are energized and passionate yet carefully scrutinized with a fine-toothed comb. Whether they were professors, parents, or former bosses, I benefitted from involving “bad cops” and “good cops” in my editing process.
- Don’t be afraid to start from scratch. Often, we become attached to ideas, but they just don’t work on paper. If a handful of people are telling you to change course, it’s a sound indicator that you may want to go back to square one. For me, this meant cutting out anecdotes that meant a lot to me yet took up too much room. It’s fine to draw readers in by telling a story, but consider whether your story is in keeping with the main idea of your essays, as well as whether there’s a more concise way to get the point across.
- Edit your essays often, but make sure to take sufficient time away. You will cycle through several dozen drafts before getting it right. If you’ve only worked with a few drafts, you haven’t edited enough. Still, you also get to give yourself real breaks. At times, this might mean you take a couple of days or weeks off, and that’s okay. Breaks will allow you to get a fresh perspective before submitting your application.
- Be open to constructive feedback, but trust your gut when it comes to finishing touches. In my experience, it is beneficial to incorporate edits from many, many readers in the initial stages. Everyone will have an opinion about what and how you should write. However, you will need to trust your own instincts over anyone else’s when it comes to final drafts. Ultimately, it is you who will carry out your proposed project if selected, and your final draft should be authentically yours. As you make changes and prepare to press “submit,” know your values and trust yourself. That way, you can say that you left it all on the track.
Any Fordham undergraduates or alumni interested in applying should contact our Fulbright advisor Dr. Anna Beskin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Since the publication of this post, Kayla has returned to the U.S. due to State Department’s regulations on travel during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Edited by Alex Finn-Atkins