Wait… how do you have TWO fellowships?

I get this question a lot:

Wait… you have two fellowships?
Are you paid by both?
I didn’t know you could have both.

Yup, I surely do. Yes, you surely can.

Here’s a valuable life lesson I (re)learned at Northwestern’s Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) 20th Annual  Graduate Research Conference in April 2017; ask for what you want, the worst they can say is no. And no isn’t even a bad thing, it leaves you where you started.

At the BGSA conference, there was a guest speaker Sally who was on two post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard and Princeton. I remember hearing her story like … WHAT. A. BOSS. First of all, getting a post-doc at one Ivy league is impressive, but TWO? concurrently? in political science? YOU GO GIRL.

What’s a post-doctoral fellowship? It’s a source of funding for a period of specialized training in a particular field after your Ph.D. It’s similar to what residency is for medical school.

Sally shared with us that, at the time, she didn’t know if she could keep both post-docs. Regardless she made a valid and convincing argument for keeping both fellowships! She cautioned that before petitioning for something like this, make sure it’s feasible, necessary, and fits well with the research goals. For example, it wouldn’t make sense for her to keep both fellowships if one required that she spend 100% of her time in one location, or if there were no overlap in the project.

I learned about the Fulbright grant in June 2016. Once I secured my affiliate mentor (the person who was going to support my research abroad), he encouraged me to apply for the Belgian American Educational Foundation (BAEF) fellowship which I had never heard of. I applied for the Fulbright first and then the BAEF, won the BAEF first and then the Fulbright.

To be very honest… my intention was never to go to Belgium on two grants, it was to ensure that I got there by any means necessary incase I didn’t win the Fulbright or BAEF.

My BAEF contract stated that I was not allowed to have other sources of funding . Consequently, I ALMOST turned down the BAEF *before* I heard from the Fulbright because I thought, surely I cannot keep both fellowships.

To complicate things further, the BAEF wanted my decision by the first week of March which was before I would find out if I had won the Fulbright!!!

So naturally, I did the American thing and accepted the BAEF; if I won the Fulbright I would cross that bridge when I got there. Initially, I was willing to take the risk and decline the BAEF award and be an honorary fellow (with no funding), but my PI (research advisor) advised against it.

When I won the Fulbright, I immediately disclosed to both programs that I had external sources of funding. Honesty is the best policy. The Fulbright notified me that they would not reduce my award and the BAEF reduced my award by 3.5%.

Look. At. God.

I was SO sure that I could only keep one fellowship that I almost blocked my own blessing rather than just trying first! I’m so glad that I followed my intuition and accepted both. Now I have enough money to support myself, live close to lab, and have peace of mind while doing my work. All of which makes me a better scientist and leaves me more time to focus on my research.

I would say my standard of living with *both* fellowships is that of a glorified grad student. The cost of living in Brussels is cheaper than Ann Arbor (in my opinion) so the money stretches a bit further. To be honest, it’s not enough to save or live beyond a humble means, but it is enough to be comfortable.

So, what’s the lesson? Ask for what you want, always. You never know how things will work out. I ended up getting more than twice as much funding as a result.

With Love,


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