For doctoral candidates, obtaining a fellowship is a significant step towards advancing their academic careers. Receiving a Banting postdoctoral fellowship – open to Canadian and international applicants – provides a career boost as well as an opportunity to make a contribution to both society and in your research field. As a past recipient, I have used my experience to create a checklist to help you assess any gaps and areas for improvement in your application materials in order to prevent errors and increase your chances of success.
1: Triple-check the application guide
Even if you have read the application guide many times, it is crucial to give it one final look before submitting. Following the instructions precisely is often the key to an application not getting eliminated in the early screening steps.
2: Set your personal deadline before the actual one
There will always be plenty to do at the last minute, from modifying sentences and references, to correcting typos and re-touching the illustrations. Set your timeline to have all the documents ready at least one week before the actual deadline. This year, submissions are due on Sept. 20, 2023.
If you plan to seek feedback on your proposal from colleagues and mentors, inform them by which date you are expecting comments. Implementing diverse perspectives (as you see fit) can also prevent tunnel vision and strengthen your application.
3: Let your Canadian Common CV (CCV) speak very highly of you
Your Canadian Common CV (CCV) should include research contribution(s) as well as showcase any relevant achievements such as research funding, recognition, travel grants, conference presentations, mentorship/supervisory roles, publications, knowledge translation, work experience, administrative activities, reviewer involvement, professional memberships and intellectual property.
Personalize your CV; highlight your individual values and ethics including any volunteer and community involvement. This emphasizes your commitment to societal transformation, increasingly considered an important research criterion.
You may have engaged in activities that are not research-related but tie into your personal and professional development. Experiences such as teaching or writing a blog elevate your profile by showing focus and determination. Use the STAR method to effectively portray your experiences:
S: Describe the specific situation.
T: Outline the task(s) required.
A: Explain the action(s) you took.
R: Highlight the result(s) achieved.
For instance, if you organized a graduate student retreat, illustrate why it was important (S), the tasks involved (T), your actions (A), and the outcomes you achieved (R).
4: Refine your research proposal
Your proposal tells a story about a research problem that caught your attention and how you plan to approach it academically. In your writing, consider:
- Tone and clarity: Give your proposal a simple but powerful voice. Remember that reviewers may come from different backgrounds, so avoid jargon and make your proposal easily comprehensible by academics not in your immediate field. Consider including a schema or visual representation to enhance the clarity of your proposal. This will also add white space for readers to better absorb information.
- Balanced approach: Your proposal should be ambitious yet feasible regarding the two-year timeframe. Address the potential challenges and offer realistic alternative approaches to convey the resilience of your research project. Explain how the data you collect will be valuable regardless of whether it confirms your hypothesis.
- You may be tempted to spend a significant amount of time writing the technical section at the expense of demonstrating the implications of your research. It is crucial to articulate how your research will significantly contribute to your field and society more broadly, as well as how you plan to execute it.
- Scientific writing standards: Ensure your proposal adheres to scientific writing conventions. Format matters — choose appropriate fonts, maintain enough white space, structure paragraphs effectively and apply natural transitions from one section to another to ensure a smooth flow. Proofread for accuracy, consistency, grammar, punctuation and readability.
- I usually read my writings aloud. This helps me understand if the tone is right. Another tip is to change the font and layout of my writing, print it out and then proofread the print copy to catch any inconsistencies that may have escaped your eyes beforehand.
5: Compile impeccable supporting documents
Two supporting documents that will help you stand out are: the significance of research contributions and the significance of leadership contributions. You have one page for each topic. Choose no more than three impactful examples of your contributions that align well with the rest of the application. Employ the STAR structure to effectively convey your contributions and significance.
Your research contributions should highlight your creative work (published or not) that tackled significant problems. The application guide provides several categories that fall under leadership contributions including academic work, thought leadership and volunteer work.
In essence, your application should project you as both a remarkable scientist and a leader. The fellowship committee seeks candidates who present that complete package. You need to demonstrate how your research addresses a high-impact problem, outline a well-structured project plan and highlight the support you will receive from mentors, colleagues and your institution.
One final piece of advice: do not wait until the last minute to click the submit button, and definitely, do not rush through uploading the documents. You have a better chance of submitting the documents accurately if you are not stressed.
Best of luck with your application!