Written by Michal Hubálek, a doctoral candidate at the University of Hradec Králové and a former NTK employee.
For as long as I can remember, I have somehow always known about the opportunity to do a Fulbright Scholarship in the US. Probably, I learned about Fulbright from the promotional materials provided by the University of Hradec Králové (UHK) International Office at the Philosophical Faculty. Going to study or conduct research in the US has always seemed like a big challenge to me, both in terms of my language proficiency and my academic preparedness.
I cannot say, however, that I would apply for a Fulbright under any circumstances, or just to go to the US. Even though this would make sense for me since my research is focused, among other things, on American philosophical movements such as pragmatism and naturalism. Relevant ongoing research projects and various sources for my work are thus naturally there.
I decided to apply for a specifically Czech Fulbright grant, the Masaryk-Fulbright scholarship, to work on my doctoral dissertation (I am now in the fifth year of my doctoral studies), with a topic that revolves around the concept of naturalism and historical/evolutionary explanation. “The time was right in my career” is what I listed in my application as the main reason for my submitting it. In 2017, Professor Paul A. Roth from the University of California-Santa Cruz taught a Philosophy of History course for one term at UHK (during the course, we discussed a manuscript he later published, The Philosophical Structure of Historical Explanation), and it was a personally and philosophically transformative experience for me.
So I quickly realized that having the opportunity to meet up regularly with Professor Roth again in person (and, of course, also having the much-needed time for research and writing thanks to the Fulbright scholarship), would be the best possible impulse for finishing my PhD thesis. From this perspective, my case is specific because I knew Professor Roth in advance, and I knew that he would be happy to write the invitation letter for me (this proved to be an advantage because the letter had to be re-written several times, always with a short turnaround time).
I was at a stage in my career when I also knew that starting in January 2023, I would no longer receive a PhD stipend and that I would have to find other resources to finish my studies. For these reasons, I wrote various research proposal sketches and refined my CV throughout 2022. In August 2022, I returned from an Erasmus+ traineeship at the Institute Vienna Circle in Austria, and I slowly started filling out an online application for the Fulbright-Masaryk stipend (deadline: November).
This period of time (three months) was enough for me because I already had a rough-and-ready research proposal which, moreover, substantially mirrored the topic of my PhD thesis. I appreciated that I had complete freedom to apply with a subject in which I was already interested as a PhD student and a pre-doctoral researcher. For the Fulbright-Masaryk scholarship, applicants must also prove that they are “not only outstanding experts in their scientific field but also active in the civic or public life of their institutions or communities, just like Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.” I was pretty confident that I met these criteria, so after contacting the Fulbright Commission to hear their opinion, I simply added a “Public and Community Service Statement” to my CV emphasizing and putting into context my various past and present activities. Beyond writing the research project itself and receiving the invitation letter from the US, the most time-consuming part of preparing the proposal was for me to put together three additional recommendation letters on my behalf from colleagues and/or former instructors.
At the end of January, the Fulbright Commission informed me that I had passed the first two rounds of the selection process (meeting the formal requirements plus an anonymous review of my project by two experts in my field) and that I was invited to an in-person interview in February. The interview was relatively short (about fifteen minutes), and the committee consisted of Fulbright scholars from the US currently staying in the Czech Republic and others.
The interview was not, I felt, primarily concerned with my research proposal or my academic, scientific, or teaching achievements. It was about me as a person, citizen, and cultural ambassador, so the commission was primarily interested in my attitudes, visions, and future professional plans. Moreover, they were very interested in my practical plans related to moving to the US with my whole family and related to my research (e.g., if I had already checked the cost of living at my host institution). I recall four questions that were explicitly posed to me in this regard:
- Why the US? Why is it necessary to conduct your research in the US?
- Why did you choose this particular departure date for your research stay?
- What would you do if your mentor was ill or absent?
- What difficulties do you think you might experience in the US?
I had to wait until March to learn I had been awarded a Fulbright-Masaryk scholarship. I must say that I am delighted with how the Czech Fulbright Commission handles things and communicate; there are several handbooks and guidelines for us recipients of various Fulbright stipends, and the coordinators are very patient and swift in answering our questions and acknowledging any adjustments (I, for example, had to change my date of departure from October to July after discussions with Professor Roth). In May, all the scholars receiving a Fulbright for the 2023/2024 academic year had an informational meeting with Fulbright Commission coordinators and four former Fulbright scholars. This was a very friendly event (with free pizza!) during which we could ask any kind of question and tackle any kind of worries we had. Thus, I wholeheartedly recommend anyone interested in conducting research or studying in the US to apply for a Fulbright stipend.
As I already indicated, active researchers, scholars, teachers, and publicly-involved people are halfway there since the Fulbright Commission does appreciate this, regardless of one’s discipline or research interests. What is sometimes underestimated, I think, although the Fulbright Commission always mentions that, is that, with the current rental rates in some US states, the monthly Fulbright stipend might not cover all your costs, especially if you want to move overseas with your family. Personal savings are, therefore, really required — at least for some destinations in the US. If you are considering applying for a Fulbright stipend and want some help or just wish to chat about it all, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Here you can also find a case study for the Fulbright application written by Stephanie Krueger.
Prague, July 2023