Fellowships are similar to scholarships in the way that they offer funding to conduct research. Fellowships tend to require a more structured approach to the application, with more detailed research goals and sometimes include specific work experience under the program or funded travel to a conference or short-term training program.
It is true that the application process can be lengthy and the pool of applicants can be competitive, and this can be daunting. Nonetheless, even it you don't receive the fellowship, it doesn't work against you to apply and it will only help you in terms of improving your writing skills while clarifying your research plan for future applications. If you don't apply, you can't get the funding, so why not try.
The three fellowships I will discuss here are the NSF GRFP, the NIH Predoctoral Diversity Fellowship, and the Ford Fellowships. Although these are all federally funded, it is fine to apply to more than one, as long as your funding does not overlap. For example with the NSF GRFP, you have two years within the five year period to receive funding elsewhere before beginning the fellowship.
It generally takes 6 months to hear back from these institutes on their final decisions. If you are awarded the funding, congratulations! Even if you don't receive the award, you may still receive an honorable mention. Nonetheless, if you don't receive the fellowship the first time, you are actually encouraged to try again as long as you still meet the criteria.
1. NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
If you are a first year graduate student or a graduating undergraduate this year, it is important for you to take a look at this fellowship. Applications are due in early November so it is important to review this NOW.
I attended a seminar on this one just a couple of weeks ago. Graduate students who receive this may receive the funds for 3 years over a 5 year period. This gives you some time to get into a graduate program if you are still applying, which is nice and helps remove some of the stress of the grad school experience! Funding consists of $32,000/year and tuition waived for those three years. From what I was told in the seminar, NSF is looking particularly for more applicants in the social sciences, and for those with a transdisciplinary focus. Although this is the National Science Foundation, they are also interested in funding fields of social, behavioral, and economic science.
Here is the link to the program solicitation: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2013/nsf13584/nsf13584.htm
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
You can follow them on twitter @nsfgrfp
2. NIH (F31) Ruth Kirschstein Predoctoral Diversity Fellowships
Apparently the NIH receives significantly more funding from the federal government than the NSF, so it is worth a try to attempt an application to an NIH fellowship. And, as students of color, this is a great reason to apply for the F31 Predoctoral Diversity Fellowship.
The application process is definitely somewhat trickier than the above NSF fellowship and requires you to have a strong mentoring team of professors and researchers on campus, but can be well worth it. You will need to have a strong network on campus with your department and this research can also be the beginning of your dissertation research.
You would select the specific institute within the NIH that your research falls under, and it is important to make sure that your project meets the mission of that institute (for example, the National Cancer Institute, or the National Institute of Drug Abuse). Then, you can contact the program representative within the institute with any questions.
The great part about this fellowship is that there are three deadlines throughout the year in April, August, and December. Funding can cover up to 5 years of research.
I am still trying to work through the logistics and details of this fellowship, but if you can find someone who has received this or mentored a student in this program it will likely make all the difference.
Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Parent F31 - Diversity)
3. Ford Foundation Fellowships
Among the three fellowships here, this one is probably the most well-known. There are three separate fellowships here for predoctoral, dissertation stage, and postdoctoral students from underrepresented groups. For predoctoral students, the Ford Fellowship awards students with $20,000/year for three years within a five-year period. I believe the process is relatively similar to the NSF GRFP process.
Dissertation fellows receive $21,000 and Postdocs receive $40,000/year
The deadline is annual and is coming up very soon in November 2013.
Ford Foundation Fellowship Programs
Finding Other Fellowships
Ask around at your department and at the career center for leads. There should be a funding office at your school, and hopefully they will have purchased access to an online database of fellowships and scholarships such as FoundationCenter.org. If there is access to this, make an appointment to review fellowships for your particular field.
If you are applying to the NSF and the Ford, now is the time to apply. I wish you the best of success in your application process!