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Silver Bullets for Early Career Researchers: Fellowship Applications, Interviews and Advice for Doctoral Students


Early career researchers are often advised to start preparing early to intentionally learn the intricacies around relevant fellowship applications, a majority of which might include small research grant calls, conference attendance fee waiver, traveling support fund, lab-exchange program fellowships, etc.

The essence as well as the quality of the application matters – this therefore necessitates competence building for a successful competitive edge. Fellowship applications often include interviews, and ‘how to’ should not be compromised for ‘why to’; personal composure, emotional stability and excellent question-answering skills are pivotal to overall success. This technicality in preparing right and consequent mastery of details often extends to doctoral students in training.  

 Fellowship Applications and The Technical Know-How

Keep to the Instructions

When submitting an application for any call, please keep to the instructions – don’t think for the ‘funder’ and don’t assume too. Keep the details simple, short and specific; unless otherwise stated. There’s no need to extend your tentacle or over-call your resume, as long as it is not a red-carpet to show-off! Not everyone speaks your local language – clarity is essential. Provide enough information where necessary and sometimes, on request. Go straight to the point, cite references for clarifications and use simple lexis and structure to garnish your thoughts!

Inelastic Values

 Be careful of unrealistic statistics, check your facts and align your figures – don’t come across as someone who doesn’t know the difference between lemon and lemonade. Tidy-up your proposed concepts, plagiarism is unethical – don’t take credit for what you didn’t pay for. Don’t show desperation in style and ideals – market merit and provide evidence and relevant track-records.

Avoid controversies and don’t project differences or possible conflicts of interests – stay within the call borders. To be funded is awesome, getting the fellowship or admission would be fulfilling; however, your reputation and integrity is important. Justify the budget or proposed expenses where necessary; remember, the ‘funders’ know what they are doing and can’t be fooled. 

Results-Oriented Interviews 

Don’t Turn-up Wishy-Washy

When attending an interview, online or in-person, the first successful step is to follow the instructions strictly – for instructions are the ways of life! Keep the necessary information at your fingertips, don’t appear blank or bereft of ideas and ideals!

Organize your thoughts pragmatically and don’t overshoot your assumptions, especially when facts and figures are off your favour! Be confident, but don’t be arrogant or too known; be humble but don’t be timid; be convincingly correct but learn to pause and allow feedback! Keep your presentations within time, communicate an impression not to impress; short silver-bullet answers are magnetic, not all details are necessary!

Be the Best of Your True Self

Preparation is the key, but don’t memorize muses or slice clichés, good interviewers are dynamic; avoid comical conflicts and don’t make unguided statements! Don’t say what you cannot defend and avoid professional biases or prejudice – be polite but don’t be beggarly or desperate, be calm even when you’re losing it!

Keep your budget reasonable and don’t inflate prices; provide justifications with references where necessary! You don’t have to answer all the questions, opt for clarity when in doubt; ask for suggestions if you feel your answers lacked appropriate substance! Good manners are relative. Be the best version of yourself, and if impossible, be the best of your true self.

Advice for Doctoral Students

  • No one owes you anything, therefore manage your expectations – the PhD journey is a different path for different people, don’t expect too much from people, for no one owes you anything; your supervisors are to guide, you have to embrace the journey and take personal responsibility.
  • You can’t do everything; priority is a necessity – Know what you cannot do and value the help around you. Do little things well and diligently, because you can do so much with so little. Ahead of time, build relevant expertise in achieving little goals, it will prepare you better for the big challenge.
  • Pay attention to details – Don’t assume. Document and keep track of the necessities. Details are important, they make you a champion among the standards. Be serious, but don’t take things and people too seriously; don’t allow things to get to you either.
  • Be careful of your definition of ‘depression’ and what ‘frustration’ is; if possible, don’t use the two words. Try not to build all your experiences around what works, learn how to leverage and re-purpose failures too. 
  • Build good relationships – You don’t know everything, so you will need other people around you. Fair, firm and frank people (they make you know yourself better). Build good relationships within and beyond your research and discipline. I wish you luck for excellent supervision and considerate supervisors! However, people will always be people; it’s your decision to know how to deal with them.

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About the Author
  • Abiola Isawumi

    Dr. Abiola Isawumi is a blend of academic skills and diverse research expertise. He’s committed to mentoring students, upcoming researchers and invests his time in encouraging young emerging leaders to achieve their research and academic dreams. As a Research Fellow and Faculty at the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (, he champions antimicrobial resistance (AMR) initiatives and leads a dynamic AMR research group. He provides insights into AMR mechanisms of novel superbugs including ESKAPE pathogens and develops phenotypic tools and molecular algorithms to understand opportunistic-pathogens antibiotics-evasion pathways that can inform treatment strategies. As a part of his trend-watching skills, he facilitates competence building research, academic and self-development seminars on different platforms. He’s also the Team Head at ABISA Research Initiatives, helping African researchers to circumvent challenges limiting their productivities. As a writer, he shares unconventional thoughts on diverse issues and also does parallel publishing on LinkedIn and other platforms. He won the Nature Communication Biology Fellowship (2019/2020), HelloBio Lab Hero award (2020) and he was the 2020 African Association for Research and Control of Antimicrobial Resistance Young Investigator of the year. He believes in the dignity of labor and that, no one owns knowledge, it is the right of everyone that dare to seek Twitter: @IsawumiAbiola LinkedIn:

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