Featured Fellow: Chanté Mouton Kinyon
FELLOWSHIP I WON AND WHEN
I found out I won the Galway Doctoral Research Scholarship for 2011-2015 the same day I found out I lost two other scholarships.
I applied to a number of Universities in Ireland and was lucky enough to get into all the programs I applied to except for one. However, the way programs work in Ireland is that acceptance into a program does not guarantee funding for that program. In fact, many PhD candidates in Ireland start their research without funding and then work to acquire funding while they're studying. While some eventually get full funding for the remainder of their studies, many do not. Most of the scholarships open to PhD candidates are government scholarships specifically available to Irish Nationals or EU citizens, neither of which I am. Considering these restraints, my funding options were limited to fellowships and scholarships offered directly by the Universities I'd been accepted to, making funding opportunities available to me highly competitive. Moreover, fellowships and scholarships I applied to were typically given to candidates in their second or third years.
That day, I had just received emails regarding two other scholarships I’d lost. Over the process of applying for applications, I'd developed relationships with a number of professors and I emailed a professor at the National University of Ireland, Galway, who asked me to keep her up to date as to the status of my applications. I emailed her to let her know I'd lost out on these other two scholarships and how disappointed I was. She wrote me back almost immediately offering condolences but also to let me know that I shouldn't despair for too long. She said the Graduate Committee at NUIG chose my application for funding, August 2011—August 2015, and because of some bureaucratic holdup, the announcements just hadn't gone out yet.
I was at work and I was ecstatic. I told everyone in the office and didn't get another thing accomplished that day. I called friends and family. I had won about €60,000 (apron. $80,000). My fellowship covers tuition, living expenses, and travel to conferences. That day, I felt like I was on top of the world.
MY MAJOR/MINOR AND AREA (S) OF ACADEMIC/PROFESSIONAL INTEREST
As an undergraduate I majored in English with a focus in Creative Writing and then for my MA, English with a focus in Literature. From writing about a young woman's self-discovery as she travels around the world to exploring Alfred Hitchcock's views on conformity in Western society by looking at his treatment of gender and sexuality, all my projects focus on literature that illuminates “the other’s” experience.
Based on the work I did in completing both my BA and MA, my principal research interests can be described as concentrating on nineteenth and twentieth century literature written in English. The majority of my prior projects have focused on American and British literature in those periods; my current research is a comparative project on the literature of the Irish and Harlem Renaissances. Literature, Nationhood, and Authenticity, the working title of my current project, examines the Irish and Harlem Renaissances as aesthetic and political movements.
THE SUBSTANCE OF MY FELLOWSHIP PROPOSAL
Throughout the application process I was lucky in one way: all of the applications and scholarships I submitted generally required the same format. So while I submitted numerous PhD and scholarship applications, I really only needed to format one document, my official proposal, and then use that proposal for each subsequent application (with changes specific to each University as necessary). For the Irish University system, schools are generally looking for 1500 word documents that outline the following information: Description of Proposed Research (800 words), Critical Context (350 words), Methodology (250 words) and Sources and Archives (100 words).
When I write, I approach literature from a cultural point of view and usually bring in my own personal experiences of significant cultural events to accentuate a point. For this proposal, I could not do that. Because of the brevity of the proposal, I had to focus specifically on what I wanted to research and why. Accomplishing this outcome was a constant struggle and one reason I had trouble writing the proposal.
In the Description of Proposed Research section, I specifically concentrated on four authors I hoped to examine over the next four years and how examining the work of those four authors contributed to my overall goal of presenting the Irish and Harlem Renaissances as aesthetic and political movements. I also proposed the key question of my research, is it possible to define an authentic national identity?
In the Critical Context section, I presented the extent of scholarly research that has already been done on this subject. Schools ask for this information because they want to make sure you’re presenting new research and not something that’s already been done. For me this was relatively easy, comparing African and Irish cultures is still a new area of research. I examined the key texts that already exist on the subject and then focused in on how my specific research would be different.
In the Sources and Archives section, the Universities are basically asking why you have applied to our school. I presented a preliminary overview of the primary and secondary material I planned on using and how much of that specific information could be found in the particular University’s archives. I also outlined in this section a brief timeline of what I expected to accomplish each year.
LOW POINT IN THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Writing the proposal I used for my PhD and fellowship applications was a constant pick myself-off-the-ground-and-get-back-to-work process for me. There were many times I thought I'd written an excellent proposal, that I had finally accomplished what the Fellowship Advisor advised. Yet time after time, we wouldn't even be five minutes into our meeting before she was telling me that there was still much more work I had to do.
HIGH POINT IN THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Finding out I won the Galway Doctoral Research Scholarship and that all my hard work had paid off. It’s such an amazing feeling to know you’ll be paid to read about, write about, and talk about a topic that inspires you for four straight years. It’s better than getting a new job. I felt talented and accomplished and amazing.
MISADVENTURE(S) DURING THE FELLOWSHIP
Life. Life always has events in store for us that we never expect. During the process of writing for this particular scholarship so many little events, good and bad, came up that I could’ve let derail me. But I didn’t and for that I’m happy.
BEST MOMENT DURING THE FELLOWSHIP
After I’d gotten into these PhD programs but before I won my scholarship, my husband and I flew to Ireland for a visit, as I had never been there before. I set up appointments with various professors at each of the schools I applied to (even the one I didn’t get into) and met with all the people I’d corresponded with for the last six months.
Meeting these professors in person and hearing the excitement in their voices as they discussed my project proposal was an exhilarating time. It was at that moment that I started to believe something I had only dreamed about might come true. I also believe meeting these professors in person had an impact on me winning the scholarship. For instance, at the school where I won a scholarship I met four members of the scholarship committee and I lost the scholarship at the schools where I was unable to meet anyone on the scholarship committee.
ADVICE TO APPLICANTS
Be persistent. I first visited the Fellowship Advisor three years before I actually applied to PhD programs and simultaneously applied for fellowships. When I first came knocking at her door, Joy told me my materials were not fellowship-ready. When I came back three years later, this time earlier and with what I thought a much better proposal draft, Joy told me again that it needed much more work. However this time, I did not walk a way. This last time I was determined to put together a solid fellowship proposal and I convinced Joy that I needed her help to make this happen. For months, and through many held back tears, I showed up at her office committed to having a polished project proposal that I would ultimately use to apply for fellowships. Not giving up on myself or on the process is what got me the win.
WHY I'D DO IT AGAIN
It’s like the out of shape body you see standing next to the sculpted body on “before and after” magazine covers. We all want the sculpted body, but not many people are ready to do the work to get it. Well, going through this process was like going to the gym five days a week and eating low calorie meals for a year. Sometimes it was outright painful, but the reward of a beautiful sculpted body makes it all worth it – and is why I’d do it again.
WHAT I'M DOING NOW
Keeping busy. I live in Galway, Ireland where my school is and I do my best to work from my desk at least five days a week. I work in an office with about 30 other PhD candidates and we all work hard to keep each other focused. I present papers at conferences, attend talks at my university, go to the theatre, and travel around my new home in an attempt to enjoy every moment of this adventure.