Started in 1968, the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship allows a year of personal insight, perspective and confidence that shapes the arc of a fellows’ life. The fellowship essentially offers a rare window of time after college and pre-career to engage in your deepest interest on a world scale. The fellowship also suggest that you embark on journey to do a project that “sets your soul on fire”.
Only partner colleges may nominate students for the fellowship. Once nominated by their college, possible fellows will enter the national selection process and are interviewed on campus by a foundation representative. The national selection process begins in November and the awards are announced in mid-March the following year.
Selected Watson Fellows engage in a wide variety of projects in many corners of the world. Independence is at the core of the project but there are some rules that every fellow must adhere to. Some of them are;
- Fellows must remain outside of the United States for 1 year
- Remaining outside State Department Warning, Treasury Embargo and CDC Level 3 countries
- Fellows may not travel in countries where they have previously spent any significant amount of time. (That means I can’t go to Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa)
- We must also maintain our independence and be fully immersed in out travels and projects.
- Submitting quarterly reports on the status and changes with the progress of their projects. Also there is a final report of on your end of year expenses
- Fellows must attend the returning fellows’ conference (August) where they will meet other fellows who embarked on separate journeys across the world.
There are other rules but the above are the main rules. For more information, I suggest that you visit the Watson Foundation Website.
So How’d I Find Out About The Watson?
Last year, I went to see the dean of students at my college about perfecting my graduate school essay. During the meeting, he suggested that I apply for a fellowship although it was two days before the school deadline. I remember telling him thats absolutely crazy and impossible but he managed to convince my academic advisor to encourage me to apply.
Within a limited amount of time, I stayed up all night writing my Watson proposal and personal essay. I got really sick for staying up but a week later I received a call that I was one of the final four students nominated to apply for the national Watson selection. I was in shock that I was nominated but I guess my determination paid of well.
What followed suit was a series of revisions and refinements of my project statements as well as finding contacts in the countries I intend on visiting. The national deadline was November 5th with the interview being on November 25th. I began preparing for the interview by becoming well versed in aspects of my proposal and personal statements. I also had a series of mock interviews with multiple professors who I considered as “mean” but very god as getting you to articulate and express yourself. My preparation really boosted my confidence.
My Watson interview was in the morning and I was the first of the four finalists to be interviewed. This also meant I had to make sure I left the interview having made an impact. Watson Selection Committee member Jonathan Meiburg was my interviewer. We talked for an hour about a wide range of topics and it was honestly the most fun interview I’ve ever had. I knew what was at stake but it was important that I remain myself and be in the moment. I believe this played to my advantage as I was able to articulate myself and enjoy the interview.
Fast forward to March 9th, the Watson decision day, I honestly didn’t know how to prepare myself to receive the news – so I stayed in bed until I got the email. I received the good news and a nice phone call from Lisa (Watson Advisor) congratulating me. After that, I went for a walk to let it all sink in before sharing the news with my friends and family.
I am still going through the pre-departure gitters but I believe its part of the process. A for the journey itself, I am ready for the jetlags and culture shocks that await me.