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How Graphos Fellowship Writing Groups Help Vanier and SSHRC Applicants

Since 2015, the McGill Writing Centre has partnered with Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to offer tailored writing support for Vanier and SSHRC doctoral awards.

The beginning of the Fall semester inevitably heralds the countdown to fellowship deadlines for students across Canadian universities, a process that can be disorienting and stressful for most students.

Some of the most prestigious and highly competitive scholarships are the Vanier Scholarship and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council scholarship (SSHRC). Only 167 Vanier scholarships are awarded annually, with McGill being one of the top 3 universities, alongside University of Toronto and University of British Columbia, with the highest number of Vanier Scholarships awarded.

Each year, universities and departments are given quotas; for example, last year’s SSHRC Doctoral quota was 115 awards. Last year McGill was awarded 67 scholarships in total, 22 of which were from the Faculty of Arts. Quotas from the funding agencies undoubtedly make the application process highly competitive.

Students sitting at a desk looking at a laptop screen.
Luckily, McGill’s Writing Centre is there to walk students through the process and make sure they put their best application forward. Currently housed within the Faculty of Arts, the Writing Centre’s Graphos division offers graduate students across the university's faculties a range of 1-credit courses, workshops and fellowship writing groups to support students to become more efficient, precise, and effective scholarly communicators.

The Fellowship Writing Groups are a vital resource for almost all Vanier and SSHRC applicants. Ester Di Cori, Fellowship Officer at Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, has spent years advising students and staff on fellowship resources, funding opportunities and application procedures.

“The Graphos workshops for Vanier applicants are vital to the success of some our applicants,” Di Cori says. “We always have positive feedback from students that attend. Even if the student is not successful in obtaining a Vanier Scholarship, they always appreciate the experience of attending these workshops and apply what they have learned to other funding opportunities.”

Several years ago, the Writing Centre’s Director, Dr. Yvonne Hung, was approached by Josephine Nalbantoglu, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) and asked to design a Graphos activity that would support applicants to Vanier and Banting fellowships.

“Since then, our fellowship workshops and writing groups have become well-integrated into our summer planning,” says Hung. “I’m delighted to report that nearly all Vanier and Banting recipients have taken part in either our workshops and/or our fellowship writing groups! Following this success, we’ve since gone on to collaborate with GPS on other fellowship writing support and some new exciting initiatives, such as our newest thesis writing program”

Students around a desk
Resources made available via the Writing Centre are important for students participating in national scholarship competitions because the ability to communicate persuasively and concisely with one’s target audience will always serve students well. Prospective applicants for scholarship competitions such as Vanier and SSHRC are encouraged to take part in these workshops, where they will find a support network providing them with the opportunity to network, as well as a sense of community, since the application process can be an unknown and daunting one.

For Eugene Ofosu, a recipient of the Vanier scholarship and current workshop facilitator, applying for the Vanier Scholarship was a soul-searching experience.

“I began a process of self-interrogation as to why I deemed myself a leader, and why I should be awarded a Vanier scholarship,” says Ofosu. “This iterative self-interrogation process not only helped me craft a cohesive and authentic Vanier application, but it spurred an increased self-awareness and growth as an academic and community leader.”

One of the biggest challenges students face when writing their applications is not knowing the audience that will be reviewing their application. As Ofuso says, “Often, students write in discipline specific language (Jargon) and are oblique as to why their proposal are worthwhile for science and if possible, society. This makes the application more difficult to be assessed by an often-multidisciplinary panel.”

Writing obstacles such as these are a prime focus of the Graphos Fellowship Writing Groups. As part of the workshop, students from different disciplines see and evaluate proposals from other disciplines. With a collegial mindset, students get to express which sections of proposals are unclear, how their colleagues can present a stronger argument in favour of the impact of their proposal, and overall readability. Through this collaborative process, students experience what the multidisciplinary panel that will be reviewing their proposal will go through and adjust their proposal accordingly to ensure maximum success.

For Ofosu, this feedback and camaraderie amongst fellow Vanier applicants was an important source of support, and one that inspired him to share his own experience and insights with a new cohort of applicants.

“I chose to facilitate SSHRC and Vanier Grapho groups as I tremendously benefited from the experience as an attendee,” says Ofosu. “I not only received some constructive criticism, but also positive reinforcement on my application. With the Vanier application being all new to me, I got to learn from a Vanier Scholar what the crucial aspects of the application was, and how to better communicate my research to a general audience.”

You can view the schedule of upcoming Fellowship Writing Groups on the Graphos website here.

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