Watson Fellowship

PURPOSE: The Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for independent exploration and travel outside of the United States in the year following graduation from college. 

AWARD: $30,000 to cover one year of travel and related project expenses; coverage of one year of federal and institutional student loans payments. Approximately 40 Watson fellows are selected from 160 candidates nominated by participating institutions.

ELIGIBILITY: Seniors; no citizenship restrictions; no GPA restrictions.

Application Process 

Review PDF iconGeneral Guidelines for Watson Nomination.pdf

1. Submit the online preliminary application by April 15. If you missed this deadline, you can still apply for nomination. Just submit the preliminary application and notify Dean Gates of your interest.

Over the summer, begin developing your proposal using the Watson Foundation website for guidance. Aim to share at least one draft by mid-July with Dean Gates for feedback.

2. To apply for nomination, complete the specified parts of the online Watson application by the deadline September 11, 2018. Also, submit the online Fellowships Permissions and Waiver form. No late applications will be accepted.

To access and complete the Watson application for nomination consideration, please follow these instructions:

1. Contact fellowships@middlebury.edu with your full name and Middlebury email information and request access to the application. If you submitted a preliminary application on April 15, we will register you with the Watson application system and you will receive an email link to access the application. 

2. Complete the application with the following exceptions:

a. Do not add email addresses for your recommenders. We only want their names at this point. No recommendations are needed for nomination.

b. Compose an abbreviated personal statement and abbreviated project statement-- no more than about 800 words for each section. If nominated, you will rewrite and expand these. Add these to the online application in the appropriate spaces.

c. Do not upload a photo (headshot).

3. Send a pdf of the application to fellowships@middlebury.edu with the subject line "Watson nomination application" by the internal deadline in September 2018. (You may need to select print and select pdf output from your browser to do this.)

4. Selected applicants will be invited to interview in September. Four nominees and one alternate will be selected by early October.

Nominees will work with the fellowships advisor, and members of the selection committee, to solicit letters of recommendation and prepare an application for the final Watson Foundation deadline in November.

A representative from the Watson Foundation interviews nominees on campus late fall or winter. Nominees must participate in a mock interview prior to the formal interview.


Lisa Gates, Associate Dean for Fellowships and Research
Davis Family Library 225G

Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

Other Resources

General Parameters for Successful Projects

1.  Must be of deep and long-standing personal interest.

  • Enough enthusiasm and excitement about the topic that you can sustain a year of totally self-directed activity toward exploring this topic.
  • Must be evidence of long-term involvement in this topic—although it doesn’t need to be academic or formal.
  • Evidence of involvement can be formally documented (membership in related groups, academic choices, summer jobs, etc) and/or informal practices (long-term family traditions).

2.  Must be feasible.

  • Need to have the appropriate skills to make your project logistically possible.
  • Examples of feasibility issues to consider: language barriers, technical skills, access to areas on itinerary, budget limitations, equipment issues, etc.

3.  Must be compelling.

  • Why is this the right project for you?

4.  Must involve travel to areas where the student has not previously lived, traveled, or studied for more than four weeks (certain exceptions apply).

  • Not U.S. or country of origin.
  • No minimum or maximum number of countries.

 5.  Must be focused.

  • Objective must be clear and achievable within a year, and your itinerary and plan must be well designed to meet that objective from start to finish.
  • Applicants should be able to clearly describe the steps they will take to achieve the goals of their project: a typical day or week; what questions will you ask to learn what you want to learn, and of whom? What logistical issues will you need to address?
  • Consider rules of proportion re: depth of work and number of countries.
  • Consider how order of countries influences your goals.

6.  Must be able to be pursued with great independence and adaptability.
7.  Must extend for a twelve-month period of time without interruption.

  • Cannot return home except for extreme personal or medical emergency; both require prior approval from Watson.
  • Must depart by August 1 of year after graduation.
  • Must be available for returning fellows conference in August following Watson year.

8.  Does not involve formal study.

  • The project is an exercise in independent, self-directed inquiry.
  • Can include short-term language instruction or informal course auditing.

9.  Must be safe.

  • Cannot visit countries assigned “travel warnings” by the US State Department or a US Treasury embargo. Information from the US State Department is available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov. 
  • Non-US citizens may have additional restrictions based on their citizenship.
  • If concerns about a particular country, have a back-up plan. 

10.  Must not replicate previous experiences.

  • Should not be one more opportunity to do in a new place something you’ve already done.
  • Must have the “stretch” factor: taking your interest in a topic to a new and more challenging level or expand it in a different direction.

11.  Must reflect genuine inquiry.

  • Should be characterized by open-minded exploration, not a search for evidence to confirm a pre-established position.
Writing the Proposal

Successful proposals will be personally significant; compelling; creative, imaginative and flexible; feasible; and well written.

Watson Fellows often need contacts in each country. A contact is an individual or agency at the point of destination who has agreed to provide appropriate assistance to you. The proposal should indicate your contacts in each area, whether you have been or will be in touch with them, and how you plan to utilize them.

The proposal should be interesting to read: provide insight into you; describe the events, experiences or background that motivate you to pursue this topic; explain what you want to do, where you want to do it, and how you plan to do it; and speak to the skills that will enable you to accomplish your objectives. 

The selection committee should be able to learn the following information from your proposal:

  • In addition to your overall project summary information, what exactly do you hope to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? It is helpful for the Committee to have a concrete sense of your actual activities beyond more vague terms like “observe,” “immerse,” “talk with,” and “explore.”
  • What are the major questions you hope this experience will answer for you, and/or the primary experiences/accomplishments you hope to achieve?
  • If you are traveling to areas where you do not speak the language, how will you deal with this?
  • If your project is reliant on a certain skill set (photography, diving, interviewing, field research, data analysis, etc.), how have you developed those skills?
  • In what contexts will you be interacting with people in host countries? Will you have access to the people and organizations you have identified as crucial to your project?
  • What evidence is there that the topic of your proposal has been a long-term and abiding passion?
  • Why is this project important to you, to the larger society, or both?

Some suggestions for developing your proposal:

  • Brainstorm a timeline of important moments/activities that pertains to your theme. When was the first time you became interested? How did your involvement take shape? Were there people, projects, classes, books, conversations, or experiences that influenced your interest? What did you learn along the way? Write them all down in sequence; this will help you to tell your story.
  • Spend lots of time on the Web exploring your topic and the countries you’d like to visit. What organizations and individuals would you want to connect with, and why?
  • Consider the logistical feasibility of your proposal. What logistical barriers—language, technology, access, etc.—might you face, and how will you overcome them?
  • There are no requirements around the number of countries you can visit. The length of time you stay in each county is proportionate to the depth of the work you can accomplish there. Make sure your proposed itinerary takes this into consideration. 
  • Review the Watson website. How do you see the Watson goals reflected in these projects? Does this help you understand and shape your own project in any way?  
  • Contact Middlebury students, staff, faculty and alums, who are familiar with your travel regions or topic for advice and networking. Not sure if there are any students from your countries? Send an email to the presidents of any of Middlebury’s cultural groups and ask.
  • Share your ideas and invite feedback from friends, professors, mentors and family members who know you well; they are often able to pick out themes that you may not be able to see for yourself.
Characteristics of Watson Fellows

Watson fellows are individuals of unusual promise. In assessing candidates, the program uses several criteria; not every fellow will possess each quality and fellows will not necessarily display the qualities in the same manner.

  • Leadership
  • Resourcefulness
  • Imagination or Vision
  • Independence
  • Integrity
  • Responsibility/Emotional Maturity
  • Courage