Watson Fellowship

See Dates & Deadlines page for schedule of information meeting.

PURPOSE: The Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for independent study and travel outside of the United States in the year following graduation from college. Students propose projects that stem from long-term interests, developing a theme, issue, or question(s) they would like to spend a year exploring—and identifying the countries and contacts through which they would like to explore them.

AWARD: $28,000 to cover one year of travel and related project expenses. An amount equal to 12 months’ payment of outstanding federally guaranteed and institutional student loans will also supplement the stipend. Up to 40 Watson fellows  selected from 160 candidates nominated by participating institutions.

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

The Watson Fellowship is intended primarily for students who have had a long-term passion for their topic (usually originating before their college years). They seek not just creative proposals, but projects that truly represent a clear and obvious match between the student’s long-term, compelling, abiding passion for the topic and the project itself.  The development of a successful project therefore takes a commitment to prolonged “soul-searching” to discern where your involvement in your topic has come from, how it has evolved, why it resonates so strongly for you, and why you feel your project will take your involvement with this topic to a deeper, more challenging level. 

Application Process 

1. Submit a preliminary application by April 21, 2014 to  fellowships@middlebury.edu:

Note: letters of recommendation are NOT included in this stage of application.

Phase One

  1. Begin developing your proposal over the summer, using the Watson Foundation Web site for guidance.  Share drafts with fellowship advisor for feedback.
  2. Attend Information Meetings (Spring/Fall)
  3. Submit your  application to Fellowships in CTLR by TBD in September 2014. No late applications will be accepted. Application materials include:

    A)  The Watson Application Cover Sheet

    B)  A proposal explaining what you want to do, your background/experience, and the source of your interest in the topic. Please consult the Watson Foundation Web site: this statement should be a blend of the Personal Statement and the Project Proposal. Draft proposals must be no more than 5 pages long, double-spaced, double-sided, in 12-point font. Please number but do not staple pages.

    C)  Résumé.

    D)  Academic transcript, printed from Banner Web (use the Degree Progress format).

    E)  Please submit all application materials in hard copy.

Phase Two

  1. Middlebury’s Selection Committee will invite a subset of the applicants to interview in late September/early October.
  2. Four nominees and one alternate are selected in early-October.
  3. In consultation with members of Selection Committee, nominees prepare and submit nomination materials to the Watson Foundation.
  4. A representative from Watson Foundation interviews nominees on campus late fall or winter. Nominees must participate in mock interviews prior to formal interview.

General Parameters for Successful Projects

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

A)  Enough enthusiasm and excitement about the topic that you can sustain a year of totally self-directed activity toward exploring this topic.

B)  Must be evidence of long-term involvement in this topic—although it doesn’t need to be academic or formal.

C)  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.

A)  Need to have the appropriate skills to make your project logistically possible.

B)  Examples of feasibility issues to consider: language barriers, technical skills, access to areas on itinerary, budget limitations, equipment issues, etc.

3.  Must be compelling.

A)  Must have important positive implications for the host community, for a field of knowledge, or for the Fellow. Consider the “so what” factor.

B)  Applicant may have a compelling topic but lack the long-term interest, feasibility or skills

C)  But many unlikely topics can be incredibly compelling when combined with passion, long-term interest, and sense of connection to important issues.

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

A)  Not U.S. or country of origin

B)  No minimum or maximum number of countries
5.  Must be focused.

A)  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.

B)  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?

C)  Consider rules of proportion re: depth of work and number of countries.

D)  Consider how order of countries influences your goals.
6.  Must be able to be pursued with great independence and adaptability.
Is the project dependent on extremely unpredictable factors? Examples: availability of individuals; weather/accessibility issues; equipment issues; planning surprises
7.  Must extend for a twelve-month period of time without interruption.

A)  Cannot return home except for extreme personal or medical emergency; both require prior approval from Watson.

B)  Must depart by August 1 of year after graduation.

C)  Must be available for returning fellows conference in August following Watson year.
8.  Cannot involve formal study.

A)  The project is an exercise in independent, self-directed research

B)  Can include short-term language training or instruction/mentorship, but no formal programs.
9.  Must be safe.

A)  Cannot visit countries assigned “travel warnings” by the US State Department. Information from the US State Department is available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov.

B)  If concerns about a particular country, have a back-up plan.
10.  Must not replicate previous experiences.

A)  Should not be one more opportunity to do in a new place something you’ve already done.

B)  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,rather than a search for confirmation/affirmation
A)  Should be characterized by open-minded exploration, not a search for evidence to confirm a pre-established position



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

Thomas J. Watson Fellowship


Writing the Proposal

Successful proposals will be personally and/or professionally significant; compelling; creative, imaginative and flexible; feasible; and well written. We understand that proposals at this stage are “works-in-progress”; however, we are looking for evidence that your planning process is well underway.

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 a glimpse of the writer; 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. Optional: what tangible or intangible outcome might you want as the culmination of your fellowship year? (The Watson Foundation asks only that fellows submit a brief report.) Finally, indicate your future plans and how, if any, the fellowship experience relates to those aspirations.

The selection committee members 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 surmount this challenge?
  • If your project is reliant on a certain skill set (photography, diving, interviewing, field research, data analysis, etc.), what evidence is there that you possess those skills?
  • In what contexts will you be interacting with host country nationals? Will you be able to have access to the people and organizations you have identified as crucial to your project?
  • What evidence is there in your past choices (i.e. classes you’ve taken, books you’ve read, talents you’ve developed, research you’ve done, activities you’ve pursued, etc.) 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 every important moment/activity in your life 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 Web site. 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 alumni/ae, 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. For current club officers, contact the Student Activities Office (formerly CCAL). To find alums, use MiddNet (Career Services will show you how).
  • 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.

Qualities Sought in Watson Fellows

From the Foundation:

In selecting Watson Fellows, the program panel is most concerned with holistically identifying individuals of unusual promise. In assessing candidates, the program uses seven central criteria, which flow from the mission statement. Not every fellow will possess each quality and fellows will not necessarily display the qualities in the same manner. The seven criteria are:

  • Leadership: The capacity to command a following for what one thinks, does or creates.
  • Resourcefulness: Able to deal promptly and effectively with problems.
  • Imagination or Vision: The power of framing new and striking conceptions or perceiving and conveying them.
  • Independence: Self-reliance; freedom from the influence, guidance, or control of another or others
  • Integrity: Strong ethical character and trustworthiness.
  • Responsibility/Emotional Maturity: Following through on work or plans without guidance or superior authority; grounded individual.
  • Courage: A boldness of spirit, openness to new and challenging circumstances, and perseverance in pursuit of a purpose or goal.    


Factors Weighed by Watson Foundation in Selecting Fellows

  • Intention: commitment to exploration for its sake rather than simply acquiring training, prepare for graduate school or string together volunteer opportunities
  • Project feasibility
  • Year-long sustainability
  • Stretch: the extent of personal challenge the project entails