A Fulbright Fellowship: For Prime Ministers, Nobel Prize Winners and You!

Dear GlobalEd Readers,

Do you have an interest in learning about an educational exchange program? If yes, it’s our pleasure to post this blog from Dr. Ann Garland who shares her amazing experience with a Fulbright Fellowship.  Dr. Garland also includes links that can assist you to learn more and apply.

Enjoy reading!

Meer Dr. Garland: Ann Garland, PhD

            The Fulbright global exchange program was established and funded by the U.S. Congress in 1946 to promote mutual understanding and foster peaceful relations between people from the United States of America and other countries. Fulbright is considered by many to be the most prestigious international educational exchange program, with an alumni list including dozens of heads of state such as the current Prime Ministers of the UK and Niger as well as former Presidents of Croatia and Peru, to name just a few. Alums also include 62 Nobel and 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, as diverse as Wallace Stegner, Elizabeth Kolbert, Maria Ressa, and Rita Dove. While these illustrious names may be intimidating, hundreds of thousands of lesser-known scholars, teachers, artists, and students just like you and me have also benefited from the program.

In the Fall of 2022, I was fortunate to earn a Fulbright Fellowship in Canada, specifically a “Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Mental Health and Societal Wellbeing” based at McMaster University. My partner and I packed up the car with our dog and drove across the continent from San Diego to Ontario, Canada. The fellowship kicked off with a few days of orientation in Ottawa where I met dozens of fascinating scholars and students from multiple fields, all participating in U.S. – Canada exchanges. Fulbright staff welcomed us warmly as we visited cultural and political institutions, including a participatory ice-hockey game. U.S. State Department officials also inspired us to embrace our role in promoting and protecting democracy.

Thus, I began my Fulbright experience with lots of enthusiasm but few clear expectations about my specific responsibilities. Admittedly, this lack of clarity was somewhat unsettling for a planner like me, but I came to appreciate the freedom and flexibility offered by this fellowship. Beginning with the Orientation and continuing thereafter, Fulbright staff members reiterated the mission to foster diplomacy through relationship building and cultural exchange. While we all engaged in our proposed research and/or teaching, traditional metrics of scholarly productivity were not the priority. A successful fellowship experience would be judged more by potential social impact than by individual scholarly output. I found this shift in emphasis liberating. It was a luxury to prioritize getting to know people in diverse roles and learning about their interests rather than my own productivity. How refreshing it was that an organization as prestigious as Fulbright was encouraging us to prioritize listening and sharing perspectives with diverse groups, as well as seeking out “enrichment” experiences through the arts and public service events. 

Without the routine pressures of a busy teaching schedule, administrative responsibilities or productivity demands, I was able to accept invitations to do things like speak to groups of high school and college students about career paths in mental health, visit informally with community-based mental health professionals to learn about the rewards and challenges of their work, and consult with graduate students on a wide variety of research projects. I attended research team meetings addressing important topics outside my expertise such as the intersection of climate change, housing, and mental health and the mental health toll of human rights activism. I learned a lot and enjoyed a balance of some formal meetings/presentations with many informal conversations which helped me to build relationships.

I also happily embraced the Fulbright directive to visit museums, galleries, concerts, plays, and other diverse cultural events. Highlights included the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Shaw Festival, Ashkenaz festival, and a University of Toronto event titled, “Justice Beyond Borders” honoring retiring Canadian Justice Rosie Abella and featuring world renowned judges discussing global legal and political challenges. My Fulbright appointment opened doors to wonderful opportunities to meet a number of Canadians from diverse fields who had been awarded the “Order of Canada.” Not surprisingly, these “enrichment” activities were most impactful in terms of gaining an understanding of Canadian culture and history.

The specific research goal of my Fulbright project was to learn more about effective partnerships between researchers and community-based providers in mental health care. Historically, the communication gap between science and practice in mental health care limits the effectiveness of care as well as the utility and relevance of research. Effective partnerships that can bridge this gap are rare, but my host institution, McMaster University, has built an exemplary partnership called the “Community Research Platform” (CRP). CRP supports research and practice initiatives conducted collaboratively by academics from multiple disciplines and community-based practitioners and administrators. I participated in regular CRP meetings and interviewed participants individually to learn more about how they had built mutually respectful relationships. Such relationships are often challenging due to the different missions of academia and practice, as well as different timelines, language, and training, let alone busy schedules.

One individual stated that the CRP provided the essential “relationship infrastructure” for successful research-practice collaboration. This apt term highlighted the importance of both the interpersonal and structural elements needed for collaboration. It is clear that relationship trust-building as well as administrative structural support are essential for successful partnerships, and as I delve deeper into this work I hope to identify specific mechanisms that contribute to optimal trust-building and administrative support. I am working on a book chapter on research-practice partnerships in mental health and will continue to seek input from my new Canadian colleagues now that I am back in the U.S.


Fulbright Opportunities

As readers of this blog on Global Education Leadership, I imagine I don’t need to convince you of the personal and professional value of cultural and academic exchanges. However, I do hope to convince you of the potential accessibility of Fulbright Fellowships and to provide resources to support your exploration of the opportunities.

Fulbright offers fellowships for approximately 8000 individuals in a range of roles and career stages every year. For example, there are fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students, K-12 Teachers, Artists, Writers, Engineers, Musicians, Scientists, Professors, and Higher Education Administrators. The main website (https://eca.state.gov/fulbright) offers searchable information by desired country and/or by current role/career stage. Over 160 countries participate in the Fulbright program and some offer specific programs through their Fulbright program, such as Fulbright Canada’s undergraduate exchange program, the Killam Fellowship. Some applications require a letter of invitation from a host institution but others do not.

Researching Fulbright opportunities and completing the application process does take time and many of the awards are highly competitive, but it is absolutely worth the effort. Keep in mind that the diplomatic mission is the highest priority therefore the application process focuses as much on this as on the specifics of a proposed research or teaching project. A Fulbright alum fortunately advised me that a research proposal for Fulbright should emphasize potential social impact as opposed to details of research design. I am passing that expert advice on to you. There are many resources available to help in this process, including Fulbright staff, alumni, and web-based resources including YouTube videos. I recommend following Fulbright on social media (links listed below) to see inspiring stories about a wide range of students and scholars throughout the world. By doing so, you’ll understand that this opportunity could be within your reach. Hopefully you’ll see how you could be featured in one of these stories one day.

Main website: https://eca.state.gov/fulbright

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fulbright

Twitter: https://twitter.com/fulbrightprgrm

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the_fulbright_program/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-fulbright-program/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/fulbrightprogram