Updated: Oct 12
Want to know what academic and learning fellowships are and how they can benefit you as a student to build an illustrious career in advanced learning and research? Here’s everything that you need to know about Fellowships.
If you are university graduate or a young professional and you want to explore yourself, learn from amazing people and give back to the society or at least learn how to, then you should explore fellowships. This article aims to demystify fellowships and the growing trend around the world for such programmes.
Traditionally, fellowships are defined as a doctoral fellowship where you pursue research (usually culminating in a PhD or a body of work) at an academic/research institution under the guidance of professors/researchers. People would also be referred to as fellows after being affiliated with organisations or societies such as the Royal Society of Arts. Sometimes scholarships offered by universities and governments are also referred to as fellowships. But in the more modern context, fellowships are much more flexible and broader in their scope.
The New Fellowships
Today’s fellowships are programs that offer immersive learning which is a combination of academic training, field work, project work, cultural intelligence, and mentorship by leaders from industry, policy, diplomacy, social development agencies, governments, academia, entrepreneurship, culture etc. Fellowships essentially are trying to plug the various gaps between academic learning, professional work, the exposure to social development sector and an individual’s personal growth. The most important part of a fellowship is the network created by the promoters, managing committees and the fellows themselves.
A few popular fellowships:
Fellowships are brainchildren of highly motivated people who want more people to contribute to the society. And we can find such people in every type of organisation.
The government sponsored Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship or MGNF is curated by IIM Bangalore, Skill India, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and eight other IIMs across India. They are currently recruiting for their second batch of fellows (2021-23). MGNF Fellows will learn from academic modules at IIM campuses, contribute to skills development and economic development at district level for 660 districts across India for 2 years.
Teach for India (TFI), which might arguably be the most popular fellowship in India, was founded in 2009 after the Teach for America fellowship in the USA. TFI fellows teach Grade 1-10 children in low-income and government schools across 7 major cities in India for 2 years after an initial training period.
Another recent example of such a fellowship would be the Punjab Youth Leaders Program or Sanjhi Sikhiya which is supported by non-profits and the Punjab Government, and is recruiting for their 3rd cohort. PYLP fellows will be placed in clusters of 10-15 schools within Punjab to improve the school ecosystems with local government officials and teachers for 2 years, alongside immersive learning and Punjab tours.
Other Rural Education fellowships
A lot of fellowships are run and funded by the Corporate Social Responsibility arms of corporations. For instance, the rural education fellowships such as the 2 year Gandhi Fellowship supported by the Piramal Foundation and the 1 year Azim Premji Fellowship supported by the AzimPremji Foundation.
The India Fellow which has been supported by ICICI Foundation, Tata Trust, InfoEdge India and WaterAid India is an 18 month social change fellowship working towards solving social issues in both rural and urban India.
The 1 year Awaji Youth Federation, supported by Pasona Group in Japan, is based out of Awaji in Central Japan and is working towards regional revitalisation and sustainable development of rural Awaji island and are currently making AYF into a global movement for change making.
Some universities also call their immersive learning PG programs fellowships as well, for instance, the Young India Fellowship offered by Ashoka University and the Anant Fellowship offered by Anant University. The LAMP (Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament) fellowship is supported by PRS Legislative Research Group. And then you have the Obama Fellowship supported by the Obama Foundation and many many more.
What do you learn at a fellowship?
Fellowships offer a wide variety of learning processes which combine lectures, visits, on the job training, mentorship from leaders, working in the field with direct stakeholders, invitations to high level international and national summits, conferences, project requirements’ analyses, planning, strategy, execution, and management, peer learning, cultural immersion and being a part of an international alumni network. Of course different fellowships offer customised relevant content based on their mission and structure.
Due to COVID-19, fellowships today are being delivered online as well which has given programs like the Jagriti Yatra access to many more young change makers, which earlier was limited to a few hundred.
Types of fellowships
Fellowships come in various formats and are difficult to categorise, since they are all unique and have a unique mission to fulfil. However, we can see residential and non-residential fellowships which require full-time or part-time commitment. Fellowships range from 2 weeks to 2 years or even more time. Some fellowships need you to pay money as tuition or contribution to the cause and while others are free or pay you monthly stipends apart from covering your other learning associated costs. Certain domains which are reflected in these various fellowships are education, innovation, social entrepreneurship, poverty alleviation, skill development, governance, sustainability, regional revitalisation, collaboration and more.
The selection criteria differs as well. The promoters want to see your education, work experience, profile, reference letters but most importantly your passion for social development and motivation to commit to the fellowship. The selection process can include a detailed application including profile description, resume, essays and interviews. And then every fellowship might have their own specific age limits, citizenship status, geographical and language preferences among other things. For the MGNF and TFI, you need to appear for an entrance test testing your scholastic aptitude in subjects such as Maths, English, General Awareness and logical reasoning/data interpretation. Whereas the Asia Foundation Development Fellows needs a certain amount of social development work experience and achievements for getting selected. The Nudge Indian Administrative Fellowship needs experience at VP/GM/CXO level for large scale projects. For various Chief Minister Fellowships across India, you need to fulfil their specific criteria. The Ashoka Fellows are usually trailblazers in their respective fields such as Kailash Satyarthi.
How should you choose?
As part of the Awaji Youth Federation in Japan, I discovered the SDGs; got to interact with UN leaders, ex-diplomats, professors, thought leaders, corporate leaders and sustainability enthusiasts; worked with bright young leaders from multiple countries having diverse backgrounds for a prototype of a project; and understood a lot about the Japanese language and culture. It was a perfect learning experience for a 32 yr old to understand the next directions for his life. Today I am mentoring students in India and Japan for making sustainable projects.
Similarly, you need to find the ‘why’ for yourself. Discuss with peers and mentors. What do you want to learn and from whom and in which area? What would you do after the fellowship? About which social areas are you passionate?
And if you do not know the answer to these questions, then you should definitely dive head first into the fellowship which calls out to you, discover yourself and contribute to the planet.
Expert Speak -Saurabh Nanda