Post-graduate fellowships provide a truly unique and special opportunity to explore interests and passions that might otherwise be abandoned in the face of more practical, and lucrative alternatives for the first year out of college. I was fortunate enough to receive the 2010 Bristol fellowship, and spent the past year researching and documenting the global trade in seahorses for use in traditional medicines, and participating in ecology research projects aimed to increase our understanding of seahorses, and better conserve the genus. Over the course of the year, my project brought me to Portugal, Italy, France, the UK, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Panama, and allowed me to engage with my topic in greater depth and scope than I had thought possible while drafting my proposal one sub-zero night in KJ.
The prompt that began my fellowship path, “what would you do, if you could do anything, anywhere, for a year?” was both intimidating and thought provoking. Here was an opportunity to get specific about my research interests while traveling the world on a self-directed itinerary, but the question of how to go about accomplishing my project was as important, and far more frustrating, than selecting a topic that would be interesting enough to merit a year of undivided attention. Most, if not all fellowship projects require consistent logistical tweaking, as contacts you had planned to spend several months with disappear, make sweeping changes to their schedules, or rupture their eardrums two hours after you arrive in Portugal. The ability to cope with these challenges, and to regroup after serious disruptions, is an essential part of the fellowship year. Some of my greatest experiences were born out of these regrouping efforts, and I found the mishaps and managed disasters to be as crucial to my personal growth and development as any of my logistical successes.
The decision to apply for a fellowship should be considered seriously. A year can seem short with the comforts of a stable routine and a support network, but when problems arise, the world is a big place to be alone and adrift in. With that said, the opportunity to stand with the world at your fingertips and a full year to indulge your curiosity, truly is the adventure of a lifetime.
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