Preparing for the AHA Predoctoral Fellowship Application

In the second year of my Ph.D., I began applying for predoctoral fellowships. There are only a limited number of fellowship programs that I am eligible for as an international student, as I was ineligible for most federally funded research fellowships. My advisor suggested that I apply to the American Heart Association predoctoral fellowship, which is open to any full-time student enrolled in a doctoral degree program (Ph.D., MD, DO, DVM, PharmD, DDS, DrPH, PhD in nursing or equivalent health science doctoral degrees) without any restriction on residence or citizenship. The AHA predoctoral fellowship awards one or two years of NIH-rate predoctoral fellow stipend, funds for health insurance, and an additional $2,000 for project support.

In addition to being a great opportunity to obtain funding support for my research, applying for predoctoral fellowships also helped me polish my grantsmanship and clarify my research directions.  In my fourth year, I was awarded a two-year AHA predoctoral fellowship. Here are some of my tips for preparing for the AHA Predoctoral Fellowship:

  1. Enroll in a grant writing course in your program if your institution has one. Before applying for predoctoral fellowships, I took the grant writing course that was taught by one of the professors in my department. In the course, I was able to obtain feedback on my research grant, not only from experienced professors but also from my peers. Since I had limited experience in grant writing, taking an organized course really helped me navigate the process and build a solid draft. In addition, this experience gave me an opportunity to think deeply and incorporate others’ feedback on my research directions.
  2. Connect with individuals who can write you a stellar recommendation. The AHA predoctoral fellowship application requires three letters of reference, but the proposal sponsor (likely your principal advisor), co-sponsor, collaborator, or consultant cannot serve as a referent. Therefore, you will likely have to reach out to other faculty members, previous research mentors, or other individuals. Staying in touch with these individuals is a great way to ensure their support of your application.
  3. Think of how to convey your research to a broad audience. One of my favorite aspects of the AHA application is thinking about how my work could achieve AHA’s mission to achieve a world of longer, healthier lives. To communicate the value of my research, I wrote a non-scientist summary of my project and outline how my work supports AHA’s mission in my proposal. In fact, this summary to a non-scientist audience is one of the key peer review criteria of the award. Attending courses and workshops on science communication really helped me clarify my writing and avoid scientific jargons.
  4. Update your resume. Like other predoctoral fellowship applications, you will have to document your academic record as well as your prior research experience and/or publications. Don’t forget to update your resume from time to time to make sure you are presenting the best version of yourself.
  5. Don’t give up. I missed the funding mark in my first AHA fellowship application and was only awarded after resubmission. The reviewers’ comments on my first application, which I addressed in my resubmitted application, improved my proposal and research directions in general. Needless to say, resilience is a necessary quality in research!

The deadline for the 2023 AHA predoctoral fellowship is Wednesday, September 7, 2022. Mark your calendar and don’t miss this excellent opportunity!

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