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Five tips for a successful Facebook Fellowship application from the people who review them

Until October 1, PhD students from around the world are invited to apply for the Facebook Fellowship, a program that supports talented PhD students engaged in innovative research in any year of their PhD study.

Each year, our research teams review thousands of high-quality applications from bright and passionate PhD students. For this year’s round of applications, we connected with some of them to discuss what they look for in an application and what advice they would give to prospective applicants. Drawing from their experience reading hundreds of research statements, CVs, and letters of recommendation, they came up with the following five tips.

Tip 1: Communicate impact

“Reading the proposals is really exciting. I love seeing the ways talented scholars are pushing the state of the art,” says Udi Weinsberg, Research Scientist Manager within Core Data Science (CDS). “I especially enjoy proposals that tackle real problems with novel solutions. Great proposals explain the problem and its importance, and focus on the novelty of the proposed solution compared to past work.”

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CDS Research Scientist Manager Aude Hofleitner agrees: “I love reading the proposals every year. I like to see both the novelty of the research and its applications.”

To help communicate the potential impact of your research, AI Software Engineer Shubho Sengupta recommends narrowing things down. “Forming concrete steps that show results within a two- to three-year time frame is a great place to start,” he says. “Oftentimes, proposals tend to be too broad. Some preliminary results that support the direction you want to pursue give reviewers some confidence about the proposal.”

Tip 2: Focus on framing

Security Engineering Manager Nektarios Leontiadis emphasizes the importance of your research proposal’s structure: “A big lesson I learned from my adviser during my PhD is that the framing [of your research statement] matters. I would offer the following as a guideline:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Why is it important?
  3. Why is it not solved yet?
  4. What is the shape of your proposed solution?
  5. How is your research addressing the problem?

“More specifically for the Fellowship, I am always looking to understand very clearly the potential relevance to Facebook’s business over the short, mid, and long term.”

Tip 3: Do some research

A good way to determine what research Facebook is conducting is to do research online. From publications and open sourcing to conference sponsorships and blog posts, we are very open about the research we invest in at Facebook.

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“Take time to understand Facebook’s challenges within your research domain and write down which applications could benefit from your knowledge,” says Edith Beigne, Director of Silicon Research. “Would your research enable a new feature or improve existing feature performances? This will help you select your topic correctly. However, do not hesitate to reach out to us with questions if no topics seem to fit.”

Beigne continues, “It is also important for reviewers to understand how you would benefit from being a Facebook Fellow. How would Facebook influence your academic career?”

Tip 4: Refine and clarify

Reviewers read through lots of applications. In order for an application to stand out, it should keep things simple and clear. Hofleitner recommends avoiding the nitty-gritty details and sticking to high-level descriptions: “[Research statements] shouldn’t go into too much technical detail but provide a clear description of why the research is critical and innovative.”

On refining the information in your Fellowship application, Beigne adds, “The summary of your work should be very clear, and objectives should be included in your abstracts so that we can more easily understand your research interests.”

Tip 5: Check for readability

When writing a research statement, it’s important to check for readability to make sure reviewers can easily understand what you are trying to convey. “The research itself matters way more than grammar,” says Sharon Ayalde, Program Manager of the Facebook Fellowship. “However, if our reviewers can’t fully understand what they’re reading, then they can’t appreciate the research.”

The Facebook Fellowship program is open to PhD students from anywhere in the world. Applicants who are not completely fluent in English may need to take an extra step.

“Depending on how comfortable you are writing in English, I recommend sharing your statement with someone who can specifically check for language,” Ayalde continues. “This will help ensure that your brilliant ideas get communicated effectively.”

To learn more about the program and to apply, visit the Fellowship page.

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