Tips for Applying to PhD Fellowships in HCI / Social Computing

  1. Start with a core thesis. Write one paragraph which provides a focused research statement and broader research vision. In this paragraph, include what you want to do, why you want to do, and what its impact will be. Once you craft a strong thesis paragraph — make sure to share with your advisor, mentors, colleagues, etc. for feedback — you can craft the rest of the proposal around that core thesis.
  2. As part of that core thesis, it is useful to ensure you know what your are primarily focusing on. Is your primary focus a technology (e.g., improving the design of a specific type of technology) or a social problem (e.g., applying understanding of social issues to a technological domain)? Often, HCI research will involve multiple technical and social factors, but where your true focus is impacts the types of questions you will ask.
  3. Use active voice and do not be afraid to make statements that may feel bold or declarative. Passive voice and language (e.g., might, could) may come across as unconfident, but more importantly, unsure. Fellowship programs are looking to fund researchers who are confident about their research and research agenda.
  4. Make every sentence do work. Try to avoid using sentences which are filler sentences or reiterate previous statements without adding anything new for the reader. You have very limited space in these applications, so you should use every inch of the page to detail your research proposal.
  5. While you should not use filler sentences or repeat your point, you should ensure there is a clear thread throughout the proposal. A formula that I used was: (1) Start with a big broad societal issue; (2) Introduce how prior work has addressed this issue; (3) Highlight the gap in prior work and introduce your own research agenda; (4) Use the bulk of your proposal to detail this research agenda; (5) Conclude by reconnecting the outcome of your research to its impact on the broader problem introduced at the beginning of the proposal.
  6. Be extremely concrete when detailing your research proposal. I included broad research questions driving my overall research agenda and specific studies (and associated research questions) that would address those broader questions. For each study, I highlighted how findings would lend to understanding the broader research problem as highlighted in point 3.
  7. Identify recommendation letter writers strategically. One of these will obviously be your advisor, and they can help you decide who would bolster your application.




Information Science PhD at University of Colorado.

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Morgan Klaus Scheuerman

Morgan Klaus Scheuerman

Information Science PhD at University of Colorado.

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