Soros Fellowship Essays Examples

Esther Tetruashvily ’11, who is currently a 2011–12 Fulbright scholar in her native Azerbaijan, the country her family was forced to flee during the Soviet Union’s collapse, embodies the “New American” ideal, according to American philanthropists and Hungarian immigrants Paul and Daisy Soros.

She recently received a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, in the amount of up to $45,000 per year—an amount that will aid her in paying for her graduate studies in Regional studies: Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia next year at Harvard University, which will be supplementing the remainder of her tuition and fees.

According to the organization’s website, fellowships are awarded to individuals who are themselves naturalized or are the children of at least one naturalized parent. Eligible applicants must also be at an early stage in their graduate studies and both exhibit career ambition and American values including “creativity, accomplishment, and commitment to the values expressed in the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

Last month, the prestigious 15-year-old fellowship program informed the recent graduate of her selection—mere weeks after she was accepted into Harvard University, her top-choice school.

According to the fellowship program’s website, 30 fellowship recipients are selected each year from roughly 1,000 applicants, of whom 77 are interviewed as finalists after their application materials, recommendations and two essays are reviewed.

Soros winners, chosen based on merit, receive up to $90,000 to aid them with two years of graduate study at an American university. Past winners have included Rhodes and Marshall Scholars and undergraduates from top-ranked schools including the Ivies, Stanford, MIT, and Juilliard.

According to Tetruashvily, her TCNJ professors had encouraged her to apply for the fellowship during the fall of her senior year, before she had been accepted into the Fulbright program, where she is currently teaching English at the Presidential Academy of Public Administration and interning for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Nancy Freudanthal, assistant provost, brought the fellowship to my attention. I think I had heard of it before but her encouragement, and the encouragement of Professor Jo-Ann Gross and [Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences] Benjamin Rifkin really pushed me to apply,” said Tetruashvily in an e-mail.

In Esther’s first “New American” essay, she discussed the hardships her parents experienced fleeing Azerbaijan soon after she was born— an experience that led them from Azerbaijan to Austria, then Italy, and finally, the United States.

“Being Jewish, my family was caught in the crossfire between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis. We were not the enemy, but we were still the ‘other.’ My mother lost her job as a physician’s assistant when her boss could no longer protect her. My father’s textile business was vandalized, leaving our family without an income… By the time I was eight months old, my family had received green cards to ‘the land of opportunity,’ a phrase that, for my parents, was anything but a cliché. Unable to defend their degrees, my parents started from scratch. My mother found work as a housekeeper while studying for her bachelor’s degree and my father became a taxi driver and pizza deliveryman, taking courses in computer programming,” she wrote.

“Had it not been for chance and a migrant-aiding institution, my fate could have been very similar to the cases that I come across in my work,” said Tetruashvil.

She added that after graduate school her ultimate goal is to become a regional specialist for the U.S. government on issues including migration and human trafficking.

“I am interested in working further as a regional expert and project development consultant with such organizations as the IOM, (The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), or (the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). Eventually, I would like to become a leading regional specialist on issues of migration and trafficking in Europe and Eurasia with the U.S. State Department,” she said.

Tetruashvily double majored in English and international studies with minors in central Eurasian studies and Spanish while at the College and was inducted into both the Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies last year. Before her Fulbright allowed her to return to the country of her birth, her academic pursuits had already allowed her to travel extensively in the Central Eurasion region.

She traveled to Central Asia in May 2010 on a Maymester Tour directed by professors Gross and Cynthia Paces. Following the tour, Tetruashvily spent a semester studying abroad in Russia, where she completed an internship in Moscow with IOM–Moscow, and volunteered with Fund Tajikistan, a non-profit focused on migration policy in Russia and the former Soviet Republics.

However much she has grown and learned from her travels around Azerbaijan, Tetruashvily said that her Fulbright experience in Azerbaijan itself had been especially meaningful.

“However academic this trip has been, it has also been important in understanding my past and a part of myself as well,” she said. “Having been born here, I am often asked about my past, about why I left, how I live in America, will I stay, and that has had an effect on the way I have understood my family’s need to leave and the struggles they faced when they did. More importantly, being here, eating the food, seeing people every day that look like my relatives, and walking on streets that my parents walked, seeing my mother’s old apartment — it’s as if a chapter of my life that was blank has now been filled.”

Alumni News, April 2012

I was recently selected to be one of the 30 students that received the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for graduate students. Going in, the interview for the fellowship was quite the black box for me — I had no idea what questions to expect, so I spent about 12 hours over the span of two weeks, practicing all sorts of question with Kimberly Bernard, the Fellowship coordinator at MIT, a revealing experience in which I learned about myself as well as the Fellowship.

But to demystify the experience for those who may not have access to a Fellowship Office, I wrote this post to explain what the interview is like. (These details are, of course, only from my own experience, but I’m tempted to think the broad strokes stay the same year-to-year.)

The Dinner

The night before the actual interview is a formal dinner with the folks that will be doing the interview the next day. The Soros Fellowship, unlike some of the other graduate fellowship, explicitly says that they do not judge you that night. Yet, because the interviewers are human (quite interesting ones too!), they are naturally susceptible to first impressions, and so ultimately, I think the dinner matters. There are three things I would try to accomplish in the dinner:

Learn something about your interviewers. One of my interviewers had an interest in health care policy, and in my answers with her, I talked about the importance of building partnerships between engineers and policy makers in order to create substantive improvements in health care outcomes. If you can tailor your answers based on interview’s background (not too obviously!), then I think it builds a good rapport with him or her.

Offer interesting information about yourself that can guide questions. The Soros interviewers did not seem to have a strict set of questions or topics that they wanted to cover. Instead, many of the questions were based off of parts of my essays that they found interesting, as well as facts about us that they had learned along the way. If there’s something you’d like to talk about, it’s won’t hurt to mention it there the night before.

Stand out in some way. Most of the fellows interviewing for the Soros were surprisingly demure and didn’t initiate conversations during dinner. I think if you’re one of the fellows who does, that will leave a favorable first impression.

The Interview Setup

The day of the interview, all of the fellows are given the time slots during which they will be interviewing. There are two interviews, so between the interviews, you wait in a conference room with the other fellows that are about to interview. It’s a relaxed atmosphere in which breakfast/lunch is provided.

The actual interview happens in a smaller room, the size of a large office, in which 4-6 interviewers are seated around a round-ish table and you are seated across from them. One of the interviewer starts by asking a softball question. In some cases, follow-up questions are asked, while in other cases, an interviewer may completely change topics. The interviewers try very hard to stick to the time limit, but they’ll give you an additional 15-30 seconds to finish your answer after time is up.

The makeup of the panel can totally change the feel of the interview even if the questions asked between them are similar (and the questions often do overlap!). In my case, the first panel was very formal, while the second was very informal. Naturally, the second interview went much more smoothly (that was the perception of everyone who interviewed that day). I advise you to keep things light and avoid defensiveness regardless of how much your panel grills you!

The Questions

OK, so here are a list of questions that I was asked. My application focused on my background as an immigrant from Pakistan whose parents migrated to to  US in pursuit of a better education, and my research focuses on building medical devices that can stay in the stomach and continuously monitor a patient’s health. A caveat: I asked the Soros team whether it was okay to release these questions, and they were fine with it, but they advised me to let you know that questions can vary immensely between fellows. But I feel like some information is better than none, as long as you don’t think of this as anything close to an exhaustive list.

Panel 1 (rigorous)

Why do you want to work on medical devices during your Ph.D.?

You began a mentorship program at MIT. What are your long-term goals with that program?

I noticed that you published a paper on a mechanistic model of the respiratory system. Can you write down the underlying differential equation for that model?

In this paper, how are you able to conclude that your results are significant and meaningful, not just the result of over-fitting or other artifacts?

So this device you are making stays inside of the stomach? I find that a little uncomfortable to think about – isn’t there a less invasive way to measure what you need?

You’ve spent a lot of time doing cutting-edge research. What would you do if you were “scooped”?

Panel 2 (laid back)

What application of your research excites you the most?

I’m a little uncomfortable with these kinds of devices. Can you tell me more about the risks of such devices?

The applications you’ve described seem to require more than technology to achieve change. Is there a social component to your work?

How has your Pakistani heritage influenced you?

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

If you could have a cup of coffee with anyone alive today, who would it be?


Good luck, and feel free to reach out to me if you have any other questions or tips about the Soros Fellowship!



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