What I would do with a Fulbright Scholarship

According to the Fulbright information session, there are three main things the reviewers look for when determining who should obtain the Fulbright scholarship: impact, connections, and originality. I am a physics major, and I am particularly interested in the theoretical aspect, and more specifically in gravity. So if I were to receive the scholarship, I would plan to start my graduate degree for physics in a university in the United Kingdom. Based on that, my plan probably doesn’t seem particularly impacting, connected, or original, yet there is much more to it than what first meets the eye. So, how would I meet these requirements if I were to receive the scholarship?

Impact. The reviewers want to see that my experience abroad will have a significant impact on my understanding of the world, and that I will walk away from it with a new understanding that I could not have obtained had I stayed in America. To start, not many American institutions seem particularly focused on the questions related to gravity, so being able to go somewhere that is at the frontier of gravitational research will already have a significant impact on my future. It would also be a great opportunity to see my subject from a new perspective because the way Europeans do physics is quite different from the way Americans do it. I might have never been to Europe before myself, but I know several people who have lived there before, and they all agree that European science is very different from American science. I am honestly not really sure what that difference is, or even why it is so different, but that is one thing I hope to find out when I finally get to study abroad there. The reviewers also want to see that I will be leaving a positive impact on the place I go, and that me being there will make a positive difference to those I am working with. By starting my graduate degree in England, I hope to be able to start my research in gravitation as well. In this way, I will be contributing to European research by supplying a uniquely American view. By that same token, I will (hopefully) be able to show them that Americans really can do something significant in science. The common European opinion, again according to the people I know who I have lived there before, is that American science is not as well refined as European science; they seem to believe that Americans cannot contribute as much to the world of science because they are somehow inferior to the Europeans. I hope to be able to change this opinion by contributing in a significant way while I am abroad. In this way, I will be leaving a positive impact on European science.

Connections. The reviewers want to see that I am capable of making connections and that I will be able to foster those relationships while I am there in order to create a firm international understanding between me and my peers. I am already planning to study abroad in England for a semester or two, so I should be able to have several connections there already. The university where I hope to go as an undergrad is the University of Sheffield, and I actually already have a connection there because it is the university where my current physics professor received his PhD. When I asked him about it, he said he would gladly recommend me for the program, and that he would even set me up with some of his friends who are now professors there. That means that I am going to already have connections before I even go there for the first time, so if I return to that same university with Fulbright, I will have an even stronger relationship with my peers that would not have been possible otherwise. So, it should be apparent that I am perfectly capable of making connections (I will already have several before I even go there for the first time), but what about fostering those relationships that I make to form international understanding? This is where my plan becomes a little more challenging. Because I am wanting to go to England, I will not have any sort of language barrier to overcome, and even the culture will not be as different as if I went somewhere else. That means that there is already an “international understanding” between the two countries, or at least to some extent. However, like I mentioned previously, there is still a mentality in Europe that Americans cannot possibly be as successful in science, and that is the mentality I hope to change. I want people to see that each perspective is valuable to discovery because each one lends a different viewpoint that would have otherwise been missed. Even if we Americans “do science differently,” our way of doing it may lead to a discovery that could not have been made using the European style of research. So when I study in England, I want to both teach and be taught. I want to teach others that there is more than one way to look at problems, and by the same token I want to learn how it is that others look at the problems.

Originality. The reviewers want to see that my plan is going to be fresh and innovative; they want to see that it is something that has not already been done by someone else. Again, this could be a little tricky for me because I am certainly not the only one who wants to study physics in the UK, and I would also certainly not be the first American to study in the UK. But there is one difference. I don’t just want to study in England; I want study there and also help change their mindset about how science should be done. There is more than one way to solve problems, and there are many more ways to interpret the results. Until there is sufficient proof that an interpretation is incorrect, it carries just as much  validity as any other. But by that same argument, no interpretation can be accepted as the absolute correct one until every other possible solution has been disproved, and that is the idea I hope to take with me when I study in England. I don’t particularly know how I would possibly do that yet, but I have a few years to figure it out. I do know that I always tend to solve problems in unconventional ways, and that tendency will probably lead to something bigger. I like to say that I am good at “breaking” physics because when I solve problems unconventionally, I get answers that are often incorrect, but not in obvious ways. Then when I ask my professor why I am incorrect, he has to somehow piece physics back together, and that is always much more of a challenge than one might anticipate. So in the end, not only do I gain a deeper understanding of why the physics works the way it does, but my professor does as well, and I imagine that someday that understanding will come from a discovery that no one has made before. Then my originality will come from my attempt to be small part of mini revolution in physics. Maybe that revolution will grow, and maybe I will get to be a part of an even greater change, but in any case I plan to be a part of whatever change may come.