I am spending this semester in Baku, Azerbaijan, as a Fulbright Scholar. I teach at Baku State University Law School (in English, thankfully), and have also been involved in training local law faculty on American-style law school teaching methodology. As the experience has been amazing in every sense of the word, let me take this opportunity to describe the Fulbright Program, in an effort to demystify the application process and promote the Program in general.
The Fulbright Program offers funding for students and professors in many different fields, including law, to engage in research and teaching abroad. The Program is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and it is administered by the Institute for International Education. Here is how the Program works.
If you are a professor based in the United States, you may apply for either the Core Program or the Specialist Program (I should mention that there are a few other short-term programs and “seminars” available, as well as a Distinguished Chair Program). If you are interested in spending one or two semesters abroad, at a foreign host institution, you should apply for the Core Program. The deadline is August 1, 2013 for the following academic year (2014-15). You may select a country for which you wish to apply from a “catalogue” of awards; for each country, different selection criteria will apply. Some countries will only accept one-semester long applications, while others may prefer a two-semester stay. Some countries may require a letter of invitation from a host institution located in that country. In that case, you may need to contact a potential host institution, explain your plans, and ask (beg!) whether they will host you during your Fulbright visit, should your proposal be accepted by the Fulbright Program. For some countries, such as Great Britain, France, Spain or Italy, competition may be stiff. For other, more “obscure” nations, competition may not be as intense. Finally, some countries offer teaching awards, while others allow for purely research grants, or a combination of teaching and research. You should choose your country carefully: it should be a place where you truthfully wish to spend four to ten months, but it should be a place where you feel you have a realistic chance of being accepted. In some instances, the Fulbright Program itself may deny you your first choice of country, but may offer you another, “similar” country. You should also think about how you would obtain a semester- or two-semester-long leave from your academic institution in the United States – many professors will use a sabbatical leave, if they are eligible for one, or negotiate an ad hoc leave with their respective deans. The general application, to be used for all countries, consists of an online form, a five-page proposal, where you detail your teaching and/or research plans at the host institution, three recommendation letters from your peers or superiors, and for some countries, a letter of invitation from the host institution.
After you apply for the Core Program, you will most likely not hear anything from the Fulbright Program until late November or early December, when you will be notified whether your application made it through the first round of “cuts.” If your proposal survived, then you will not hear anything again until March or April, when you will ultimately be notified whether your proposal was accepted. At this point, you will have the choice of accepting or rejecting the Fulbright Award (most applicants accept, obviously).
If you are a professor based in the United States and are interested in spending between two and six weeks abroad, you should apply for the Specialist Program. Note that in order to be eligible for this program, you need at least five years of experience as an academic. This Program functions slightly differently from the Core Program. Here, the application deadline is rolling – in other words, you can apply at any time. In order to apply, you need to fill out a form, write several “motivational” statements explaining your background and what you wish to contribute through the program, and provide two letters of recommendation. If your application is accepted, you will then be placed on a “roster” of specialists, and you will become eligible for a two to six week grant at a foreign academic institution. Whether you actually get the grant depends on the needs of foreign institutions (whether any of them have requested a visit by a specialist like you). However, you are allowed to initiate contact with foreign institutions of interest, to ask whether they would be willing to host you as a Fulbright Specialist, and if the answer is yes, then you can direct the foreign institution to contact the Fulbright Program and ask for a specialist just like you (many professors have done it this way). Membership on the Specialist Roster is limited to five years so plan strategically – if you do not plan to travel abroad within the next five years, you should consider delaying your application to the Specialist Roster until a time when you feel ready to travel. The advantage of the Specialist Program is that it allows for short-term visits abroad, which may be arranged during the summer, winter, or spring break, and which may be logistically easier to plan than the semester- or year-long Core Program stays abroad.
I should note that the Fulbright Program also allows graduate-level students based in the United States to engage in research abroad. Finally, the Fulbright Program works the other way too – foreign professors may apply to come to the United States, where they are then hosted by one of many American academic institutions. As a general matter, from the United States side, you are only allowed to participate in two long-term Fulbright programs (as a Core Scholar, or as a Distinguished Chair), or in one long-term and two short-term programs (as a Specialist). You are also precluded from participating in back-to-back programs: you must allow at least two years between your participation in one Fulbright Program and your application to another.
Good luck to anyone applying this year and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about the process.