Advice for unsuccessful applicants

If your Fellowship application was unsuccessful we encourage you to read through the following advice and consider applying again in a future round. We have many Fellows who were successful on a second or third attempt, and we have received feedback that many appreciate and have benefitted from the time to revise and strengthen their projects.

As a reminder, when assessing an application for a Churchill Fellowship the selection committee members will carefully consider each of the following aspects:   

  • the need for this project in Australia at either a state, territory or national level
  • benefits of the project to Australia at either a state, territory or national level
  • the necessity to travel overseas, itinerary and places selected
  • achievability of the project
  • an applicant’s ability to maximise the opportunity of a Fellowship (this may include their current standing and experience in the field, skills and/or expertise)
  • an applicant’s ability and commitment to make a difference after the trip (such as ongoing involvement in the field, leadership qualities, a strategic approach, networks)
  • an applicant’s ability and commitment to widely disseminate their findings
  • quality of referee comments, taking into account standing of referees and relevance of supporting information.

Please find below some of the more common reasons why your application may not have been be successful.

There was a strong field of applicants

Churchill Fellowship selection is a competitive process and large numbers of high-quality applications are received each year across Australia. Perhaps your application was very good but just not strong enough this year. You may apply again, indeed there are many applicants who have been successful on their second or third attempt.

No application round is the same in terms of the applications received and it is feasible to be short-listed for an interview one year but not make it through to interview the following year. This can come down to the competition on the day. If you do plan to apply again take the time to read through the information on this page as you might think of ways to further strengthen your application for the future.

Your application form wasn’t complete or missing information

If you put in some ‘placeholder’ text as you prepare your application don’t forget to go back and finalise it or your application may be missing critical information (or might just not make sense if you have used short-hand notes).

You did not make a compelling case

A strong application will make it very clear why the project is important and of benefit to Australia, why the applicant is the right person and why the time is right. If your application reads as though you have a ‘hunch’ or an idea that is still forming, you are unlikely to be competitive.

You did not ‘sell’ your project strongly

Is something about your project particularly compelling? What would make people stop and take notice of your ideas? Is there some pressing issue you want to tackle, and have you made that clear?

There wasn’t a clear focus for your project

The best applications are extremely clear about the proposed project: why it is needed and how it will benefit Australia; the countries, organisations and people most important to meet with; what you hope to learn; and how you plan to share your findings once you are back home in Australia. A common mistake is to leave the aim broad rather than being specific. This can make your project appear too exploratory and unfocused.

The timing did not seem right for your project

Perhaps your application came at the wrong time. This can be out of your control in some instances. For example, a new initiative may be introduced within Australia that is directly related to your project after you have submitted your application arguing a case for that same initiative to be addressed. Another perspective may be that your project seems to be looking so far ahead that it is difficult to believe it is achievable. In that case you need to put forward a clear and strong argument as to why the timing is right.

The benefits to Australia were unclear

Personal growth and benefit is an accepted part of a Churchill Fellowship; however, it is critically important that you are clear about the potential benefits to the Australian community that could stem from your project and how you intend to realise that benefit.

It is important to be specific when describing to whom the benefits will flow and how, so don’t rely on a generic ‘the community will benefit’ as other applicants will be very clear about the potential impact of their projects. This benefit does not need to be economic, statistical or data driven (for example, it may be a cultural benefit). It may have national impact, or be geographically specific.

Your referees did not support your application strongly

Read your referee comments carefully. If your referees are not strongly supportive of you and your project this will put you at a disadvantage over other applicants.

Your referee was an inappropriate choice

Family members and friends are a poor choice to use as referees as they will not be seen as being independent. It is best to identify independent referees who either know you in a professional or other capacity and/or are an authority or very knowledgeable on your topic/issue/area of interest for the application.

Your itinerary was not well thought out

It is critical that you demonstrate a clear understanding of the countries you intend to visit and the organisations and people who you would like to meet and why. Use of the terms ‘to be advised’ or ‘various’ indicates that you have not researched your itinerary sufficiently. You need to make a clear link to the topic of your project. If your proposed itinerary has not been carefully thought through it will reflect poorly on your overall application.

Your application looked rushed

If your application is full of spelling and typographical errors, careless claims or factual errors (selection committee members will do fact checking when assessing your application) you will stand out for the wrong reasons. Get someone you know and trust to read through your application before you submit it to pick up unnecessary mistakes.

Your message was lost in translation

Avoid jargon, technical terminology and acronyms unless absolutely critical (and then make sure you explain clearly). Although the selection committees have representatives from a wide range of backgrounds, sectors and industries it is dangerous to assume that someone will understand jargon. Explain your project clearly using plain-English.

Your topic might be well covered within Australia already

If you fail to demonstrate an involvement or awareness of how your project topic or issue is being addressed already in Australia (or is not, if that is the case) this will undermine your case for overseas travel. You should be aware of the major Australian players in your particular sector, industry or interest area. If you are not sure what is already being addressed on your issue within Australia that is a sign that you are not yet ready to apply for a Churchill Fellowship on that issue.

You stand only to gain commercially from your project

Part of your honest answer might be that your business will be more profitable. That’s okay if it will also enrich the wider community in some way. Maybe it’s a new product or process development that has the potential to employ others or something that could be applied to other businesses. Don’t forget that the purpose of a Churchill Fellowship is to share your learnings back in Australia.

Your project appears to be too ambitious

We encourage applicants to have courage and embrace opportunities, however if your project appears to be unachievable due to the sheer scope of change required to achieve your aims you may want to refine your application. If you have a highly ambitious project you must ensure that you back your ideas up with strong referees, a clear and compelling rationale and an explanation of why you are the right person for the task. The selection committee needs to be able to believe that you are in a position to achieve what you set out to do.

You did not explain how you will share your findings

Churchill Fellows are expected to commit personally to sharing their findings and working towards implementing their recommendations, utilising new skills or striving for change (sometimes all three). Planning to submit a journal article or post to social media is most likely not going to be enough to convince the selection panel that you are the right person to follow through on your commitment.

Be prepared to talk through your communication plans if you get an interview. Referees can also provide important, supportive insight into your abilities in this area for your written application.

Your project seems like the responsibility of your employer

It is not uncommon for applicants to apply for a project that is directly related to their employment. Often in these cases the obvious question asked is ‘why wouldn’t their employer fund this project?’ Consider this aspect and be prepared to answer honestly. It is understandable that many employers cannot afford to send staff overseas for extended periods.

The opportunities and gravitas that a Churchill Fellowship can lend to a project may also be something that an employer is unable to achieve. Many employers offer support for applicants including offering paid leave for some or part of the Churchill Fellowship travel time, especially where the project is of direct relevance.

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