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Frequently Asked Questions for Students


Is ELISS only intended for science and engineering students?

No! Addressing complex societal issues requires theories and tools from many different disciplines, so ELISS encourages graduate and/or professional student applicants from all fields

Does my research need to be related to one of the ELISS theme areas?

No. The applicant’s area of research or study does NOT need to relate to the selected theme area(s). In fact, fellows are encouraged to explore unfamiliar topics in order to shine new lenses on difficult problems.

Are non-US citizens and international students eligible?

Yes! International students enrolled at ELISS partner campuses are encouraged to apply. 

Am I eligible if I will be enrolled when the program starts, but plan to graduate before the first quarter/semester of 2017?

No. Applicants are eligible only if they are enrolled in a graduate or professional program for at least one quarter/semester beyond the end of the ELISS program. We require an extra quarter/semester of enrollment so that ELISS does not interfere with graduation activities.

Do I have to be enrolled at the time the application opens in June of 2015?

No. However, applicants must be enrolled in a graduate or professional program at a partner campus and have identified a permanent supervisor by August 15, 2015. If a program does not require a permanent supervisor, applicants must secure permission from the faculty program director.

Am I eligible if I'm enrolled as a part-time student?

No. Applicants must participate as a full-time graduate or professional student in their degree program for the duration of the ELISS program. We realize many programs have different credit requirements. Please review the guidelines for full-time status in your program and email ELISS staff if you have any questions about your eligibility.

Are undergraduate students eligible for ELISS?

No. ELISS is for students enrolled in graduate and professional programs only.

Are post-doctoral fellows eligible for ELISS?

No. ELISS is for students enrolled in graduate and professional programs only.

If I've already completed one professional or graduate degree and am currently pursuing another, am I eligible to apply?

Yes. Applicants are eligible as long as they are enrolled in a graduate or professional program at a partner campus for at least one quarter/semester beyond completion of the program.

Am I eligible if I'll be studying or doing research off-campus during the fellowship year?

Typically not. Applicants will actively engage with people on their campuses and in their local communities throughout the fellowship year. Therefore, applicants are NOT eligible if they will be off campus for more than 2 weeks in a given term during the academic year. Applicants may be away from campus during the summer, but MUST attend an in-person summer planning meeting and occasional virtual meetings in addition to the in-person orientation and final DC briefing.

Can I be involved in other extracurricular activities while in ELISS?

Yes. ELISS encourages applications from members of existing student organizations, in order to share ELISS resources and learn from a larger number of students. ELISS fellows will also be asked to involve other students and student organizations on their campuses in ELISS activities. However, given the significant time commitment required in ELISS, we caution against committing to large responsibilities in other organizations during your ELISS tenure.

Expectations of ELISS Fellows

What is the estimated time commitment as an ELISS fellow?

Fellows will be required to travel for three meetings with the whole ELISS cohort. The following dates do not include travel time:
•       January 14 afternoon – January 19 evening, 2016: Orientation and Leadership Workshop near Seattle, WA
•       June 3 – June 6, 2016: Mid-year planning meeting, location TBD
•       December 9 – December 11, 2016: Final presentation and year-end review, Washington, D.C.
Back at on one’s home campus, the estimated time commitment averages 3 hours per week from October 2015 until orientation in January 2016 and 5 hours per week thereafter.
What if I can’t attend one of the travel dates mentioned above?
Please do not apply if you cannot rearrange your schedule to attend these trips in their entirety. Since ELISS is a collaborative program, and in-person time and workshops are critical to that experience, both you and your colleagues will be negatively impacted if you cannot attend. In particular, orientation is so important for building community and a shared vision that anyone missing it, regardless of the reason, will not be allowed to continue as an ELISS fellow.

Do I need permission from my supervisor to participate in the ELISS program?

Yes! Although ELISS is an extra-curricular, volunteer activity, ELISS fellows are also representatives of their universities, degree programs, and campuses. Therefore, ELISS semi-finalists must obtain permission from the supervisor with whom they will work during the ELISS program in order to be considered as finalists. Applicants in programs that do not assign supervisors must receive permission from their program chair.

Will I need to pay any ELISS expenses out-of-pocket?

No. Travel and training expenses will be paid by ELISS, and you will receive a budget to carry out your ELISS projects. In addition, ELISS graduates may apply for professional development funds and seed grants for follow-on projects after the fellowship year, as funds allow.

Since ELISS is an extra-curricular activity, will I get to make my own schedule to work on my team project?

It depends. Fellows must be willing to collaborate with others to identify a work schedule that advances the goals of ELISS, team projects, and individual fellows. Since ELISS team members will have different program requirements, life obligations, and time zones, fellows may need to work occasional evenings, weekends, or early mornings.

Will my ELISS work/project take precedent over my graduate program?

No! ELISS is an extra-curricular activity. As such, fellows are expected to maintain good progress toward their degrees, as agreed upon between the fellow and supervisor.

Will I work with fellows on my campus or from different campuses?

Both. ELISS fellows will work most closely with fellows on their home campuses, who will meet regularly to develop a discussion series, stakeholders’ form, and support one another’s’ development as collaborative leaders. You will also work with fellows from other campuses to leverage expertise across communities, develop recommendations for national leaders in Washington, D.C., and develop policies and processes that enhance the ELISS experience and impact.

If awarded a fellowship, how do I prepare for the experience?

Finalists in the class of 2016 must participate in a “fellow-in-training” period from the time of acceptance (October 2015) through orientation (January 2016). During this period, incoming fellows will spend an average of 3 hours per week “shadowing” current fellows, exploring potential topics, attending ELISS-related discussions and social events.

Will there be opportunities for further engagement after the 15 month-long program?

Absolutely. We envision the program to be an entrée into a life-long, interdisciplinary professional community with a common desire to benefit society. ELISS graduates are invited to stay engaged with program planning, governance, and mentoring. In addition, ELISS graduates will be eligible to apply for seed grants for their own follow-up projects and may eventually be invited to work on paid ELISS projects.

Will fellows have any influence on the direction of the ELISS program?

Yes! Part of a fellows’ required leadership experience is to play an active role in organizing, evaluating, and improving ELISS to advance the mission and vision and experience for future classes.

What to Expect of the ELISS Program

Does the fellowship come with a stipend or funding for my graduate research?

No. ELISS is a volunteer activity and therefore does not provide a stipend or research funding.

Does ELISS pay for my travel costs?

Yes. ELISS will pay for all travel expenses associated with ELISS activities, including the required orientation, summer planning meeting, and national briefing in DC. Please note that, as a pilot program on a shoestring budget, we will ask you to share rooms and be frugal travelers. 

What topic will I work on as an ELISS fellow?

In advance of orientation, we will ask sponsors and local leaders about topics that are currently on their agenda in our two theme areas: Health and Energy/Environment. At orientation, fellows will participate in a group decision-making workshop to choose one or two of these topics.

What is the duration of the ELISS program? May I opt for a shorter program or extend the program?

The duration of the ELISS fellowship is 15 months (October 2015–December 2016). Finalists must sign an agreement committing to participate for the entire program and may not participate for a shorter period of time. Those who successfully complete the program will have various opportunities to participate in ELISS in different roles beyond their fellowship tenure.

How big is an ELISS class?

We plan to select between two and four fellows per campus, for a class size of 15-20 in 2016.

What if my supervisor is not supportive?

Applicants will not be accepted without a supervisor’s approval. ELISS encourages applicants to have a professional, honest discussion with their supervisor/PI/mentor to discuss career goals and how the ELISS program will help to achieve those goals. In return, applicants should understand their supervisor’s goals and how they can help to support them. Applicants may wish to refer faculty to the  FAQ for Faculty.

Will the ELISS Fellowship be available in subsequent years?

Yes. While the size of the class and type of activities are dependent on funding, we anticipate that the ELISS program will be available for the foreseeable future.

How did you choose the partner campuses?

Graduate and professional students at partner campuses earned invitations for their campuses by participating in an online signature drive. Students then secured permission from their provosts and other campus administrators. All partner campuses have made a modest financial contribution to support fellows from their campuses.

What if I'm not enrolled at a partner campus? Can I still be involved with ELISS?

Unfortunately, only students enrolled at partner institutions are eligible to apply for ELISS. We anticipate inviting additional campuses in future years. If you would like to receive notice of the signature drive, sign up here.

How does this fellowship compare to the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowship?

Many current and former AAAS S&T policy fellows have contributed to ELISS and ELISS has learned from AAAS about running a successful fellowship program. Beyond that, the two programs are quite distinct. First, they target different career stages: ELISS is for graduate students in all fields, whereas the S&T policy fellowships are for post-PhD level STEM graduates. Second, ELISS does not focus exclusively on federal policy; rather it examines the opportunities for industry, universities, state/local governments, non-profits, and individuals to help address challenges in society.

Preparing a Successful Application

Is there an application fee?


What is the application deadline?

The Class of 2016 application process occurs in five steps. Applicants must complete all steps by 11:59pm local time on the deadline to move to the next step.
Step 1: Confirmation of Eligibility (Due: May 10, June 8, and June 28, 2015)
Step 2: Written Application (Due: July 19, 2015)
Step 3: Obtain Supervisor Approval (August 18 - August 28, 2015)
Step 4: In-person Interviews on campuses (September 8 - September 18, 2015)
Step 5: Sign participant agreement (one week after notification, in early October 2015)

Are in-person interviews required?

Yes. Semi-finalists MUST be able to attend on-campus interviews between September 8 and 18, 2015 and will be contacted in late August for scheduling.

What is the acceptance rate for ELISS fellows?

We anticipate an acceptance rate of approximately 20%. The actual acceptance rate is subject to change depending on the size of the applicant pool and number of spots available.

When in my graduate career should I apply?

This varies by individual, but is very important to consider. Successful applicants will have some depth of expertise and experience beyond an undergraduate degree, but are not so overburdened that they are unable to commit the necessary time and energy to ELISS. Fellows must be present on campus during the academic year, so it is also important to plan around field work or other activities that will require substantial time off-campus.

May I receive feedback on my application either before or after it is submitted?

No. Applicants will not receive feedback on their applications from ELISS staff at any point during the application process. We encourage applicants to speak with their mentors and peers to strengthen their application materials and interview skills.

Who should I ask to write reference letters?

Applicants should acquire letters of reference from individuals who are best able to comment on their abilities in the context of the selection criteria. While this may or may not include the applicant’s supervisor/PI/mentor, all semi-finalists are required to obtain written permission from their supervisors to participate.

What happens if one or more of my recommendation letters arrive late or not at all?

Applications missing letters of recommendation will not be reviewed. It is the responsibility of the applicant to follow up with referees to ensure letters are submitted by the deadline.

Can I reapply for an ELISS Fellowship in future years?

Yes. Applicants are encouraged to reapply for the ELISS fellowship in future years as long as they continue to meet the eligibility and selection criteria.

May I apply to more than one theme area?

Yes. In the online application, you can specify your level of preference for each theme area.

How will my theme area preference affect my application success?

Theme areas help reviewers to understand the diversity of interests among the applicant pool and to solicit topics and sponsors. Applicants who demonstrate flexibility in theme preference may have a slightly higher overall chance of being selected as finalists. However, applicants should only indicate interest in a theme area if they are willing to devote a year to a project in that area.

Will I be more competitive if I have conducted research or classroom study related to the theme area(s)?

No. Previous experience with the theme area is not one of the selection criteria because everyone has a problem-solving lens that can be applied more broadly. In fact, innovative and new ideas often result from methods or theories from one field being applied in a new way.

What if my question isn't answered here?

Please review the website thoroughly for additional information: For any unanswered questions, please contact