Watson Fellowship Program*

Initial Bowdoin Deadline: September 14, 2018 (noon)
Campus Interview: September 26 - 28, 2018
Bowdoin Final Deadline: November 5, 2018 (noon)
Web site: http://watson.foundation/fellowships/tj
Campus Contact: Cindy Stocks, Director of Student Fellowships and Research

*Information derived from http://watson.foundation/fellowships/tj

We encourage all students interested in applying to watch a recent webinar by the Watson Foundation: Click here.

Description. The mission of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program is to offer college graduates of unusual promise a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel -- in international settings new to them --to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.

The philosophy behind the Watson Fellowship is to remove oneself from the comfort and stability of Home, exploring the world selectively in pursuit of one’s passion, and discovering along the way one’s potential for humane and effective participation in the world community. The Watson journey is a “solo” experience, to be lived independently but shared broadly with humanity. This is the “Spirit of the Watson.”

The Watson Fellowship program is most concerned with holistically identifying individuals who demonstrate leadership, resourcefulness, imagination or vision, independence, integrity, responsibility and emotional maturity, and courage. A candidate's academic record, while not of primary importance, is also considered, together with those extracurricular activities that reflect both initiative and dedication.

Benefits. The stipend for the fellowship year is $30,000 (~$38,000 for fellows accompanied by a spouse or dependent child). Each year, the Foundation interviews approximately 155 finalists and awards up to 40 fellowships.


  • Candidates must be a currently enrolled graduating senior at one of the Watson Foundation's participating institutions, be scheduled to receive a degree in the winter or spring of this academic year, and be nominated by their institution.
  • The proposed project should reflect a candidate’s genuine interest in, and long-standing commitment to, a specific concern, whether or not this interest is evident in a formal course of study.
  • The project must be one that can be pursued with great independence and adaptability, and it cannot involve formal study at a foreign institution.
  • The project must involve travel to areas where the student has not previously lived or studied for a significant length of time.
  • The project should be personally significant, imaginative, and feasible.
  • Fellows are not allowed to return home at any time during their Fellowship year.
  • A candidate's academic record, while not of primary importance, is also considered, together with those extracurricular activities that reflect both initiative and dedication.
  • Fellows may not plan travel to countries assigned “travel warnings” by the U.S. State Department, or which are under embargo. (See www.travel.state.gov to view list.)
  • Applicants should be aware that the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs is involved with the campus review process.  Students with serious social or academic violations, such as those that are included as part of their permanent record at Bowdoin, are advised to consult with the Director of Student Fellowships and Research early in the process.  Students may also consult with their dean for guidance.

Bowdoin’s Internal Selection Process.  The College is allowed to nominate up to four Bowdoin students annually for the Watson Fellowship. The Selection Committee will review the materials listed below, and those applicants deemed competitive will be scheduled for a campus interview. Based on these materials and the interviews, the Committee will decide which students will receive Bowdoin’s nomination.

By the initial Bowdoin deadline (listed above), please complete the following:

Watson Fellowship Online Application

  • Interested students should contact Gina Pappas in the Office of Student Fellowships and Research and request that they be registered in the Watson online system. Once registration is complete, students will receive an automated email from the Watson Foundation with log-in instructions.

  • While working in the online Watson application, please remember to save your work as you progress. The system will not auto-save your work.

  • Please complete ONLY the following parts of your Watson online application:

    1. Recommendations tab:  Skip entirely
    2. Personal Data tab:  Complete ONLY the following fields: College, Major, First Name, Last Name, How did you hear about the Fellowship, Citizenship, Demographic Data, Aspirations, and Special Conditions.
    3. Activities, Awards, Employment, Education tab:  Complete ONLY the following sections:   Travel, Languages Spoken in Project Countries, and Other Languages Spoken
    4. Project Details tab (click here for additional guidance):
      • Personal Statement (1000 words recommended/1500 words maximum allowed)
      • Project Proposal section: complete all fields; (1000 words recommended for the proposal/1500 words is the maximum allowed)
    5. Supplemental Material section:  all applicants are requested to upload a resume; otherwise, use only as needed
    6. Verification section:  please check appropriate boxes
    7. Transcripts and Headshot Photo section:  upload ONLY an unofficial transcript(s); do not submit a photo
  • On the initial Bowdoin deadline, Gina will pull your application from the online system to share with the campus committee. Though you will not be able to hit the “Submit” button, our office will have full access to your saved application.

In addition, by the initial Bowdoin deadline applicants must:

  • Submit an online video (not to exceed two minutes in length) in which you introduce yourself to the Bowdoin Watson selection committee and briefly explain the focus of your Watson project, why you are interested in this topic/issue/question, and how you will spend your Watson year.  (Click here for instructions)

  • Hand-deliver to Gina Pappas in 110 Moulton or email (gpappas@bowdoin.edu) a signed and witnessed "Permission Form and Waiver"

More on the selection process: After the initial Bowdoin deadline, members of the Watson campus committee will review all the application materials and a subset of students, usually eight to ten, will be invited to interview with the committee sometime at the end of September or early October.  Based on information gleaned during those interviews, the committee will nominate up to four students who will compete for the Watson Fellowship at the national level. 

Each of those four finalists will meet with the Director of Student Fellowships and Research, Cindy Stocks, to discuss recommendations and the process going forward.  In addition, each finalist will be paired with a member of the Watson campus committee, who will be available to advise the finalist through the revision process.  Bowdoin’s finalists are requested to complete and submit their final applications several days before the official Watson deadline to ensure a timely submission regardless of unforeseen problems.

Materials for the Final Application. If you receive Bowdoin’s nomination, by the “Final Bowdoin Deadline,” which is slightly earlier than the deadline posted on the Watson website, Bowdoin’s nominees must electronically submit a completed online application form.

Keep in mind the following:

  • Regarding your transcript, Watson recommends that you scan and upload an unofficial version of your academic history (from Polaris) in order to meet the size requirement of 600KB or smaller.
  • Your passport-style, digital photograph should be a jpg file and cannot exceed 150KB.
  • Remember, your recommenders will not be submitting letters of recommendation, but rather completing a standardized recommendation form provided by the Watson Foundation.
  • At a minimum, finalists are encouraged to include a budget and list of contacts in their supplemental material.

In addition, the Office of Student Fellowships and Research will be responsible for drafting and submitting Bowdoin College’s letter of nomination.

Please be reminded that Bowdoin’s Honor Code applies to the fellowship application process.


Nevan Swanson '18

Nevan is an aspiring photographer and filmmaker, who majored in visual arts and minored in government and legal studies. During his Watson year, he will travel to France, Hong Kong, Poland, and Tanzania. For his project, he will explore the tension and connection between documenting and experiencing.  Alongside embarking on subprojects particular to each country, Nevan will be creating documents in the form of photographs, videos, journal entries, and audio recordings.


Mariely Garcia '17

As an aspiring physician with an interest in health disparities, Mariely is invested in learning how systems of healthcare can evolve to meet the needs of underserved populations. During her Watson year, Mariely will explore the ways in which marginalized parts of people's identities, such as gender, sexuality, and legal status, affect their experiences accessing healthcare. She hopes that her Watson year will make her more sensitive to the factors that affect patients' ability to get well. During her time at Bowdoin, Mariely participated in Project Sunshine, Fostering Female Leadership in Youth (FFLY), and was an active member within the McKeen Center for the Common Good. Read Mariely's blog to learn more.