Thomas J. Watson Fellowship
The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, named after the founder of International Business Machines (IBM), offers graduating college seniors of "unusual promise" (see sidebar) the opportunity to engage in one year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. Its goals are to enhance the capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster humane and effective participation in the world community—in short, to develop future leaders who are self-reflective, well-informed, and mindful world citizens. Watson Fellows receive a stipend of $25,000* to carry out their projects.
What Would You Do with $25,000?
First and foremost, the Watson Foundation invests in people, not projects. The project is simply the means to an end; the real takeaway is your personal development. With this in mind, do not plan on changing the world as a Watson Fellow; instead, envision learning from the world and being changed by it. Your project should involve independent, purposeful exploration of an area of demonstrated concern and personal interest—in other words, the thing you are most passionate about. What is that one thing you truly love, the activity or topic that excites you even when things are not going your way? The first thing that comes to mind is generally the most authentic.
In planning your project, take advantage of the unique nature of the Watson Fellowship: it is experiential, not academic. So if your passion is also an academic interest, consider how you might pursue it as a PhD dissertation and what a graduate school would not fund. Then figure out how you could propose it as a Watson instead. Because the year's experience may not involve extended formal study at a foreign university, your project should be one that can be pursued with great independence and adaptability. Moreover, you must stay in charge of your own agenda, so while using a non-governmental organization as a contact is fine, working for that NGO is not. The project should be challenging, yet feasible; personally significant; and sustainable over 12 months.
Finally, a Watson project is something that you have wanted to do and dreamed about doing for a considerable period of time. If it's cold and rainy, and you have lost your passport, and your camera has been stolen, and you're sick, and your best friend is getting married back home, but you still want to stay abroad and pursue your project, that's a Watson.