David Knight, PhD Student | Political Science

2016-2017 Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship awardee

First, what drew you to the Ford Foundation’s Predoctoral Fellowship program? What about it seemed like a good fit for you and your work at the time that you were applying?

I was drawn to the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship because of its emphasis on diversity as a resource in higher education and commitment to ensuring the diversification of university faculties. The fellowship and foundation broadly aligned with my professional background and ongoing research interests in the experiences and trajectories of diverse young adults. Previously, I was a teacher in San Francisco and Boston, in addition to working with youth in South Africa and the Dominican Republic. I also published research, wrote for popular news outlets, and produced documentary film that drew on my experiences in urban education and youth development. This kind of public engagement and translation of knowledge to different platforms, which I had been doing before applying to doctoral programs, is highly appreciated by the Ford Foundation and Ford Foundation Fellowship programs.

You’re also a fellow of the NSF GRFP. Because students apply for the NSF GRFP early on in their PhD programs, before their dissertations are underway, the fellowship is seen as a kind of investment in a young scholar’s potential. How did you go about presenting your professional experience from before grad school in a way that was compelling or suggestive of your potential as a scholar?

From what I have learned based on personal experience and secondary evidence, application materials are meant to contribute to an academic profile of the applicant. The more integrated and coherent the application, the better. So I simply tried to demonstrate in my application how my professional, personal, and intellectual experiences and pursuits all tie into a coherent whole. The NSF GRFP as well as the Ford Foundation Fellowships are ultimately funding people, not just proposed research projects.

In my own application, I emphasized how my prior professional positions, in addition to my undergraduate experiences, provided an important knowledge base with which to make a unique contribution in the field of political science.

Has either fellowship enabled any experience or opportunity that you hadn’t counted on, but that has since proven important for you and your research?

Ultimately, people shape one’s experiences and the opportunities that will be made available. Both the Ford and NSF GRFP remind me of this fact. Both fellowship programs catalyze the building of networks of friends, colleagues, and mentors, in addition to offering concrete opportunities for research and professional development. This includes research conferences and partnerships at institutions beyond your home university. These two professional networks have been invaluable to my experience.

More about David’s Research

Knight’s dissertation will focus on the intersection between the politics of race and ethnicity, collective action, and social inequalities in the lives of diverse young people in U.S. cities.

More about the Ford Foundation Fellowships

Through its Fellowship Programs, the Ford Foundation seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, to maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and to increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. Ford offers funding opportunities at the predoctoral, dissertation, and postdoctoral levels. More information here.