The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program ended February 2017. The site will no longer be updated. More »

Application Walk-Through

Listed below are tips for completing each of the nine (9) sections of the HSS application:

SECTION 1: Personal References

  • Strong reference submissions are crucial for the application review process. These recommendations are scrutinized and weighted very heavily.
  • Be sure supporting submissions are completed by thoughtful individuals who thoroughly understand your work and rationales for pursuing an HSS fellowship.
  • Select referees who can complement and reinforce the information you provide in the rest of the application.  This is particularly important for those selection criteria for which the remainder of the application may not adequately convey your strengths.  For example, if your publication record is weak you might ask a referee who can speak to the strength of the work you have published or your work in progress.  If your leadership experience is not easily conveyed within the existing formats, ask referees who can speak to these strengths.
  • Recommendation submissions should clearly reflect an understanding of the purposes and interdisciplinary nature of the Program: effective recommendations will address the selection criteria and comment on why you will be a good fit for the Program.
  • Don’t assume that the only important evaluations come from Program Faculty. Individuals who can speak to your leadership abilities and commitment to a population health career can also serve as effective references.
  • Due to their role in the review process, current National Advisory Committee members and program site directors are not authorized to provide references for applicants.

SECTION 2: Education and Training

  • Enter all required information in items 1-6, including all undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate or professional training.

SECTION 3: Experience and Skills

  • In item 1, list academic, research, or professional positions you have held, including full-time and part-time positions. Do not assume reviewers will use your CV to access this information. Be sure to provide the dates of each position (if ongoing, use “present” as the end date), and a brief description. Unpaid positions should be listed unless they are more appropriately listed as committee memberships in Section 4 of the application. If you have held more than 10 positions, choose those that are most recent and/or best demonstrate strengths relevant to the HSS program selection criteria.
  • In item 2, describe research and analytic skills you have acquired during your research training and experience. Include all skills that are potentially relevant to population health research. In addition to examples given in the application, these may include skills such as qualitative interviewing, content analysis, geospatial methods, collecting and assaying biological specimens, and experimental design. Be as specific as possible and indicate briefly the extent and type of your training and experience: for example, you might indicate that you took coursework in two methods of quantitative data analysis, used a third for your dissertation, and designed a specific type of survey as part of a job.

SECTION 4: Activities and Publications

  • List relevant committee memberships, honors, professional memberships, and publications in this section. Do not assume that reviewers will access your CV for this information.
  • You may list committee memberships in academic, community, or other leadership/service settings.
  • As leadership potential and collaboration are important to the HSS program, it it reccomended that you use this section this section to highlight activities in which you took a leadership role and/or collaborated with others.
  • If you have more items to list than the application permits, choose those that are most recent and/or most relevant to the Program goals and selection criteria.
  • Be sure to indicate all dates (use “present” as end date if ongoing) and a concise description where applicable.
  • Although listing publications is optional, it is very important to list any you have because reviewers attend closely to this part of the application. Follow the instructions in the application carefully. If you have more than ten potential listings, give priority to publications in peer-reviewed, high-quality journals and those that demonstrate your experience with population health and interdisciplinary research. You may also include books, book chapters, reports, editorials and letters to the editor, abstracts published in scientific proceedings, posters and presentations at national meetings, and papers that are part of an established “Working Paper” series.

SECTION 5: Personal Statements


  • Your essays on your research and the questions you will address as a HSS scholar are critical to the success of your application. Allow yourself sufficient time to develop statements that are compelling, well organized, and clear. Ask your mentors to provide feedback on your statements and revise them at least once. Proofread your statements carefully before submitting.

  • Remember that reviewers may come from a wide variety of disciplines. Express your accomplishments, ideas, and plans in terms that can be understood outside your field of specialization while conveying their significance to your field and the field of population health.

  • It is better to focus your essays on the your most creative and significant work or plans than to attempt to cover your entire research history and your all ideas for future research. Develop coherent narratives that will convince reviewers of your creativity, research abilities, and commitment to research that can inform population health.

  • Demonstrate a deep interest in and commitment to multidisciplinary work.


  • Your essay on your dissertation or recent/current research should describe a study or studies you have conducted that best represents your research interests, strengths, and accomplishments. Your goal in this essay is to demonstrate your research experience, skills, and creativity, as well as a capacity for critical thinking and clear communication. Describe the questions your research has sought to answer. Explain their scientific and real-world significance. Summarize the data, methods, and analytic strategies you used to answer the questions, highlighting any innovative approaches you used or challenges you addressed. Summarize your findings, highlighting novel findings and commenting on how your research contributed to knowledge about the problem. Clearly identify any collaboration or knowledge transfer involving other disciplines – for example you may have collaborated with a researcher from another discipline, or have applied a method or theory from another field. Indicate how you have disseminated or will disseminate the findings of your research and any real-world impact they have had.


  • Your essay on your plans as an HSS scholar should convey your vision for what you would accomplish in the Program, including general research questions you would address, and new methodologies and skills you would acquire. This statement is not binding on your activities in the program, but it should provide a realistic plan that accurately reflects your current goals. The statement should also accomplish the following:

    • Explain the significance of your proposed plan to research and/or action related to population health.
    • Provide enough detail in your research and training plans to enable reviewers to understand what general questions you will address, how you will address them, and what skills you plan to acquire.
    • Demonstrate how your plan builds on your existing strengths as a researcher while also changing the nature of the work that you do. In other words, how will your plan significantly expand your substantive and/or methodological strengths in a way that is feasible and will better equip you to conduct research in population health? Do not propose a plan that extends your current research trajectory in nominal ways.
    • Demonstrate your potential to contribute creatively to the interdisciplinary scholarship involved in population health and your specific area of focus.
  • The following suggestions may be helpful in developing your plan:

    • Highlight a good problem that seems intractable but for which new approaches that stretch beyond your current perspectives and skills might yield new insights.
    • Highlight a well-articulated project that requires discovery and invention to achieve an outcome with the potential for impact on population health science and/or practice.
    • Highlight a problem that hinges on a creative idea and can be feasibly studied using empirical (qualitative or quantitative) methods.

SECTION 6: Writing Sample

  • Follow the instructions in the application carefully.

  • Choose a paper that best reflects your ability to produce a thoughtfully developed, well-written research paper/proposal/brief and your capacity for critical thinking and clear communication.

  • It is permissible to shorten papers to meet the criteria in the application instructions. If you do this, make notes in your document that explain what you have omitted.

SECTION 7: Locations Preferences

  • If you have specific preferences, complete the optional portion of the application asking for comments on location preferences. Give specific reasons for your preference to come to a specific site or sites. Your reasons should reflect your professional and research goals, not a preference for a particular geographic location. For example, you may want to indicate a particular mentor you would like to work with or other reasons for wanting to be matched to a certain site(s). Your reasons should reflect familiarity with the opportunities available at different sites. You may also describe inflexible constraints you may have related to family commitments.

  • Even if you have expressed interest in all sites for which you are eligible, you may still use the space provided in part 2 of this section to comment on your interests in particular sites, as described above.

SECTION 8: Curriculum Vitae

  • Although you will have provided much of the information contained in your CV earlier in the application, you are strongly encouraged to provide a copy of your CV as well as some reviewers prefer to work directly from a CV.

SECTION 9: Additional Comments

  • No elaboration needed.