P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Q&A: Sociology PhD Student Sandra Portocarrero Looks Back At The Fellowship

Why did you apply to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?

I applied to the PD Soros Fellowship to have the financial peace of mind I needed to pursue a PhD in sociology, and to be part of a network of hardworking New Americans who are actively involved in improving different realms of US society.

You’re now finishing up the second year of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program. Has the Fellowship been what you expected?

It has exceeded my expectations. Research shows that when your community has higher expectations of you, your performance will increase (see: Rosenthal and Jacobson 1968: Pygmalion in the Classroom). Just knowing that I was selected from such a large pool of applicants, being exposed to the experiences of past Fellows, and feeling like I am part of a network of such accomplished immigrants makes me feel like I can achieve everything I set my mind to achieve. I wish I could attend all the PD Soros Fellowships conferences, every year of my life, because they are extremely empowering spaces.

What have the primary benefits of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship been for you? 

The stipend offered by Columbia for the PhD in sociology program increased, and two of my three required teaching years were waived. This allowed me to focus solely on my research, and to successfully apply to other fellowships during my second year (NSF GRFP). I have also made excellent friends with whom I can be myself and share our unique experiences as immigrants.

Do you have any favorite memories from your Fellowship experience?
Something that I am always ruminating on is the fact that I have always taken care of others (my parents, my family), but for the first time in my life I feel that others are taking care of me. Staying in a hotel will all expenses paid, having a nice dinner, going to Mrs. Soros apartment: all of that meant a lot to me! I’m not sure that can be considered a memory, but it is a constant thought I have. And of course, going to see Hamilton on Broadway! I think the 2015 class was very lucky to see that Broadway show.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying?

Be yourself and be honest every step of the way. Your transcripts and recommendation letters will speak for your academic performance. Let your personal essays tell the story of who you are as a person, not just a professional. Also: apply. Even if you think that it is a tedious process. It really is not. In fact, compared to other fellowships, the application is not as difficult. If you qualify, applying to the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans will be one of the best decisions of all your life. Even if you don’t win, writing about yourself and reflecting on your past experiences and accomplishments is a positive and self-assuring experience in itself.

Where are you in your graduate program now? What’s next?

I just finished the second year of my PhD program, and all course requirements. I will focus on writing an article to publish, and drafting my dissertation proposal. I got excellent comments from my advisors this year.

How do you plan to stay active with the Fellowship community in the years to come?

I plan on attending all events in New York, continuing to be in touch with my friends, and connecting Fellows with informative events at Columbia if needed.

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