Is it important for me to read the instructions carefully?

Okay, you already guessed that this is one question I never really was asked! [I promise, all the others are real questions.] I put it first, though, because it is the single most important piece of advice I can give you. It is through your application that you are presenting your case to the Selection Committee. Careful and thorough adherence to the instructions will cast your application in a more positive light. Also, the Selection Committee reviews its forms and instructions each year, which means that this year’s forms may be significantly different from last year’s forms.

Do I need to have a mentor?

Yes. You must have a letter of recommendation written by the person who is agreeing to serve as your mentor over the next two years. Mentors possess the expert knowledge and skills that you will turn to in completing your proposed work. They also will support you in thinking through and preparing a compelling application, monitor the progress of your work, and provide you feedback and guidance for bringing it to successful completion. The close collaboration involved means that selecting the most appropriate mentor and having him or her officially recommend you are the vital starting points in the process.

Who may serve as a mentor?

Most typically mentors are full-time members of the faculty.  Staff holding faculty rank may also serve as mentors.  If a member of staff who does not hold faculty rank has the expertise and relationship with you that you think is ideally suited to mentoring your work, you need to explain this clearly in your application.  In all cases, the mentor must be on a full-time, long-term contract with Elon.  [Therefore, although visiting faculty or part-time faculty offer much to the intellectual vitality of the institution, they may not serve as mentors.] However, if your mentor was planning on being away for one of the semesters during your junior or senior year [e.g., on sabbatical], he or she could still serve as your official mentor.

Can I have two mentors?

Yes, it is possible to apply as co-mentors of a Lumen Scholar; please see the application process page for more details.

Do I need a second letter of recommendation?

Yes. The letter from your mentor serves as the first of the two letters you need to have submitted in support of your application. This second person should be able to speak in specific detail to your accomplishments and scholarly/creative potential. At times, such a recommendation might best come from someone in a different department or program within the university than the mentor, or someone from outside Elon. That’s fine. Just remember, the main emphasis in both letters is not a general testimony that you’re a good person, but a detailed discussion of your experiences and accomplishments, coupled with your skills, interests, and work attitudes that suggest why you are ready and able to conduct the work you are proposing.

If two letters are good, then wouldn't 3, 4, or 5 be better?

No. At least not for the Selection Committee who is reading all the material. In all seriousness, if the two letters described above are done well, they will provide the committee the information it needs. So, do not submit any further letters of recommendation. Only the first letter of recommendation submitted to the program office will be included in your electronic folder of application materials.

What if I transferred in lots of AP credits?

This actually reflects a bigger reality.  Some students bring with them AP credits, IB credits, or transfer credits from community colleges or other four-year institutions they attended prior to enrolling at Elon. Therefore, by the time they are in their “second year” at Elon, students may have quite varying numbers of completed credits.  To be eligible for consideration for a Lumen Prize, you need to be at least a second year student AND be intending to remain an Elon student for the next two years.  Which brings me to our next question.

May I graduate early?

No. Recipients of the Lumen Prize are expected to make a good faith commitment to continuing their work as Elon students for the following two years. [Of course, they may choose to study abroad during part of that time.] We see Lumen Scholars as outstanding members of our campus community, as people who are engaged in projects that enhance our joint intellectual lives. Quite frankly, then, we want to keep you around for two more years.

For my application, do I need to know ALL the details for the next two years?

Do any of us know all the details for our work over the next two years? No; it is understood that it is too early for you to know every last detail involved in completing your work. However, there is a big spread between “every last detail” and a serious shortage of details. Here are two broad considerations the Selection Committee will be taking into account.

First, you should state the clear and specific focus, goal, or purpose guiding your proposed work. You should also make it clear to the committee why pursuing such a goal matters. Reasons for this can vary – in some cases the proposed work speaks to important research issues in one’s discipline; for others, the work brings the knowledge and skills of one’s discipline to the attempted solution of some pressing human problem. Whatever your reasons, you want the committee not only to know them, but also to get excited about them – to understand why you are interested in spending a major part of the next two years of your life in their pursuit. You also want to let them know that you have the conceptual foundation to explore these issues at an advanced level. It is understood that you will be learning a lot more about the issues involved in your work during the next two years. However, your application needs to convey more than a “good heart” or noble intentions. While those are important things, you are proposing to conduct intellectual/creative work and need to convey a reasonably informed and critical understanding of the issues involved.

Second, you should have some reasonably well developed ideas about the specific activities you will undertake in pursuit of those goals. It is more at this level that the details might not be 100% complete. You might not know at this point which particular instrument you’ll use to measure medical patients’ quality of life, which of two techniques you’ll use to estimate women’s social status, or the exact rhyme scheme of the ring of poems you plan to create. That is fine, and you will work out those details at the appropriate time with your mentor. But you should be able to discuss your basic approaches and proposed activities. You should be able to give at least enough detail to convince the committee that this is a proposal with legs, rather than wishful thinking. That is, there should be that middle ground of detail, where not everything is necessarily known right now but enough is included to show that you’ve given solid preliminary thought to what will be involved. In keeping with this, you should be realistic about what you propose. Are the skills or procedures that you are proposing  already ones you know or ones that your mentor can teach you? If not, have you identified the resources on campus [or elsewhere] where you might get the necessary training?

A final word on this already long answer: Balance. You want your application to present a compelling balance between the “big picture” and the details. If you have an exciting “big picture” focus, but the details for going about it are unclear, poorly developed, or seemingly unrealistic, your proposal will suffer. If you are exhaustive, specific, and detailed in your methods for pursuing things, but fail to convey why pursuing this work matters in the first place, your proposal will suffer. The best proposals balance both. Successful proposals struck that balance in different ways; if you’d like to review some examples of proposals from previous Lumen Prize awardees, go to “Archived proposals.”

How specific does the budget need to be?

The budget is largely determined by the activities being proposed (including activities directly related to your project, as well as those related to your general intellectual development; see next question).  And because this was the area where things were unlikely to be 100% certain, it is not expected that the budget will be either.  Once again, however, there is considerable spread between 0% and 100% clarity.  The more realistic detail the applicant can provide, the clearer it is that he or she has seriously thought about how to implement his or her over-arching goals and objectives.  That kind of detail helps convince the committee that what the applicant is proposing is feasible. However, it is understood that one cannot be exact.  [For example, no one would expect you to know the exact cost of the airfare to a conference you might first learn about next year!]

Are there limitations on the use of funds?

Yes, but not many. No more than $15,000 of the award may be used toward direct tuition assistance. Of that, no more than $7,500 may be used during the junior year. [However, if one uses less than $7,500 during the junior year, all of the rest up to the $15,000 cap may be used toward tuition in the senior year. Note that these figures refer to Lumen Prizes awarded in 2018 and beyond; earlier prize amounts were slightly lower. Scholars who were awarded the Prize prior to 2018 should refer to their letter of commitment.]

Different types of research require different amounts of financial support. For research projects that are cost-intensive, the committee will expect to see that much of the budget is used to execute the project. For those projects that are not as cost-intensive, it is appropriate to include other uses of your funds that relate directly to your intellectual development, if not directly to the proposed project. First and foremost, of course, the committee will want assurance that you will use the funds wisely to make your proposed project as successful as possible. But if meeting that goal does not require the entirety of your Lumen funds, it is appropriate to plan to use them to achieve other intellectual goals. For example, many Lumen Scholars have used their Lumen funds to help defray the costs of applying to graduate school.

Appropriate uses of the funds, then, will depend on the needs of your project and your own intellectual aspirations. Here are some examples of common uses of Lumen funds (this is, obviously, not an exhaustive list):

  • Purchase of books
  • Purchase of lab materials
  • Gift cards for research subjects
  • Travel to conferences
  • Purchase of necessary software and/or hardware
  • Study abroad
  • Certification programs
  • Professional services (transcriptions of interviews, for example)
  • Travel to prospective graduate programs
  • Living expenses while completing an unpaid internship

You might wish to know that Lumen Scholars submit all allocation requests to the program director. While I try to ensure a prudent use of funds, I avoid being rigidly prescriptive. We strive toward being open and receptive concerning the uses to which the funds are put.

Also, should you receive the Lumen Prize, you and your mentor will have regular conversations about your ongoing use of your Lumen funds, and you will be required to share any changes to your budget with the Lumen director on a regular basis.

Please note that the IRS has regulations governing scholarships and fellowships. Some of Lumen Scholars’ expenses are tax-free [e.g., Elon’s tuition and required fees] while some expenses do not qualify as tax free. If you have specific questions about tax issues, you might wish to consult with your family’s tax advisor.

Are there specific courses I will be required to take?

No. Being awarded a Lumen Prize does not add any specific additional course requirements.  However, because the prizes support significant independent scholarly/creative work, over the course of the junior and senior years, Lumen Scholars enroll in a minimum of 8 semester hours of LUM 498: Thesis Research.  [Lumen Scholars who are also Honors Fellows fulfill this requirement when they enroll in their HNR 498: Honors Thesis hours.]  You may space out those hours as best suits your overall program of study and in consultation with your mentor.

Can my proposal focus on pursuing my career directions?

Not really.  At least, that should not be the main purpose of your proposal. The Lumen Prize was created to support exceptional scholarly and creative endeavors.  Many if not most Lumen Scholars will go on to pursue advanced degrees in graduate or professional schools.  As part of being a Lumen Scholar, recipients will meet with Dr. Janet Myers, Director of National and International Fellowships, to discuss programs and awards [e.g., Rhodes, Truman, Goldwater] that might support them in those academic pursuits.  Certainly some Lumen Scholars will move directly after Elon into career positions.  Indeed, the work all Lumen winners undertake will probably have very real value for their career development, and it is our hope that Lumen Scholars will become leaders in their chosen walks of life. However, career development is a happy by-product of the endeavor, not its primary focus or intention.