Every year, TED opens applications for its new group of TED Fellows. We get thousands of applications from all corners of the world, representing every field under the sun — marine mammal conservation, biomechatronics, Khmer dance, space archeology. How do we select just 20 people to become TED Fellows?
It’s not an easy process. (Technically, our acceptance rate is lower than Harvard’s.) But we love reading your applications and hearing about your latest medical breakthroughs, ambitious art projects and incredible explorations in outer space and under the sea. We also love seeing the diversity of the people doing this groundbreaking work.
What exactly makes for a good application? Here are five traits that we look for in a TED Fellow.
A track record of achievement. In order to be selected, you have to have done something in the world. What does that “something” look like? It depends. Maybe you’ve started a company or invented a new product. Maybe you’ve made a groundbreaking film or discovered a new galaxy. Whatever you’re doing, you should be deep in your craft, building something big.
Individuals on the cusp of a big break. Beyond a track record, we are looking for people who are ready to make a giant leap forward, and could benefit from support. Fellows are often in the early part of their careers, but we also know that big breaks can happen at any age. Fellows’ projects should have real potential for impact, and they should realistically be scalable in the next three to five years. What that scale looks like depends on the project, but we select Fellows whose ambitions are big and often global.
Originality and authenticity. An original “idea worth spreading” is the key to a successful Fellows applicant. Maybe you’re working to make a current system more efficient or equitable. Or maybe you’re working across fields, challenging the underlying assumptions of our current systems and creating brand-new ones. In fact, we’ve chosen Fellows whose work is just getting off the ground — but whose vision of the future is so imaginative and convincing that we know TED’s network can help them realize that future.
Kind, collaborative character. The TED Fellows program now encompasses more than 450 Fellows in more than 90 countries. We’re looking for people who want to engage deeply in this amazing network — build companies together, start nonprofits, share research. Often, TED Fellows are engaging deeply with the communities around them, perhaps in the places where they were born or raised. In our experience, some of the best and most overlooked ideas for our contemporary global challenges come from those whose lives depend on the solutions.
The truth is, we don’t always know what we’re looking for. Often, Fellows totally surprise and challenge us with brand-new ways of thinking about the world. There really is no secret formula to becoming a TED Fellow, but we know it when we see it. If you’re unsure about applying, do it anyway.
Does this sound like you or someone you know? Our application will open on June 25, 2019.