Applying to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program  (August 2016)

Applying to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (August 2016)

October 17, 2019 3 By Stanley Isaacs

(upbeat music) – Welcome. I’m Joerg Schlatterer. I’m a Program Director at the
National Science Foundation. We help manage the Graduate
Research Fellowship Program. – And I’m Susan Brennan. I’m also a Program Director at the Graduate Research
Fellowship Program – Today, we will describe our program, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program. – And we’ll also tell you how to create a competitive application and a little bit about the review process. – The National Science Foundation is an independent federal
agency that was created in 1950. The mission of our agency is to promote the progress of science, to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare, and also to secure the national defense. It funds approximately 20% of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s
colleges and universities. Since 1952, NSF has issued
fellowships every year. The Graduate Research Fellowship Program has two major goals. The first is to select,
recognize, and financially support individuals who have
demonstrated the potential to be high-achieving
scientists and engineers early in their careers. The second goal is to
broaden participation in science and engineers of
under-represented groups, including veterans, minorities, women, and persons with disabilities The Graduate Research Fellowship Program aims to recruit individuals into science, technology,
engineering, or mathematics, or STEM. We offer a five-year award that is worth a total of $138,000. Within that five-year period, you’ll receive a stipend of three years, which is currently set
at $34,000 per year. For each of those three years, your institution will also receive $12,000 as an educational allowance. This is used to cover
your tuition and fees. You might wonder what advantages
the fellowship provides during the remaining two years. During the five-year period, you can take advantage of professional development opportunities, for example, GROW, Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide, where you could go to one of
the partner countries of NSF, and participate in research projects which help you to progress in
your thesis research project. Or, you could join a federal
partner agency or laboratory to participate in an
internship opportunity known as the Graduate
Research Internship Program, or GRIP. Both of these opportunities are described in the solicitation, and, in separate, dear colleague letters. Also, you will have
access to a super computer through the XSEDE program, and if necessary, you could take advantage of NSF’s Career Life Balance Program. For example, if you have to be absent from your research laboratory for reasons such as caring for your family, becoming a parent, or for health reasons, you can apply to NSF
for up to three months of salary support for a technician who could
conduct research on your behalf. Now, we would like to share with you the unique features that are affiliated with the Graduate Research
Fellowship Program. This program does not make awards to specific projects or institutions. We support individuals. When you receive an award, you decide which project
you would like to wok on. You can decide which advisor
you would like to work with, and you can choose to spend your award at any graduate program that admits you. Universities and colleges love having graduate research fellows in their graduate programs. Another advantage of
receiving the GRFP award is that there is no
service requirement attach. This award is entirely portable, which means that you
could conduct research at any accredited US institution as long as you work towards
a graduate degree in STEM, either a master’s degree
or a doctoral degree. NSF typically issues 2,000
fellowships per year, across all fields of study
across the whole country. Last year, roughly 16,800
applications were received. That means the overall success
rate was approximately 12%. That’s relatively low. However, another group of applicants are recognized by NSF
with honorable mention, meaning that they’re deserving of an award if there were sufficient
funding available. In general, preparing a GRFP application can get you ready to
apply to graduate school and help you explore and
articulate your goals. We believe that everyone
who applies for a GRFP award is a winner. All the information you
have to know about GRFP is published in a document
called the solicitation. We suggest you print out
the most recent version of that document for careful review. The solicitation contains
what you need to know about the deadlines,
eligibility requirements, and the most current award information. You will receive instructions
about this submission process and learn about NSF’s
application review criteria. Let’s talk about eligibility. Not everyone is eligible to
apply for a GRFP fellowship. You have to be a US citizen,
national or permanent resident. You should also be early in your training, either an undergraduate
student or a graduate student. You should wish to pursue a
research based graduate degree, a master’s degree, or a doctoral degree, in any kind of STEM field. We will talk about the different
fields a little bit later. but most importantly, if you apply, you should be ready to enroll in an accredited US institution by the fall after you
apply for the fellowship. As a GRFP applicant, you’re allowed to apply at
different times in your career. What does that mean? You can apply as an undergraduate senior, or as someone who has received
an undergraduate degree, but who has not started
graduate school yet. You can apply as a
first-year graduate student, typically a month or two after you’ve started graduate school. If you have not applied as a
first-year graduate student, then you can apply in your second year. This level of applicant has less than 12 months
of graduate student by August 1st of the application year. Finally, you can apply if you had more than 12
months of graduate studies under your belt and an an interruption
of more than two years in your graduate training. Those are students who wish to
come back to graduate school. How often can you apply for the Graduate Research Fellowship? It’s not unusual to apply more than once. However, you are limited
to one application per yearly competition. As a senior or someone with
an undergraduate degree, you can apply as often as you wish before starting graduate school. However, you must be prepared to be enrolled in graduate school the fall after you win the fellowship. After you’re enrolled to graduate school, there is a restriction. You can apply only once
as a graduate student, either in your first year
or in the second year of your graduate training. The eligible fields of study in the Graduate Research
Fellowship Program are listed here, ranging from chemistry to STEM education. During the application process, you have to indicate which field of study best matches the research you will do and the training you will
receive in graduate school. Your selection of a field of study is used to assign your application to a review panel of professionals who will evaluate your application. This is a very critical
selection so keep that in mind. Consult with your advisor and mentors if it’s unclear which
panel you should apply to. The panels are listed
on the NSF GRFP website. On the topic of eligibility, we have to point out
areas and degree programs that are not supported. Individuals enrolled in the joint science-professional
degree program, for example, an MD PhD or JD PhD program, would not be eligible to
receive support through GRFP. Also, any kind of business administration or management programs are not supported. Counseling, social work,
education, history, except STEM education and STEM history, would not be supported. If you plan to conduct research with directly disease related goals, you would not be eligible
for the support through GRFP. Clinical research,
patient-oriented research, and health services or policy research are also not supported. Let’s talk about the GRFP
application time line. The solicitation is typically
posted in July August. Make sure that you understand when your specific
application deadline is. It’s typically at the end of October. Your reference letter writers will need to submit their
letters very early in November. Between November and the end of March, NSF determines the
recipients of the GRFP awards and honorable mention with input from the panels
of expert reviewers. If you are offered an award, you have to accept it before May 1st. At which time, you also have to declare
your fellowship status. Your fellow ship year
begins either on June 1st or September 1st of the
year after you applied. – Thank you. Joerg. Next, we’ll talk about applying for Graduate Research Fellowship and how to prepare a
competitive application. A complete application package consists of the following parts. The first part is the personal information that you list in your application, which includes your work
and educational experiences, your proposed field of study, and any academic honors or scholarships that you may have received. Don’t just list the
name of the scholarship. Say something about what it’s
for, or why you were selected, or how important it may be. Put things in context for the reviewers. Very important, you
should list information about your research experiences so far, any presentations, talks, or posters, whether presented at your
college or university, or at an outside conference. If you have been productive enough to have publications
already, do list those. Many applicants, especially early on, don’t have publications yet. But if you have a paper
in press, or submitted, or an honors thesis, or even results from data
that you’re writing up now, some of the reviewers will
wanna know about those also. The reviewers vary on how they judge and weight your achievement, so it’s important to be
as clear and accurate about this information as possible, say what state all of
your experiences are in. The second part is your
three-page personal statement, otherwise known as your
personal relevant background and future goals statement. Now here’s where you can tell your story, including explaining the details about the research
experiences that you listed in the previous item. Now we’ll talk more about preparing a personal statement in just a moment. And the third part is your
graduate research statement, which is only two pages. Probably, you’ll spend the most time preparing these two statements. The fourth part consists
of all of your transcripts, which you’ll upload electronically. And then the last part, the fifth part, consists of your three
letters of reference. These are due the first
Thursday of November, the week after the deadline
for your application. Your letter writers must
get them in by the deadline, which is 5 p.m. Eastern time. Keep in mind, this is Eastern time, and not the local time of where the letter writers are located. Make sure your letter writers understand when the deadline is, especially because it was different in previous competitions. All of these details are
contained in the solicitation. So let’s go into detail about preparing your Graduate
Research Fellowship application. First, let’s talk about
your personal statement, the three-page statement. This is where you explain your life, how your life and academic experiences demonstrate your potential for achievement in science, technology,
engineering, or math, STEM, research. So telling your story, who are you ans where are you going, help the reviewers get to know you a bit. Tell them about your
motivation for the field that you anticipate entering, your experiences, whether
personal or professional, that contributed to your
motivation for your decision to pursue STEM education
in graduate school and a career in STEM. Explain how you prepared
yourself for this. Also, how have your experience
has shaped your goals? How have any successes, or
especially any failures, motivated you? What inspires you? Have you had to overcome any obstacles? What use have you made of the resources that were available to you in your life in school and so far? In your personal statement, be sure to provide details and examples, rather than vague claims. Do talk about individual
research experiences. What was the project that you worked on? What was your part in it? Where is it done? Why was it worth doing? How did your part fit in with the whole? What did you learn? Did you have to do any advanced
coursework or preparation in order to do this? Try to present a coherent picture, rather than just a list of seemingly unrelated experiences. In the personal statement, you should also discuss your
career aspirations and goals. It’s very important as
I’ll discuss in detail to address NSF’s merit review criteria. As part of this three-page statement, make sure you include separate statements that the reviewers can use to identify your intellectual merit
and your broader impacts, more on that in just a moment. The second statement that’s part of your Graduate
Research Fellowship application is the two-page research statement. Here is where you describe the research that you plan to conduct
in graduate school. This will help the
reviewers judge your ability to plan, motivate, and conduct research, as well as your ability
to think like a scientist. You’ll need to be very
concise in this section, just giving enough background
to motivate the reasons or hypothesis behind your investigation. Do connect the dots for the reviewers who are not all experts in your topic. Making clear to them what’s innovative, original, or potentially
important about your study. You’ll wanna display your
depth of understanding of both the questions and your approach, and how to know if you’ve succeeded. You might also sketch out the future steps after your first project or projects, or what you might do if the data don’t come out as you expect. Just as in the personal statement, you wanna include separate statements that highlight both the intellectual merit and the broader impacts of the research that you’re planning to conduct, which brings us to NSF’s
merit review criteria. These review criteria
are used foundationwide. They include two things, intellectual merit and broader impacts. NSF evaluates all Graduate Research
Fellowship Program applications, as well as all research proposals on how important the proposed activity is to advancing knowledge within it’s own field or
across different fields, intellectual merit. As well as how well does
the proposed activity benefits society or advance
desired societal outcomes, broader impact. Again, that’s what the
reviewers will be looking for, so do include both of
those in both statements. Your merit and impact as an individual, as a young scientist, can be differentiated
from the merit and impact of your research topic. First, here are some examples
of intellectual merit that you can consider for
your personal statement. How well do you plan and conduct research? How well do you work
as a member of a team, as well as independently? And how well do you
communicate the research and interpret it. Now let’s talk about your broader impacts. Notice that these are only examples here. This is not a checklist. Coherent applications do not
have all of these things, and you may well have others. Societal benefits can come
from many kinds of activities. It can include the impact of you as an individual on society. Now, NSF is interested in increasing the participation of
under-represented groups, including women in some fields, or under-represented students, students with disabilities, or veterans. Again, you don’t have to be
under-represented in your field, but if you’ve done something to broaden participation of others, you may wanna talk about that. You can also have broader impacts by improving STEM education generally, where can have impact on society by increasing scientific literacy. This can come from writing
about science for the public, blogging, radio or television
broadcasting about science, or you may be an active
person in a science club or in a professional
organization for other students. You might have brought along
younger students in your field through tutoring them or
other kinds of outreach. So definitely include
what you may have done that could address NSF’s goal to improve the competitive STEM workforce
through your activities or through helping others. And of course both the
intellectual merit of your research and the broader impacts of
your research on society are things you’ll need to cover in the two-page research statement. You can highlight these with headers, or in other means if you wish, so that the reviewers
can find them easily. So, now let’s go into the details of how to make your
application competitive. As Joerg mentioned, many
students apply for these awards, and only 2,000 every year win, across all areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. So how do you make your
application competitive? Make sure you address both review criteria in both statements. Think about what counts
as intellectual merit in your personal statement, again, your academic performance, grades, the classes that you’ve taken
as shown in your transcript, or any awards or scholarships
you may have gotten. The reviewers will look carefully at your graduate research plan
written in each statement. And they’re interested in how
do you motivate the question. Do you show any kind of sophistication about how you will try to answer it in terms of the methods? Are you naive, or do you have
a sense of how science works? You might talk about how you’ll know if your question is answered, or what you might do if things
don’t turn out as you expect. And again, you can sketch
briefly what you may do next. For broader impacts, they’ll look at the whole package
for that criteria as well. They’ll look at your
prior accomplishments, your future plans. Essentially, we’re asking these reviewers to try to predict the future. Are you going to be a
high-achieving scientist? Possibly the best predictor
of the future is the past. If you can show a patter of
what you’ve done in the past and how that can predict what you’re going to do in the future, that’s a good thing. Even if you’re changing research areas from your undergraduate
to graduate training, that’s fine. But do convey the pattern of
how you think and how achieve that address your potential
for impact on society. Your individual experiences details here will be very important. Now, a few words about
letters of reference. For your letters, make sure you select
individuals who know you well, who may have mentored you, who can speak to your potential as a graduate and new researcher in assessing your abilities
when they write your letter. It’s a really good idea to
educate your letter writers about the Graduate
Research Fellowship Program if they’re not already familiar with it. Educate them about the criteria, intellectual merit and broader impacts, and ask them if they can
address these criteria on your behalf. It’s a really good idea to share your research
and personal statements with your letter writers, because that way they can be prompted for any experiences that
they’ve ha with you. And again, you may even want to ask different letter writers to address different
parts of your application. Now, a complete application includes three letters of reference, but you can list up to five just in case. Since you’re not the
one who submits these, when they get submitted is not
entirely under your control. So if you list four or five, that makes it more likely that you’ll have the three that you need to be received by NSF before the deadline. You should rank the letter writers if you list more than three. And you can change that ranking
right up until the deadline. NSF will look only at the top three ranked letter writers in your package. Now, do keep in mind that the solicitation is the official word on
deadlines of all sorts. This three-year solicitation
has the writer deadline as the first Thursday in November. And again, it’s 5 p.m. Eastern time. So now let’s talk about
the review process. As you prepare your application, keep in mind your audience, which is composed of the reviewers within the field of study
that you’ve selected, plus NSF. When you choose your field of study, look carefully at the other related fields that are included, along with yours, that will be looked by your panel. Your materials will need
to the understandable to all of the expert panelists assigned to review your application. Although they’re all experts, it’s very likely that some of them won’t be researchers in
your particular topic. So be very careful not to assume that the reviewers will all understand the jargon that’s common in your field. Your application is assigned
to a particular panel based on the field of
study that you chose, but I know some of you may
find this to be a tough choice if you’re interdisciplinary. You may have a quandary in terms of which field
of study to choose. You could ask your letter
writers or your advisors for advice on that. But again, think about what kind of panel is most likely to find your
topic and your field of study interesting, worthy,
and that kind of thing. That could give you some
input in your decision in terms of which panel to choose from, if you have more than one choice. It’s also a very good idea to select the primary field of study that’s most closely aligned with the kind of graduate training and the program that you’re joining or that you’re already in. For some of you, again,
that’s obvious and easy, and for others, it may be trickier, so do look at the website and
do consult with your advisors. So, the panels conduct what we
think of as holistic review. Holistic review is a
flexible individualized way of assessing your
interest and competencies by which balance considerations given to experiences that attributes
academic achievements, and when considered in combination, how you’ve demonstrated potential for significant achievement
in science and engineering. So panelist aren’t
actually counting things. They’re looking at the big picture of you, and they’re thinking about
what use have you made of the opportunities available to you. The reviewers are asked by NSF to use the the two foundation
wide review criteria, and to look holistically
at each and every part of your application. This includes everything you submit, not just the list of experiences, but the personal information
and awards and all of that, and then both of your
statements and your transcripts, and your letters of recommendation. You will receive written comments from the reviewers as well, specific to your application
for both intellectual merit, and then a separate set of
comments for broader impacts, and then a summary statement. And again, the qualitative
ratings that you’ll receive will be E for excellent, V for very good, G for good, F for fair, or P for poor. So before you begin your application, do start by asking yourself. What is special, unique, distinctive, or impressive about you
and your life story? Certainly, when you write
your personal statement, you want your audience to feel like they know a little bit about you, that they understand what makes you potentially a high-potential scientist. You might also discuss
details of your life that might help the
reviewers better understand what motivates you, what makes you tick, and what makes you different
from other applicants. Keep in mind that they’re
reading a lot of applications. Think about conveying. Make sure you’ve conveyed when you actually became interested and committed to your field, and when you learned about it and how, and what was it about yourself that convinced you you’re
particularly well-matched to the field that you’re entering. Think about whether it makes sense to convey what you’ve
learned about the field through classes, readings, and study, seminars, other kinds of experiences, or by being inspired
by people in the field, or experience you’ve had. Any of these things could
contribute to your personal story, and what reason in general
can you give the reviewers, the panelist, and NSF to be interested in supporting you in this fellowship. Just to some up, some advice, start early. Well, that’s easier said
than done sometimes, but it really is a good
idea to start early and not have to rush through this, because the GRFP fellowship
has wonderful benefits that can really change your
life as a graduate student. You should read the
solicitation and read it again. It’s a good idea to peruse the Graduate Research
Fellowship Program’s website. We have a website with lots of examples of other fellows and what
they’ve done, their achievements. And you can see the kinds of details that I’ve covered partly in these remarks. As I mentioned before, be as clear as you can for the reviewers, give them enough context,
connect the dots for them. Keep in mind that even
other experts in your field, they’re not working in the same topic that you are working in. So, you need to frame
everything, so that a scientist who isn’t doing exactly what
you’re doing can follow. Pay a lot of attention t
the merit review criteria. It’s a good idea to make this
findable for the reviewers, have headings about
your intellectual merit and broader impacts in
both of your statements. Make it easy for the reviewers. Another reason to start earlier is so that you have time
to ask multiple colleagues to comment on your statements drafts. Make sure everything is clear to them. Also, select and confirm
your letter writers early. Make sure you’ve set
up a way to remind them as the deadline approaches. And again, if you think it will help them, you can share your statements with them. You can also monitor them, see if they’re letter is on the website as the deadline approaches. So now Joerg and I will
tell you about some resource that you can use as you
prepare your application. – I would like to point out two websites. The first one is the official
NSF website, There you will find the solicitation. features videos
and additional material, which will help you with crafting a competitive
application package. – And to look forward,
you could take a look at the GRIP and GROW parts of the website. These have to do with the
additional funding opportunities available to our fellows. GROW, or Graduate Research
Opportunities Worldwide, and GRIP, Graduate Research
Internship Program, list the federal agencies in
which some of our fellows work, as well as the foreign countries in which they can do research. – If you have any questions, please feel free to contact
us by email or phone. Best of luck with your GRFP application. – Good luck. {upbeat music)