So, you’ve decided to apply for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship! Congrats! And why wouldn’t you apply, considering that NSF GRFP winners get 3 years of funding towards their STEM PhD (including STEM education). Plus, the NSF (http://www.nsf.gov/) is an awesome organization that supports amazing research and outreach!
However, because the NSF is so awesome, a lot of qualified people apply. Check out the NSF GRFP website for the basic rules and requirements. Read below for tips on things that can help set your application over the top! You’re amazing, and if you play your cards right, you can totally get this awesome award.
1) They judge you on two categories: "Intellectual Merit" and "Broader Impacts." These are EQUALLY IMPORTANT so don’t neglect the BIs. This is where they get you.
2) NSF is a basic science organization. Make sure your proposal addresses basic science questions not medical questions. Even if your research is engineering-y or medical-y, figure out a way to spin it towards the basic sciences. Having an underlined/bolded hypothesis is great!
3) Professors take time out of their busy schedules to review your application and report back to the NSF. NSF ultimately picks the winners from amongst the top scorers. The reviewers’ only payment is the warm fuzzies they feel reading about the next generation of scientists. So be nice to these reviewers. They are probably reading your application on an airplane home from a conference or something.
5) It’s all about YOU. Use “I” not “we.” Emphasize the specific things that you contributed to the project, even if they don’t seem as cool as the main thing that the 50-person team accomplished.
6) Audience! Your application will be reviewed by someone in your field, but not necessarily someone who knows everything about it. E.g., if you’re applying in biology you can assume that the reviewer knows what PCR is, but they might not be super familiar with the particular signaling pathway you’re investigating. Be specific and clear, but don’t get too jargon-y and technical. Be extremely conservative with acronyms usage.
7) Include a section where you outline your backup plan in case your experiments fail and/or don’t give the expected result.
8) Ask your friends, lab-mates, and professors to read and re-read your essays, and listen to their comments!
9) Broader Impacts!! Including this again because it is so important. Emphasize science outreach to kids, communities, and non-scientists. Include a section called Broader Impacts in your personal and research statements, and talk about the broader impact work you’ll incorporate into your future career. Broader. Impacts. Everywhere.
Good luck with the essays! The hardest part is sitting down to write, but I know you got this.