Apart for finding it interesting, I got involved in science and research because I felt that could make some impact on the world. Being funded by the NSF is like a validation by some objective people who don't know me that I am on the right track. The accomplishment has given me more confidence and motivated me to continue working hard.
The greatest advantage has been a sense of freedom in the kind of research that I can do and a lack of worry about my financial situation. I also like that I have access to a supercomputer and other programs offered through the NSF.
If you are thinking about going to graduate school, then you owe it to yourself to apply. There are resources and people, like Dr. Walker and others, on campus who are happy to help you. However, all of this is moot without effort on your part. The process of writing the essays with a critical eye to what you have done and desire to do will give you insights about your own achievements (and shortcomings). Even if you don't win, you'll have essays from which you can draw from to write the numerous personal statements for graduate school applications. Start early and good luck!
Kiran is a conducting bioengineering research at Northwestern.
An important reason to apply is that a significant part of the application is about assessing your confidence in yourself. Even if you don't receive the fellowship, applying can boost your confidence that you have the tools and ability to plan and propose research, which is essential to succeed in graduate school.
'11 Fellow, Plant Sci