It has provided me the freedom to not have to decide on what research I want to do based upon what funding is available but on the topics that I truly have a passion in pursuing. If it wasn't for the NSF GRFP, I would not be able to work with either of my current advisors (one at Georgia Tech and the other at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory) because at the time, they did not have the funding to take on another student.
But the most surprising outcome of obtaining this award was not only have the opportunity to work with both of my advisors but being the bridge between the two labs, whom both had desired to work with each other but did not have the ability to do so.
It's a game-changer. While it doesn't hold the inherent power to overturn rejection letters, it provides you the opportunity of working with who you want to work with, not with just those with grant-funding.
Since grad school is a feat of stamina and the opportunity to dive deep in a field of research, it's better to dive where you're most inclined to explore versus hanging around until the air in your tank runs out.
While in grad school, the number one advantage is being able to focus on my classes and research, since these are challenging enough on their own without having to worry about finding funding or submitting monthly reports to grant-funders. The GRFP allows you to stay focused on not just getting through grad school but exploring every inch of it.
The best advice that I received when applying for this award was from the Director of the NSF GRFP who said,
"One of the biggest reasons why we would reject a great applicant is their misinterpretation of the Broader Impact criteria. We don't care about the broader impact of your research, we care about the broader impact of YOU! We're not funding your research, we're funding you!"
That's why the most important rule to remember when applying for this award is what have you personally done to further advance science but more importantly, who have you personally impacted to pursue a career of science. Show, don't tell. Show through past and present involvement with plans for the future on how to reach out on another level being an NSF fellow.
I like to consider this award the "Bill Nye Fellowship" because each of us have the responsibility to be our own Bill Nye, not just inspiring those to pursue science but to show everyone just how awesome it is in our own way.
Dias is a doctoral candidate and NDSEG fellor at GIT.
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