GRFP Essay Insights: Application Resources for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
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John Smeda, '11 Fellow
Plant Breeding & Genetics
Cornell University

What does being funded by the NSF GRFP mean to you?

To me being funded means confidence. I went into the application thinking I had no chance, and that it wasn't worth the effort. I was wrong. When I found out that I had been funded, it gave me a surge of confidence going into graduate school that I could handle the transition, and that I could be successful planning and carrying out my own research. 

What has been the greatest advantage of winning the award?

The greatest advantage that I have seen is opportunity. When I received the award I started to look into other options for graduate school. Places that I hadn't considered applying were now on the radar, and what's more, professors who were eager for students but didn't have funding were now options. I was able to get into the lab I wanted which wasn't possible before due to a lack of department funding. The NSF GRFP opened that door. In addition, there are a number of exciting nuances with the GRFP, such as funding for travel associated with your research. It is evident to me that the opportunities that are created if awarded the NSF GRFP are of incredible benefit and arguably its greatest advantage. 

What advice do you have for a student who is not sure
about applying?

I would say the biggest reason to apply for fellowships like this one, in my opinion, is for the experience. What I mean is that this is similar to the type of projects that graduate students will outline for their thesis and classwork.

In addition, investigators apply for grants and funding for research through a very similar type process, and the principles and experience gained through applying for fellowships like the NSF GRFP are directly applicable for a myriad of later applications.

Other reasons to apply include the fact that if rejected, one can receive useful feedback that can greatly facilitate a successful second attempt.

Finally, 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.

Science is about trying and learning from mistakes. If you don't try, you can't succeed. 


Where is he now?

Smeda is a doctoral candidate at Cornell. LinkedIn Profile

Social network discussions
Advice from Fellows

NSF GRFP funds translate to increased creative potential and hence potential for success and happiness.

Roberto Miguez

'09 Fellow, Engineering

University of Michigan


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