Advice from GRFP Panel Reviewers
2013 Note: This page contains quotes from previous years' GRFP panel reviewers. Thus their "advice" may not be directly applicable to this year's changes. Like any other GRFP essay advice you may find on the web, read critically, consult your mentor, and only use suggestions that make sense to you based on this year's instructions.
Are Panel Members Allowed to Offer Advice?
NSF GRFP reviewers are not allowed to disclose their panel assignment or details about the review process. However, panel members are allowed to tell applicants, in general terms, what reviewers seek in a competitive application packet. Keep in mind that panel perceptions may vary by field of study. In other words, GRFP reviewers from the life sciences may differ from those in engineering or the social sciences. That said, based on my experience, and what others have said to me, I believe that panelists across disciplines share similar impressions about "what it takes" to have a highly GRFP competitive application.
General GRFP Essay Advice
- Connect the three essays in a way that tells your story (i.e., who you are, what you have accomplished, and what your plans are beyond school).
- I need to know how the applicant became excited about research.
- Demonstrate cross-cultural competency and your potential to work on international research teams of the
future. For example, discuss what you learned from international travel (e.g., where you went, what you did,
what you learned). Or explain how you have worked alongside international faculty and/or students and
postdocs from other countries.
- Be sure to connect how your experiences have prepared you for a diverse and
Previous Research Experiences:
- The most competitive applicants have already participated in research and published their findings.
- Essays show clearly that the research excites the applicant; the applicant has shown initiative in seeking out
research projects, has shown sustained interested has publications (conference or journal).
- Typically a competitive applicant has two or more research experiences. Include a terse description of these
activities, the conclusions, how they fit into a wider arena of science, and their relationship to the applicant's
- Each experience must include some type of presentation or publication to demonstrate the
applicant can transfer their scientific experiences to a wider public audience.
- Articulate your thoughts in a way that will inform/educate those who are unfamiliar with your specific research
area and leave a positive response from those who are experts in your field.
- Don't copy from a grant.
- Use scientific terms that are understood by researchers across fields of study. For example, don't use an
acronym without explaining it.
- Reviewers must read quickly and efficiently; your score will go down considerably if your essay lacks clarity.
- Does your research address a global issue or have implications for helping people from other countries? Address how you might collaborate with international researchers in the US, abroad or virtually.
- The essays clearly show that the applicant genuinely values service activities, including assisting K-12 youth,
service organizations, Habitat for Humanity, etc., typically for a year or more (not just months).
- Broader impacts are more than publishing research, teaching and mentoring undergraduate student workers;
think about what you are contributing to the field.
- Examples of broader impacts may be being a role model as someone
from an underrepresented group, engaging non-scientists in data collection, disseminating your research
results to the general public or through extension, or working with young children to discover your major.
- Applicants should have a history of the broader impacts. For example, they should be tutoring, sharing their
research experiences with others, and performing outreach activities currently and in the past. Include specific
details about these past efforts. Merely saying they will be done in the future is not convincing.
Tip for finding GRFP essay advice: Contact an experienced GRFP Resource Person (nsfgrfp.org) to learn more about the program.
Thanks to all the current and former GRFP panelists who shared their impressions with me.
Social network discussions
Advice from Fellows
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
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