Advice from GRFP Panel Reviewers
Note: This page contains quotes from previous years' GRFP panel reviewers. Like any other GRFP advice you may find on the internet, read critically, consult your mentor(s), 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 competitive GRFP application.
General GRFP Statement Advice
- Connect the [statements] 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 study abroad or 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.
- Writing that shows clearly that the research excites the applicant; the applicant has shown initiative in seeking out
research projects and, 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 [statement] 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 [statements] 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).
- 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 of the former GRFP panelists who shared their impressions with me.
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Advice from Fellows
…once you finish the NSF GRFP application, your graduate apps will be a snap.
'12 Fellow, Biomedical Engineering
University of Texas at Austin
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