GRFP Essay Insights: Application Resources for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
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Review Criteria:
Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts

According to the 2016--2019 GRFP Solicitation: "When evaluating NSF proposals, reviewers will be asked to consider what the proposers want to do, why they want to do it, how they plan to do it, how they will know if they succeed, and what benefits could accrue if the project is successful. These issues apply both to the technical aspects of the proposal and the way in which the project may make broader contributions. To that end, reviewers will be asked to evaluate all proposals against two criteria:

"The following elements should be considered in the review for both criteria:

  1. What is the potential for the proposed activity to:
    a. Advance knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields (Intellectual Merit); and
    b. Benefit society or advance desired societal outcomes (Broader Impacts)?
  2. To what extent do the proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
  3. Is the plan for carrying out the proposed activities well-reasoned, well-organized, and based on a sound rationale? Does the plan incorporate a mechanism to assess success?
  4. How well qualified is the individual, team, or organization to conduct the proposed activities?
  5. Are there adequate resources available to the PI (either at the home organization or through collaborations) to carry out the proposed activities?" Source: 2017-19 GRFP Solicitation, section VI A.

Reviewers seek evidence of IM & BI throughout your GRFP application packet!

"Reviewers evaluating applications submitted to the Graduate Research Fellowship Program may consider the following with respect to...

Intellectual Merit Criterion: the potential of the applicant to advance knowledge based on a holistic analysis of the complete application, including the Personal, Relevant Background, and Future Goals Statement, Graduate Research Plan Statement, strength of the academic record, description of previous research experience or publication/presentations, and references. Holistic review is a flexible, individualized way of assessing an applicant's interests and competencies by which balanced consideration is given to experiences, attributes, and academic achievements, and when considered in combination, how the applicant has demonstrated potential for significant research achievements in STEM and STEM education.

Broader Impacts Criterion: the potential of the applicant to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcome based on a holistic analysis of the complete application including by personal experiences, professional experiences, educational experiences and future plans." Source: 2017-19 GRFP Solicitation, section VI A.


You must include separate, labeled paragraphs for IM & BI in both of your GRFP statements

The 2017-19 GRFP Solicitation, section VI A states that "...applicants must include separate statements on Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts in their written statements in order to provide reviewers with the information necessary to evaluate the application with respect to both Criteria...It is recommended that applicants including heading for Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts in their statements."


Tips: If you are short on space, use in-paragraph subheads in boldface to draw their attention to the required IM & BI paragraphs. Also, remind your references to address your potential for IM & BI, according to the Reference Letter Guidelines. Finally, don't skip sections in the Fastlane GRFP application form, because what you add to these sections helps to document your potential for IM & BI.


Learn more about "Broader Impacts"
Learn more about "Desired Societal Outcomes"

Note: NSF provides IM/BI details on their Merit Review and Merit Review Criteria Resources pages.

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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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