GRFP Essay Insights: Application Resources for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
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Critiquing Your Drafts

Thoroughly Understand the Review Criteria

In order to critique the strength of your GRFP statements, you must thoroughly understand the two review criteria, Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. The criteria are interrelated and are often confused. It is imperative that you see the distinction, as IM & BI must be addressed separately in both of the GRFP statements. Pay particular attention to the trifold aspects of broader impacts and how the government defines "desired societal outcomes."

Reviewers see your past efforts & accomplishments
as a good indicator of your potential

Recall that during the panel review process, reviewers look at all of your application materials to gain an overall impression of your Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. To be able to critique your own work, you must be able to do the same:

An Unofficial, Self-Assessment Rubric

Remember that the National Science Foundation is the only official source of information about the review criteria. However, because it can be difficult to understand how the review criteria are reflected throughout your application packet I created an unofficial Self Assessment Rubric to help you critique your work. This rubric is designed to help you reflect on the overall impression you present to reviewers. Statements must land solidly in the “2” column. Hopefully, your application packet will also include elements from the "3" column, to help boost your competitiveness. Feel free to share the rubric with others who will be giving you feedback on your draft application materials. Again, this rubric is an unofficial tool. Like other GRFP advice you find on the web, read critically, consult your mentor, and only use suggestions that make sense to you.

Seeing the Criteria through the Eyes of a Review

Another strategy is to critique your work "through the eyes of a reviewer." To do this, set aside your drafts for 2-3 days. When you have uninterrupted time, read your completed online application and both statements without stopping. Pretend that the application belongs to someone else. Analyze for congruence between your past activities and your proposed activities. As example, below are IM & BI questions a reviewer might use to compare your record of past activities to what you propose to accomplish.

Intellectual Merit Through the Eyes of a Reviewer

Past Activities and Accomplishments
Proposed Plans and Activities

How did this student become passionate about scientific study?

What courses and grades are shown on the transcripts? Did this student receive academic honors or awards?

What personal qualities and characteristics does this student possess that have contributed to his or her academic achievement?

How did this student analyze and solve problems? Learn from mistakes?

Has this student planned, conducted and completed an independent research project?

Does the student have team research experience?

Did the student have the opportunity to meet or work with researchers from diverse backgrounds and other countries?

What technical knowledge, skills and abilities did this student acquire? Is the student prepared to undertake a graduate research project?

Where has this student published and presented research findings?

How did the student engage with mentors or participate in professional development activities?

What do the references say about this student's abilities and potential?

Where does the student intend to study? Is the choice consistent with the student's academic and career goals?

Does this student possess the necessary analytical skills, motivation, and determination to persist when presented with a problem or unexpected findings?

Has the student clearly articulated the rationale for pursuing this research (e.g., previous studies; scope of the societal problem; environmental concerns; potentially transformative concepts?)

Is the proposed research plan well conceived, organized and rigorous,
yet appropriate for a graduate student?

How will the student share results or collaborate with other researchers in an effort to advance scientific knowledge within or across disciplines?

Do the reference letters document strong mentor support? Will this student will have access to sufficient resources to complete the research? Will there be an opportunity to connect with international researchers?

Will this student mentor younger researchers?

Does he or she have the potential to become a scientific leader within and across disciplines?

Broader Impacts Through the Eyes of a Reviewer

Past Activities and Accomplishments
Proposed Plan and Activities

How was this student served as a leader on and off campus?

What BI resulted from previous research experiences?

What methods did this student use to educate the public about science and discovery? How diverse were the audiences?

How did this student engaged in activities (e.g., research, study abroad) with people from other countries? Does she/he demonstrate cross-cultural understanding?

Was this student of service to others or address societal challenges?

What are the student's academic and career goals?

What is the potential for BI from the proposed research plan or complementary research activities?

How does this student propose to educate diverse public groups about science and discovery? What specific outreach methods, audiences and venues are proposed?

How does this student propose to engage people from underrepresented groups, such as racial or ethnic minorities, veterans & persons with disabilities in STEM endeavors?

Why should the National Science Foundation make an investment in this student's future?

Statement-specific questions relative to IM and BI are listed on the bottom of the pages for the Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement and the Graduate Research Statement.

Social network discussions
Advice from Fellows

…the real work lies ahead in fulfilling our research duties and advancing technology.

Sarah Smith

'12 Fellow, Biomedical Engineering

University of Missouri


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Updated March 8, 2016 | Site content and handouts created by Robin G. Walker, PhD
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