GRFP Essay Insights: Application Resources for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
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Selecting reference writers

Choose mentors who know you best

Your GRFP application will not be complete without three strong letters of reference. Select reference writers who can attest to your scientific knowledge, team skills, and lab abilities and convince others of your potential as a researcher, educator, leader and scholar. The letters should also confirm that you will have adequate resources to conduct your graduate research project.

How it works: As the GRFP applicant, you will log into FastLane GRFP and submit the name and email address of 3-5 references in ranked order. The system then generates an email message to each of your references with (a) letter writing instructions and (b) the procedure for uploading letters directly into the Fastlane system.

Your best options for finding reference letter writers:

Other options for identifying reference letter writers:

Working with faculty members

Set an appointment with each potential reference writer to discuss the GRFP and your intent to apply. Take your resume, your Graduate Research Statement, and a printed copy of this page for GRFP reference writers. Explain how the GRFP will help you achieve your goals. Then ask, "Do you feel that you know my strengths well enough to write a positive letter of reference for me?" Allow plenty of time for your writers to submit letters. You can initially approach them early in the year, then confirm their willingness to write a letter once the NSF opens the competition cycle. By early September, submit the names and email addresses in Fastlane, so that your writers receive their official instructions as soon as possible.

Follow up with your reference writers two weeks before your deadline. First, check Fastlane to make certain that at least three letters were received. If not, send a gentle reminder about the deadline. Once the letters are in the system, send your references a brief thank you note by email.

On the confidentiality of reference letters

As the applicant, you will not be able to view the reference letters in Fastlane GRFP. If a letter writer asks if the reference letters remain confidential, please tell him/her that the NSF protects writer's identity to the "maximum extent possible." However, there is also the chance that under the Privacy Act of 1974, the NSF may be required to release a copy of the letter. Details are provided after references writer login to Fastlane GRFP.

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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 August 6, 2014 | Site content and handouts created by Robin G. Walker, PhD
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