In January 2013, the National Science Foundation clarified its language explaining the two Merit Review Criteria. Specifically, that "Broader impacts may be accomplished through the research itself, through the activities that are directly related to specific research projects, or through activities that are supported by, yet are complementary to the project" (source). Further, that "The Broader Impacts criterion encompasses the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievements of specific, desired societal outcomes" (source). Learn more about desired societal outcomes.
Panelists come from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and possess multiple perspectives on broader impacts (BI). For example, some reviewers might look for you to explain the BI's that are intrinsic to your research (e.g., technology transfer or new research tools). Other reviewers may want you to explain the potential of your research to address societal challenges or improve the lives of others, particularly under-served groups. Increasingly, most panelists will also expect you to engage in an ongoing broader impact activity. Knowing this, I strongly recommend that GRFP applicants address all three points:
(a) broader impacts that are intrinsic to your research; AND
(b) how your research will benefit society, AND
(c) your intent to execute a BI activity related to your graduate research statement.
Example: This handout helps to illustrate these three facets of broader impacts.
Pitfall: Do not write a passive BI statement such as, "My findings will be of interest to policy makers..." Alternatively, you might explain how you will create [an executive summary] of your findings and present it to [state or local] policy makers in [a certain location] by [a specific date]. Show leadership and be action-oriented!
Tip: The NSF expects its awardees to explain the societal benefits of research. Include BI statements in your elevator speech, cover letters, LinkedIn summary and CV or résumé!
To create a compelling outreach activity, identify (a) a learning objective, (b) target audience, (c) venue, and (d) intended outcome of your BI effort.
Sometimes it is hard to address broader impacts because the criterion is so closely intertwined with intellectual merit. When you are writing about IM, discuss the potential of your research to "advance knowledge within and across disciplines; or the potential for scientific or engineering discovery; or the exploration of creative, original and transformative concepts source. When writing about BI, focus on the potential of your research to benefit society..."source
As a reminder, reviewers seek "evidence" of BI & IM throughout your application packet. Thus, make good use of the sections in the Fastlane GRFP application form; select references who can write strong recommendation letters; and explicitly address IM & BI as separate statements in your Personal/Background/Goals Statement and the Graduate Research Statement.
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