Example of a successful NSF GRFP application

The other day, I posted a tweet offering to share my old National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program application materials with anyone who was planning to apply this year. Dozens of people have messaged me asking for a copy, and it has become clear to me that there is huge demand for examples of successful fellowship applications.

In the hope of making science just a little bit more open and accessible (and to avoid having to reply to everyone individually), I’ve decided to post my application materials online. They’re available on Figshare for anyone who is interested in reading them. I’ve also added them to the Open Grants project, which acts as a central repository for publicly shared grant and fellowship applications.

I’ve also written up a couple of notes about the application process.

These are from the 2013 application, submitted when I was a post-bac RA applying to PhD programs. It was my second time applying: I had previously applied to PhD programs and the GRFP in my senior year of undergrad. The particulars of the application (e.g. page lengths, formatting) have changed a bit since then, but the evaluation criteria have stayed largely the same.

If I were to give any specific advice, it would be to make sure you hit each and every point of the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts criteria. Reviewers will often literally have a checklist they go through to see if an application addresses all of the necessary points. The University of Missouri has a great site called GRFP Essay Insights which I found very helpful when writing my application. Someone also linked me to the awesome NSR GRFP Advice page created by Mallory Ladd, which features detailed advice, suggested timelines, additional examples and more!

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, I want to emphasize that I got lucky. Yes, I’m proud of the application I submitted, but luck plays a major role in who gets selected for the GRFP (and for grants in general). So much depends on who you get as reviewers, their expertise, even whether they’ve had a bad day when they’re reviewing your application. I have read GRFP applications from friends and colleagues that didn’t get funded despite being much better than what I submitted. Remember that no matter the outcome of your application (award, honorable mention, or even rejection), you belong in science just as much as anyone else.

I’m happy to try to answer any questions people might have, though I can’t promise to have any unique insight. Feel free to post a comment.

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