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The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Application can be a daunting and intimidating undertaking. To lend a hand and provide some direction, I have compiled a list of tips for approaching the NSF GRFP Application.

1. Read the guidelines!

Read the NSF GRFP Solicitation. This document provides all the guidelines you will need to complete your application. For example, your application can’t suggest anything related to clinical trials and must stick to “basic science.” The 2021-2022 GRFP Solicitation can be found here.

2. Do your homework.

Know what you’re getting into! There are many resources on the NSF GRFP. You can attend talks, panels, and Q&A sessions held by the NSF. Be sure to talk to Kayleigh Anderson, a wonderful resource on the UCI campus. This information can help especially with the “Broader Impacts” and “Intellectual Merit,” essential sections of your statement and proposal. 

3. Don’t go in alone!

One of the most important steps is to make sure that you have guidance and support going into your application. Make sure your PI or a willing advisor is on board!

4. What can you bring to the field?

A great way to showcase your scholarship is to explore what is missing from your field. Ask yourself: What requires further research? What perspective can you bring? What’s missing? Consider these questions with your PI. Discussion with peers can also be helpful! And remember, the personal statement is just as important as your proposal. The NSF wants to see how your past experiences qualify your potential to be an impactful scientist; it’s part of your intellectual merit!

5. Plan ahead.

Creating an outline or checklist for your thoughts and ideas is crucial. Outlines are helpful for assembling your ideas and checklists ensure you include all the right details. Use whatever works for you! You can use a whiteboard to map out your thoughts, a simple word processor to make it easy to edit, or the organizational app of your choosing!

6. Reread and revise. 

Once you have your statements on paper, have others peer-review it. You should have at least three other sets of eyes, with at least one person from outside your field. They can help you make sure your ideas are clear and easy to understand. You can also book an appointment with a fellowship mentor through the UCI Graduate Division. Your PI will be helpful at this stage too. At the same time, respect your peer reviewers’ time and communicate with them well in advance before sending them a draft. Remember, you will go through a lot of revision so don’t be afraid to have even 10 drafts!

7. Learn from the past.

Past GRFP winners and their reviewers’ comments can prove to be excellent resources. You can see what worked and what could be improved in others’ applications. They can inspire new ideas and help you keep your eye on the fellowship. You can use this database for examples.

Co-authored by Alexis Danielle Guerra and Jacqueline Markham