Below is the prompt for the Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement:
Please outline your educational and professional development plans and career goals. How do you envision graduate school preparing you for a career that allows you to contribute to expanding scientific understanding as well as broadly benefit society? Page limit - 3 pages
Describe your personal, educational and/or professional experiences that motivate your decision to pursue advanced study in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). Include specific examples of any research and/or professional activities in which you have participated. Present a concise description of the activities, highlight the results and discuss how these activities have prepared you to seek a graduate degree. Specify your role in the activity including the extent to which you worked independently and/or as part of a team. Describe the contributions of your activity to advancing knowledge in STEM fields as well as the potential for broader societal impacts (See Solicitation, Section VI, for more information about Broader Impacts).
NSF Fellows are expected to become globally engaged knowledge experts and leaders who can contribute significantly to research, education, and innovations in science and engineering. The purpose of this statement is to demonstrate your potential to satisfy this requirement. Your ideas and examples do not have to be confined necessarily to the discipline that you have chosen to pursue.
If you have completed more than 12 months of graduate or post-baccalaureate study or a professional degree and an interruption of at least two consecutive years (fourth option under Completed Study in the NSF GRFP Program Information section), please address the reasons for the interruption in graduate study here. Please refer back to that section for details.
Important questions to ask yourself before writing the statement:
- Why are you fascinated by your research area?
- What examples of leadership skills and unique characteristics do you bring to your chosen field?
- What personal and individual strengths do you have that make you a qualified applicant?
- How will receiving the fellowship contribute to your career goals?
- What are all of your applicable experiences?
- For each experience, what were the key questions, methodology, findings, and conclusions?
- Did you work in a team and/or independently?
- How did you assist in the analysis of results?
- How did your activities address the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts criteria?
Below is the prompt for the Graduate Research Plan Statement:
Present an original research topic that you would like to pursue in graduate school. Describe the research idea, your general approach, as well as any unique resources that may be needed for accomplishing the research goal (i.e., access to national facilities or collections, collaborations, overseas work, etc.) You may choose to include important literature citations. Address the potential of the research to advance knowledge and understanding within science as well as the potential for broader impacts on society. The research discussed must be in a field listed in the Solicitation (Section X, Fields of Study).
Important questions to ask yourself before writing the statement:
- What issues in the scientific community are you most passionate about?
- Do you possess the technical knowledge and skills necessary for conducting this work, or will you have sufficient mentoring and training to complete the study?
- Is this plan feasible for the allotted time and institutional resources?
- How will your research contribute to the "big picture" outside the academic context?
- How can you draft a plan using the guidelines presented in the essay instructions?
- How does your proposed research address the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts criteria?
Applicants are required to submit three reference letters. There are five slots available for applicants to list reference writers. Applicants are strongly encouraged to utilize all available slots.
The reference letter should provide details explaining the nature of the relationship to the applicant, comments on the applicant's potential and prior research experiences, statements about the applicant's academic potential and prior research experiences, statements about the applicant's proposed research, and any other information to enable review panels to evaluate the application according to the NSF Merit Review Criteria of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts.
Applicants can improve their chances of obtaining strong reference letters by doing the following:
- Choose your references carefully; choose people that can speak to your abilities and potential, rather than someone with a prominent title.
- Provide referees sufficient time to write a strong letter.
- Discuss the application and share your essays with them.
- Inform them that reference letters should reflect both your "intellectual merit" and "broader impacts."
- Track submission of letters using your status page in the FastLane application module - if necessary, remind reference writers about deadline. No late letters will be accepted under any circumstances.
- Have backup references in case one of your primary reference writers cannot submit their letter.
Your academic transcript is the evaluators' opportunity to view the courses you have taken, allowing them to determine your level of preparation for your proposed plan of research. Thus, it is a significant component of a complete application.
An academic transcript is required for every institution you have listed in the application module. If your transcript contains your academic records for more than one degree, you need to only upload your transcript once. You can select a checkbox on the application that the transcript information for an institution is contained on the uploaded transcript for another entry on the Education and Work Experience section of the application.
Graduate Research Plan Statement
With this statement, you must demonstrate that you can conceive and begin planning an original research project. Your task: "Present an original research topic that you would like to pursue in graduate school. Describe the research idea, your general approach, as well as any unique resources that may be needed for accomplishing the research goal (i.e., access to national facilities or collections, collaborations, overseas work, etc.) You may choose to include important literature citations. Address the potential of the research to advance knowledge and understanding within science as well as the potential for broader impacts on society. The research discussed must be in a field listed in the Solicitation."Source
Important: Before you begin writing
Precisely follow the official instructions for this statement, found only in the online application form in Fastlane GRFP https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/grfp/Login.do. You will enter your research title and keywords into Fastlane. This step gives you extra writing space as this statement is limited to two pages. Also remember that you are required to address both the Intellectual Merit (the potential of your research to advance knowledge) and Broader Impacts (the potential of your research to benefit society) of your research plan. Use separate statements for each. More on the review criteria.
For your consideration
As appropriate to your discipline and research topic, you may propose a qualitative or quantitative or mixed methods study. While it seems that the words "general approach" signal writing flexibility, I still highly recommend that you (a) work from an outline or worksheet, (b) propose rigorous methods, and (c) write in a scholarly fashion. I believe that in order to be competitive in the GRFP selection process, your research statement must read like a two-page research abstract.
- Your rationale for selecting a research topic and methods should be informed by the literature (or bodies of literature if you are proposing an interdisciplinary project). Research plan worksheet
- Select a graduate research topic that relates to your stated career goals.
- The scope of the research project must be doable for a graduate student.
- Be realistic about needed resources (e.g., travel, equipment, supplies) and how to cover costs.
- Select appropriate and rigorous data collection/analysis methods for a quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods study. Borrow a research methods book from your mentor.
My Best Advice Remains: Work closely with your mentor(s) on this statement.
Addressing your role in a larger research project
Reviewers understand that quite often students work on lab teams funded by external grants. If your graduate research topic is part of a larger research project, make certain that you explain this. Devise a rigorous plan, then specify how your findings will contribute to the overall research project. Be clear about your role and responsibilities. IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not copy and paste sections from a grant proposal - that is plagiarism. Final tip: Reviewers understand that student researchers need to acquire and hone additional research skills. If your proposed research topic will be a challenge with your current skill level, don't fret. Briefly explain how you will gain the necessary skills to conduct your research successfully (e.g., graduate courses, summer research, training and/or mentoring.)
Questions a Reviewer Might Pose Related to the
Graduate Research Statement
- Has the student presented a well-organized statement? Writing clear? Definitive?
- Is the topic creative, innovative or potentially transformative?
- How did the student justify the need for this research topic?
- Is the "general approach" appropriate for the topic? Are methods rigorous?
- Has the student identified possible pitfalls or limitations with this topic?
- Is this student ready conduct a graduate research project on this topic?
- What is the mentor's expertise and how strong is the mentor's support of this research?
- Do the references letters confirm that the student will have adequate research resources?
- How will the student publish/present scholarly findings within and across disciplines?
- If the student proposed international research or field study, is it relevant?
- How will this research help the student acquire new knowledge and skills?
- Potentially, how might this research advance knowledge within and across disciplines?
- More on Intellectual Merit through the Eyes of a Reviewer
- What are the inherent broader impacts (or societal benefit) of this research topic?How will society benefit from this research topic - directly and/or indirectly? Does the topic address a significant global problem, societal need or NSF priority?
- What broader impacts (or societal benefit) may be realized through the research activities? For example, will research activities broaden participation of people from underrepresented groups?
- Are the proposed, complementary BI activities realistic? Sustainable? Specifically, what groups will be reached and how will they benefit from the BI activities?
- Does this applicant propose to teach public audiences about science and discoveries?
- Might this study enhance research and education infrastructure (e.g., facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships)?
- What is the applicant's record of broader impacts efforts to date? Is this applicant likely to be proactive and consistent with BI activities in the future?
- If the GRFP makes an investment in this student, how will this student help the NSF work toward "desired societal outcomes"?
- More on Broader Impacts through the Eyes of a Reviewer.
NextGraduate Research Statement: From Outline to First Draft
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Advice from Fellows
…the real work lies ahead in fulfilling our research duties and advancing technology.
'12 Fellow, Biomedical Engineering
University of Missouri
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