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Graduate Research Fellowship Program

The GRFP of NSF is one of the premier graduate fellowship programs in the United States of America (USA). In support of its federal mandate to advance science and engineering in USA, NSF created the GRFP with a goal of nurturing and growing a dynamic and diverse talent pool for the US engineering and scientific community.



The Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) is one of the premier graduate fellowship programs in the United States (US). In support of its federal mandate to advance science and engineering in US, NSF created GRFP with a goal of nurturing and growing a dynamic and diverse talent pool for the US scientific and engineering community. NSF conducts an annual competition to identify, select, and support exceptional students in supported disciplines, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), for GRFP awards. The GRFP supports students early in their graduate careers, including those seeking to or already pursuing, research-oriented masters’ or doctoral degree programs at US universities. It additionally seeks to broaden the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM graduate studies.

The GRFP is a pioneering and pre-eminent graduate fellowship program in US. For over half a century of its storied history, GRFP has supported and mentored students who go on to grow into exceptional academic leaders, government professionals, and industry captains, among others.

Past GRFP recipients have contributed to their fields through numerous pioneering scientific advances, engineering breakthroughs, and educational innovations. Prior GRFP recipients have been awarded numerous Nobel Prizes (over 30), become highly regarded researchers and academics (over 400 members of the National Academies), corporate titans and book authors, and NASA scientists, among others, and include Steven Chu (United States Secretary of Energy) and Sergey Brin (Founder of Google).

The GRFP is considered one of the most prestigious graduate Fellowship awards. The Fellows are selected through a competitive review process. The GRFP award bestows a mark of distinction on the recipient. It not only recognizes the Fellows’ superior academic achievement but also their exceptional future potential for research prominence.

Each selected Fellow receives an annual stipend of $34,000 for three years, disbursed in monthly installments of $2,833. The award also includes an additional annual allowance of $12,000 for tuition and fees. It is directly paid to the Fellow’s graduate institution. The Fellows undertake their graduate studies in STEM disciplines under research-oriented masters’ or doctoral degree programs. Thus, under the mentorship of their graduate advisor, Fellows conduct cutting-edge research in their field of study. Moreover, during their GRFP tenure, the Fellows receive opportunities for career development like international research, federal and non-academic internships, etc. A small subset of applicants, who are unsuccessful in securing a GRFP award, receive an Honorable Mention from NSF that is considered a noteworthy achievement.
NSF Fellows are an essential resource for retaining and strengthening the US leadership in scientific discovery and technical innovation, for enhancing national security, and for ensuring the financial prosperity of the society well into the future. With the goal of ensuring the American leadership in the emerging innovation economy, which requires equipping the nation with innovative and high quality technical infrastructure and human resources, NSF welcomes GRFP applications from every qualified person. Women, underrepresented minorities, differently abled individuals, and veterans are specially encouraged to apply.

Reasons to Apply

1. Distinguished Honor: The GRFP of NSF is considered one of the most prestigious graduate Fellowship awards. The Fellows are selected through a competitive review process. The GRFP award bestows a mark of distinction on the recipient. It not only recognizes the Fellow’s superior academic achievement but also his/her exceptional future potential for research prominence.

2. Financial Support: Each selected Fellow receives an annual stipend of $34,000 for three years. The stipend is disbursed in monthly installment of $2,833.

3. Tuition and Fees: The GRFP award includes an annual allowance of $12,000 towards cost of education of each Fellow. It is directly paid to the Fellow’s graduate institution and applies towards his/her tuition and fees.

4. Research and Professional Development Opportunities: The Fellows undertake their graduate studies in STEM disciplines under research-oriented masters or doctoral degree programs. Thus, under the mentorship of their graduate advisor, Fellows conduct cutting-edge research in their field of study. Moreover, during their GRFP tenure, the Fellows receive additional opportunities for career development, for example, international research, federal and non-academic internships, etc.

5. Honorable Mention: A small subset of applicants, who are unsuccessful in securing a GRFP award, receive Honorable Mention from NSF that is considered a noteworthy achievement.


Sub Disciplines


Applications per year


Awards Granted per Year


GRFP applicants are required to self-certify that they meet various qualifications to receive the Fellowship. Specifically, to be eligible for the GRFP award, an applicant must meet all of the following requirements by the application due date.

  • Be a citizen, national, or permanent resident of the United States of America
  • Have an intention to enroll in or be already enrolled in a full-time, research-based, graduate degree program in an eligible STEM field
  • Have not accepted a GRFP award previously
  • If previously offered a GRFP award, have declined by the prescribed deadline
  • Have not previously applied to GRFP while being enrolled in a graduate degree program
  • Have never earned a doctoral degree
  • Have never earned a masters’, professional, or bachelor’s-masters’ degree in any discipline, except if returning to graduate school after a continuous gap of at least two years
  • Not be a present NSF employee

Finally, applicants must demonstrate that they have been accepted in a graduate degree program at the time of accepting GRFP, by the May 1 deadline of the award acceptance year. The awardees must enroll in accredited US institutions of higher education by the fall term of award acceptance year.

Number of Times an Individual May Apply

  • An undergrad senior and a student with a bachelor’s degree can apply prior to starting a graduate degree program
  • A graduate student who is currently enrolled in a graduate degree program is permitted to apply only once to the GRFP, i.e., such a student can apply in the first year or at the beginning of the second year of his/her graduate degree program
  • Beginning with the 2020 competition (Fall 2019 application deadline), students seeking a combined bachelor’s–masters’ degree are allowed only one opportunity to apply to GRFP; that is, they will not be eligible to reapply as a doctoral student in the future
  • Applications that are withdrawn by November 15 of the application year don’t count toward the one-time graduate application limit. Applications withdrawn after November 15 count toward this one-time limit
  • Applications that are returned by NSF without review do not count toward the one-time graduate application limit
  • There is a limited application window for returning graduate students to apply for GRFP. Students who have (i) finished more than one academic year in a graduate degree program; (ii) previously earned a master’s degree; or (iii) earned a professional degree (e.g., law, medicine) are qualified to apply only if:
    • they had a continuous gap of at least two years in their graduate studies immediately before the application deadline; and
    • are not enrolled in a graduate degree program at the time of application deadline


Understand that GRFP reviewers have only limited time to peruse any individual application. Your narrative statements must trigger them to become emotionally vested in your success. Thus, for each of the two narrative statements, it is of paramount importance that the opening two to three sentences provide a clear, precise, and succinct outline that engages the reviewers’ attention, builds up their anticipation, and informs them about what is to come. Structuring your statements under distinctively named sections helps serves as road signs that direct the reviewers’ reading in a connected and logically progressive manner.

Note that NSF is not in the business of funding simply routine science and engineering research; instead its mission is to identify and support future STEM pioneers. Thus, it is suggested that applicants compose their narrative statements that showcase strong leadership potential, capacity to be a self-starter, and an ability to cooperate across disciplinary and institutional boundaries. Create your narrative statements that capture and communicate your enthusiasm, excitement, and inspiration for your chosen STEM field and document how your past academic, research, and internship experiences exemplify your future potential.

Be yourself. A personal narrative statement that conveys a strong sense of applicant’s identity and infused with a story that has vitality, continuity, and growth, will invariably attract and retain a reviewer’s attention in contrast to a narrative statement that is indifferent, flat, and disjointed. Recall that the GRFP reviewers perceive and assess applicants based on their demonstrated potential for accomplishment, excellence, perseverance, and success in science and engineering. That is, instead of simply assessing the proposed plan for research, the GRFP review process evaluates the capabilities of applicants since these can indicate potential for overcoming obstacles and becoming successful in proposed research, in the short term, and becoming a leader in one’s chosen field in the long term.

Use appropriate scientific terms and tools (e.g., hypothesis, speculations, figures, tables, references) in the graduate research plan statement.

It is advised that one not get caught up in the nitty-gritty or be excessively technical. Most GRFP reviewers will be specialists in an applicant’s general field of research, however, in all likelihood they won’t be specialists in the applicant’s proposed area of research. Thus an effective strategy is to begin by posing the research problem, introducing the foundational hypothesis of the proposed research, and crafting a research plan with clear and precise goals that address the knowledge gaps in one’s chosen field.

Build up a steady subject and connection in the two narrative statements, weave together one’s own story with academic and professional plans and past experiences to develop a convincing rationale for why NSF should award funding. The choice of who will be funded will be based on applicant’s demonstrated potential for valuable accomplishments in science and engineering. Remember that reviewers will peruse an applicant’s entire GRFP package.

Since as a GRFP awardee you are expected to perform creative, cutting-edge, and novel STEM research, reviewers need to assess the transformative potential, intellectual merit, and broader impacts of your proposed research. It is critical that you start early to identify, conceive, and develop a coherent agenda for a unique and impactful research project that addresses a knowledge gap in your field with a plan that a panel of experts will deem realistic. At this early planning stage, you may consult with and seek advice from doctoral students, postdocs, and faculty mentors in your area of research. With their broad knowledge of your research field, they may assist you in navigating potential pitfalls (e.g., recent advances that transform proposed research as obvious; problems deemed overly ambitious, impractical, or uninteresting, etc.). You will be well served by planning a research project that draws from and is grounded in your prior research experiences (if you have one), without being an obvious extension of such prior work.

Your research statement should start by introducing clearly and succinctly the research problem, relevant background scholarly works, and the scientific or technological goals of research. Be creative in introducing your problem, highlight why it is important and why should it matter to the reviewer. Next, propose your hypothesis (informed by the literature or preliminary research), relevant theoretical, computational, or experimental methods—aligned with the research goals, required computing or experimental facilities, expected outcomes, intellectual merit, broader impacts, and references. For original research problems, even the ones informed by scholarly literature, achieved outcomes may differ from the expected outcome. Such results are revealing nonetheless, so clearly state what, how, and why you will learn in this scenario. Be explicit in communicating how your research will advance knowledge and understanding in your field and how will it contribute to societal benefits.

As you begin the task of composing your research statement, following questions may help you engage in some self-reflection. Such an exercise, done in a purposeful manner, can enable you to create an authentic research statement.

  1. What scientific or technological topics are of most interest to you.
  2. Have you acquired STEM knowledge and skills that are needed to perform your planned research? At your proposed institution, will you have access to needed education, training, and mentoring to conduct your study?
  3. Can you complete the planned research in the time you have allocated for it? Will your proposed institution have computational and experimental resources available for you to conduct the research?
  4. Beyond the context of academy, how will your research contribute to the society broadly?
  5. How can you prepare your research plan within the guidelines provided in the instructions?
  6. How does your proposed research address the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts criteria?

It is suggested that you organize your research statement with explicit section headings. You may also want to utilize bold and italic fonts to highlight key terms, concepts, and ideas throughout the research statement. Avoid using “jargon” or too many abbreviations in your research statement.

The narrative statement, limited to three pages, should allow the reviewers to gain a clear understanding of the applicant’s (your) personal attraction to STEM, pertinent background, and long-term career goals. Engage in a visioning exercise to first develop and then share the academic milestones you intend to achieve and professional opportunities you foresee seeking as part of your comprehensive personal development plan. Identify your individual connection to science, prior experiences, personal characteristics, and proposed graduate school opportunities that will permit you to make fundamental scientific discoveries or advance technological frontiers. In describing unique science stories, experiences, and preparation, you need not limit these to your proposed field of graduate study. Explicitly communicate the link between your proposed advances to STEM knowledge and their potential for broader societal impact. Your narrative statement should provide a coherent direction to reviewers regarding how your experiences, skills, and accomplishments align with the intellectual merit and broader societal impacts of your proposed research.

Formulate the personal narrative to illustrate experiences that have informed your decision to seek graduate education in a STEM field: e.g., how you overcame a personal challenge or adversity to excel in STEM disciplines; how you parlayed your academic interest and performance in a specific course into a research project; or what you learned during an industrial internship about the implications of scientific and engineering research in transforming the future of work. If you have performed research in an academic, government, or industry laboratory, clearly communicate the specifics roles that you played, e.g., independently performed preliminary design of experimental apparatus and then collaborated with a team to produce and test a prototype. Moreover, discuss the skills that you developed or honed through your research experience and its value for your graduate career. Explicitly describe the opportunities that you engaged in to develop your personal, academic, or research profile, e.g., attended research or project-review seminars where you participated by presenting your own work, interacted with seminar speakers to discuss their work’s implications to your own research and sought their guidance, etc.; presented talks or demonstrations to broader audiences about your internship, e.g., K-12 teachers, students, and parents, or marketing and service departments, among others. In narrating the aforementioned activities and experiences, purposefully showcase their outcomes (for example, learned to communicate findings of STEM research to non-STEM audiences) and their role in preparing you for your long-term career aspirations (for example, your unique capacity to perform research at the convergence of frontier technologies and your skills in communicating cutting edge research to non-scientific audiences will allow you to pursue professional development opportunities in STEM policy development as a AAAS Fellow).

Upon graduation, NSF Fellows join the ranks of internationally renowned specialists in their fields. Moreover, they continue to grow their professional expertise through scientific and engineering advances, both in research and training. Your narrative statement should reflect your preparation, potential, and fortitude to excel similarly at a high level in your own professional career.

For those who have finished over a year of graduate or post-baccalaureate coursework, or a professional degree with a break of a minimum of two years, kindly provide an explanation for the same.

As you begin the task of composing your narrative statement, following questions may help you engage in some self-reflection. Such an exercise, done in a purposeful manner, can enable you to uncover some powerful stories and experiences that can aid in the creation of an authentic personal statement.

  1. Why does your specific field of research appeal to you?
  2. What are your unique skills and leadership traits that are relevant to your specific field?
  3. What personal characteristics and strengths make you a strong candidate?
  4. How will the fellowship award help you achieve your career aspirations?
  5. What varied research experiences have you had that are applicable to your graduate career and professional aspirations?
  6. For each research experience, characterize the following: key questions, methodology, findings, and conclusions.
  7. During your research or internship experiences, what did you independently and what did you do as part of a team?
  8. What did you do to analyze the results?
  9. How did your prior activities address the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts criteria?

Even though this is a personal narrative, this should not be used for simply boasting about one’s capabilities, skills, successes, etc. Instead, the narrative statement should be informed by how varied experiences, individuals, organizations, etc., shaped you as an individual and imparted the varied capabilities, skills, habits, etc., that allowed you to enjoy the successes you have had. So instead of simply turning the lens of this essay to focus on you, turn it outwards to discover and identify externalities that allowed you to become you.

Examples (Research & Personal Statement Combined)
Other Resources

Reference Letters

On the GRFP application portal, applicants can list and rank order up to five professional referees. It is suggested that applicants seek out and list as many referees (up to five) as possible, but a minimum of three referees need to be listed. If all five referees of an applicant submit their letters, based on the applicant’s rank order selection, only the top three ranked referees’ letters are included in the review process. It is important that applicants select their top three referees carefully so that the final three reference letters include comments on a variety of aspects about the applicant (see below).

The reference letters should clearly communicate and comment on

  • the referee’s professional relationship to the applicant, including context and length;
  • the applicant’s academic preparation and research experiences;
  • the applicant’s participation and leadership in activities outside the classroom;
  • the quality, merit, creativity, and originality of the proposed research plan;
  • the applicant’s preparation and readiness for graduate research career;
  • the applicant’s potential for excellence and success in research and scholarly work;
  • the applicant’s vision for broader societal impact; and
  • any relevant information that can inform the reviewers in their assessment of the applicant’s GRFP package

As applicants seek referees to provide fair and strong reference letters, it is advised that they follow the guidelines suggested below.

  1. Be systematic in creating a pool of potential referees. Select some referees who are deeply familiar with applicant’s (your) academic preparation, laboratory or computational skills, research experiences, etc. Select other referees who know about your commitment to broader societal impact through educational outreach, integration of research and education, participation and leadership in student organizations and competitions, etc. Finally, select other referees who have observed your work ethics, ability to work independently as well as in a collaborative, team environment, ability to communicate to board audiences, etc.
  2. Carefully seek out and cultivate referees. Connect early and often with individuals who are familiar with you and can comment on your past accomplishments, current capabilities, and future potential. These may include your academic advisor, course instructors from your chosen research field, research mentor, internship supervisor, proposed graduate advisor, etc. Selecting a high profile individual who is only tangentially related to you professionally is not helpful.
  3. Your referees are all busy professionals with many demands on their times. It is in your best interest to personally discuss with them, early in the application process, serving as your reference letter writer. Such a first discussion with each potential referee should occur at least eight to ten weeks in advance of the GRFP application submission deadline. Provide the selected referees with all relevant materials, e.g., your CV, transcripts, scholarly articles, and two narrative statements (Personal, Relevant Background, and Future Goals Statement and Graduate Research Plan Statement), well in advance of the reference letter submission deadline (early in the process, six weeks in advance, provide the draft narrative statements and later in the process, three weeks in advance or as soon as completed, provide the final narrative statements). This will give them sufficient time to prepare a strong letter in support of your GRFP candidacy.
  4. Discuss your plans for graduate studies, research plan, and GRFP application with your potential letters writers either in person (if local) or telephonically (if remote). This will enable them to connect with you at a personal level and know you better.
  5. Your referees are expected to comment on the “intellectual merit” and “broader impact” of your GRFP proposal. While most academic letter writers may be familiar with the aforementioned terms, it is important to highlight in your discussions with all letter writers what you consider to be the intellectual merit and broader impacts of your proposed research.
  6. You can track the receipt status of your reference letters in the NSF application system. If it becomes necessary, politely remind your referees about the due date for their letters two weeks prior to the deadline. The GRFP application portal does not accept any late submissions.
  7. It is critical that you connect and engage with all your letter writers adequately so that they can compose honest and strong letters in support of your application.
  8. Finally, extract out the section on Reference Letters from the NSF GRFP solicitation and provide a copy to your referees. It lists all formatting requirements and page limit for the reference letters.


Transcripts enable the GRFP reviewer to review the coursework completed by an applicant and her/his performance in those courses. This permits the reviewer to establish the applicant’s preparation and readiness for the challenges of graduate education and rigors of graduate research. For this reason, transcripts constitute a key component of the GRFP application process. Many GRFP applicants have superior academic abilities with high GPAs, so an applicant with somewhat lower GPA needs to clearly explain how s/he has prepared for the challenges of graduate studies and research. In such a case, it will also be helpful if a letter writer comments on the applicant’s academic GPA and contrasts it with her/his potential for original research and broader societal impact.

A transcript is required for each undergraduate and graduate institution that the applicant records in the GRFP application portal. In case, a transcript contains applicant’s academic records for more than one degree, that transcript needs to be uploaded only once. Applicants can select a checkbox on the application system that the information on the transcript also contains records for additional education and/or work experience portion of the application.

Applicants can submit scanned copies of printed transcripts or e-transcripts issued by their institutions. It is strongly suggested that the applicants ensure that, once uploaded, the e-transcripts are viewable since encrypted documents may not upload correctly in the GRFP application portal.

Merit Review

The GRFP applications are evaluated based on two merit review criteria: Intellectual Merit and Broader Impact. Thus, it is essential that applicants prepare their two narrative statements (i.e., personal statement and research statement) to explicitly address the two review criteria. It is of paramount importance that the applicants brief their referees about the criteria so that they adequately address these in their reference letters.

Each application is reviewed by a review panel consisting of disciplinary or interdisciplinary experts in science, engineering, and other relevant disciplines. The review panels assess each application independently according to the two merit review criteria. It is highly recommended that, the personal and research statements both include sections labeled with Intellectual Merit and Broader Impact to ensure that relevant statements receive due consideration from the panelists.

Following important considerations can help refine your statements addressing merit review criteria.

  • A research plan that advances knowledge and understanding within discipline while simultaneously being of benefit to the society.
  • A research plan infused with original, innovative, and creative concepts and ideas.
  • A well-structured action plan that is deemed reasonable to achieve the research goals.
  • Alignment of applicant’s qualification and preparation for conducting the proposed study.
  • Availability of adequate resources, over time, to perform the proposed activity.

The Intellectual Merit criterion is primarily concerned with the potential to advance knowledge. Thus, the reviewers assess individual applications on the basis of the applicant’s potential to produce new scientific discoveries or propel engineering advances, as evidenced from their entire application package. Therefore, an applicant’s two narrative statements, prior academic achievement, research or professional experiences, scholarly publications, and references letters all play an essential role in establishing his or her intellectual merit. To summarize, the intellectual merit statement has to effectively communicate that the proposed research seeks to answer a question that is of interest to the research community, the suggested research methodology offers a viable plan of attack, and the applicant is academically qualified, well prepared, and potentially capable of advancing the line of inquiry suggested in the research plan.

The Broader Impacts criterion is concerned with the potential societal benefit. An applicant’s prior personal, professional, and educational endeavors and goals and aspirations for future provide critical information that can be utilized to assess his or her potential for boarder impact. There are no universally applicable formulations concerning how an applicant can demonstrate potential for future broader impact. For example, it is possible that an applicant’s primary research activities in a scientific or engineering domain are directly amenable to demonstrable societal benefit, broadly and beyond just the creation of new knowledge. Alternatively, another applicant may engage in secondary activities that support or complement the main goal of the project to create broader societal benefit. The National Science Foundation places high value on activities whose direct outcomes are of inherent benefit to the society. Some illustrative examples include:

  • Increased participation of women, people with special needs, and underrepresented minorities in STEM (host undergraduate students for summer research internships).
  • Improved STEM education at all levels (e.g., engaging high school students in research, collaborating with K-12 teachers to develop learning modules that are informed by your research).
  • Increased scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology (e.g., presenting an exhibit, demonstration, or hands-on activity at a local science museum).
  • Development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce (conduct a workshop for industry practitioners at a professional conference).
  • Increased economic competitiveness of the US (disseminate your research database, algorithms, tool design, etc., through community resources such as GitHub).
  • Improved national security.

Primary Field

In preparing and submitting your GRFP application, you will need to clearly indicate your primary field of study. Your primary field of study will help determine the due date for your application submission. In addition, it will be used to assign your application to a specific review panel since NSF assembles many different review panels for evaluating the GRFP application and each panel is assigned applications for a single primary field of study.

On the GRFP application portal, a broad array of selection prompts is provided that allow identification of primary field at the disciplinary level (e.g., chemistry, computer and information science and engineering, engineering, etc.) and at the specialization level (aerospace engineering, bioengineering, chemical engineering, etc.). Be thoughtful in selecting the primary field that is most closely aligned with the scientific and technical aspects proposed in your application. The students seeking to pursue graduate studies at NYU Tandon School of Engineering in following majors will find similarly named primary fields. If your NYU Tandon graduate major is not listed below, please review primary field prompts at the specialization level in the link given below.

Primary fields of importance with respect to the NYU Tandon School of Engineering are mentioned below:

  • Bioinformatics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biotechnology (see primary field Bioengineering)
  • Biotechnology & Entrepreneurship (see primary field Bioengineering)
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering (see primary field Bioengineering or Chemical Engineering)
  • Chemistry
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Cybersecurity (see primary field Computer Security and Privacy)
  • Cybersecurity Risk and Strategy (see primary field Computer Security and Privacy)
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Electrical & Computer Engineering (see primary field Computer Engineering or Electrical Engineering)
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Science (see primary field Environmental Engineering)
  • Financial Engineering (see primary field Decision Making and Risk Analysis)
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Integrated Digital Media (see primary field Human Computer Interaction)
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Mechatronics & Robotics (see primary field Electrical Engineering or Mechanical Engineering or Robotics & Computer Vision)

For the complete list of primary fields please check GRFP website.


The following insights for the GRFP application preparation are derived from a variety of sources, including the NSF GRFP solicitation, the GRFP website, and recommendations of panelists and selected finalists from prior application cycles. Although there is no proven recipe to prepare a GRFP application with guaranteed success, it is highly recommended that you read through and absorb the following insights and select the strategy most aligned to you and your primary field.

  1. Read the solicitation carefully and completely: Devote a couple of hours to read the entire solicitation in a single sitting. Indeed, the solicitation is long and it is easy to get distracted. Nonetheless, it is essential that you devote sufficient time to critically read the entire solicitation. Use a highlighter to mark key points, e.g., items that you may need further clarification on by a second reading or by using reference materials; items that you wish to showcase in your own application, etc. Even as the solicitation serves as the primary reference to find accurate information for GRFP application process, many applicants ignore reading it fully, resulting in applications that fail to respond to the solicitation requirements, e.g., addressing the two merit review criteria adequately throughout the application materials.
  2. Review selection results from prior years: As with any competitive grant proposal, it is recommended that the applicants review the research summary and profile of awardees of the GRFP, from their primary discipline, for the last two to three years. This can be informative in understanding what emerging research directions may be of interest to the panelists. While you are learning about emerging research directions, review recent research grants received by faculty in your primary field at your own institution or at your intended graduate school.
  3. Apply as a senior undergraduate versus graduate student: The review panels rank undergraduate and graduate students separately in their own peer groups. According to selection data from prior years, approximately 35% to 40% of the awards are made to those applying as senior undergraduates and the remaining to those applying as graduate students. If you are a senior undergraduate student with industry intern or laboratory research experience and perhaps authorship on scholarly articles, then you are well prepared to apply for the award (to begin your graduate education as an awardee). If you do not have research experience as an undergraduate, it may be worthwhile to wait for a year. However, this strategy requires that you make use of the intervening one-year period to engage in publishable research. However, if you devote your senior year (or first year of graduate studies) only to complete the required coursework without engaging in meaningful preparatory research, then the yearlong delay will not be advantageous for your application prospects.
  4. Get a mentor:Once you make a deep dive to begin preparation of your application, you have to deal with a lot of minutiae. Do not wait until you need guidance with navigating this process, instead, early on, recruit at least one to two mentors whom you trust and who are committed to your academic and professional success. These mentors may be professors in your own department, a research advisor from a prior summer research program, a doctoral or postdoctoral researcher in the lab that you wish to join, or an industry professional. It is important that these mentor be familiar with the process of grant-writing process in general and the GRFP application process in particular. It is ideal if they have previously mentored students win competitive awards and/or fellowships or have won such accolades themselves. You can also search the following experienced resource list for individuals associated with your primary field and/or institution, here.
  5. Prepare and follow a checklist:Similar to most competitive award/grant applications, the GRFP application process requires gathering, preparing, and submitting multiple documents. You will need to prepare a formal plan to organize yourself so that you can effectively devote your time to various components of your application. It is recommended that you make a checklist of tasks to be completed with explicit and realistic timelines. A sample check list is provided on this website to get you started, you can add additional subtasks based on your specific needs.
  6. Qualities of a successful applicant: Many past recipients of GRFP award exhibit similar traits, e.g., self-motivation, enthusiasm and drive, leadership and mentorship skills, prior research experience, and commitment to STEM outreach. Many successful candidates have previously published papers in conferences or journals and genuinely care about societal impact of their work.
  1. Choose the primary field before writing research statement: There is no shortcut to determine the perfect primary field fit for your application. Nonetheless, recall that the primary field selected by you will determine which GRFP panel will review your application. It is recommended that you carefully review the available disciplinary and specialization level primary fields and select one that is most closely related to your proposed graduate program major and research specialization. This has to be an area that you are intimately familiar with through your academic, research, or internship activities. You must be passionate about this area to the extent that you are willing to devote next several years to explore it deeply. Your personal statement ought to provide concrete evidence of your preparation for this field and your research statement must provide an exciting yet achievable plan of research in this field. An advantage of selecting a primary field in which you have worked previously includes the awareness of and familiarity with the various norms of this field, e.g., vocabulary and phrases; research frameworks and methods; claim, evidence, and reasoning chain; etc. The GRFP portal primary field selection prompt allows ‘Interdisciplinary’ and ‘Others’ options, however caution is suggested in selecting these. Panels that review proposals under these two categories will include experts from varied fields under the specific interdisciplinary category and it may be relatively difficult for an application to be considered novel by experts from two or more disparate fields. Thus, the selection of ‘Interdisciplinary’ and ‘Others’ option is suggested for truly novel proposals that have the potential to impact multiple disciplines.
  2. Identify and focus on a knowledge gap: Instead of funding isolated projects that may well be worthy of support, NSF is known to bet on people who have the potential to discover new scientific knowledge and advance technology frontiers. Nonetheless, it is important to understand that for the GRFP application your research proposal has to be creative and novel allowing you to distinguish yourselves from your peers. Thus, in crafting your research plan, begin by identifying a knowledge gap or a gray area where your creative ideas can instigate new discoveries and advances, thereby changing science. Moreover, your personal statement has to showcase that you are academically well prepared, possess unique experiences and a high degree of motivation, and are worthy of the panel betting on you to emerge as a leader of your discipline in due course. As suggested previously, to learn about the emerging research directions, review recent GRFP awards in your primary field and recent research grants received by faculty in your primary field.
  3. Develop your research statement: In preparation for developing your research statement, first draw on your education, research, or internship experiences to identify a broad area of research for your graduate studies. Second, conduct a literature review and consult with faculty mentors and laboratory colleagues to narrow down the topic of your proposed graduate research. Third, based on above, prepare a list of points that you wish to highlight in your research statement. Fourth, use this itemized list to organize and create a section-by-section outline of your research statement. Having created the above outline, begin developing the draft of your research statement. Since the first impression is the last impression, experiment with crafting the opening paragraph of your research statement that is broadly appealing and engaging so that it holds the readers’ interest to keep reading further. Next, start developing the introduction and background statements that narrow down to your intended research and connect back to the opening paragraph. Here, be mindful to highlight the knowledge gap you identified and its importance to your research in particular and to your field in general. Continue further development of your research plan by addressing your hypothesis, research methods, and expected outcomes. Finally, ensure a compelling end to your research statement by communicating how your research addresses the Intellectual Merits and Broader Impact review criteria.
  4. Communicate directly to the review panel: Research indicates that human beings are universally predisposed to the “narrative format” of communication for interpreting, comprehending, experiencing, and making sense of the world. Thus, the GRFP applicants should consider crafting their personal statement to tell a story, using it as an opportunity to personally communicate with the reviewers. The personal statement should draw and retain the attention of panelists and make a compelling impact on them. Your only target audience in the personal statement is the review panel and thus you ought to respond to the types of questions that the panel may be seeking answers for in your statements.
  5. Take aim at the target and hit it right away: The GRFP statements need to be precise and concise. It is suggested that you stick to your natural writing style without relying on unusual vocabulary or idioms that you have not used previously and that are not common in your field. Use simple sentence structures that are easy to decipher for the panelists. Use a writing style with active (instead of passive) voice.
  6. Address the merit review criteria: The review panel assesses GRFP applications based on the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impact criteria. It cannot be stressed enough that you should explicitly address the two merit review criteria explicitly in your narrative statements and highlight them so that they not buried with the rest of the text.
  7. Mention your shortcomings, if any: It is important to have a realistic self-awareness of one self. If you believe that you have a shortcoming that can potentially undermine your application, then it is best to address it effectively in your application. Do this in a manner that honestly addresses your past shortcoming, reasons for it, and how you have or plan to overcome it. Although no one is perfect, it is crucial to be aware of one’s shortcoming and having a strategy to overcome it.
  8. Use graphics, images, and tables: Each GRFP panelists may review several dozen applications. You can strategically use graphics, images, and tables to effectively highlight and communicate your ideas, ensuring that they received the required attention. However, if and when you employ this strategy, make sure that you appropriately label your graphics and size them to make them legible.
  9. Apply design thinking: Design thinking is a creative problem-solving process used by innovators to break down complex problems into meaningful and achievable small sub-problems to drive real impact. Such a process can be utilized in preparing your two GRFP statements. The five stages of the process are: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.
  10. Avoid common pitfalls: Make sure that you review and revise your statements several times. After you have done so yourself, ask your colleagues and mentors for feedback. As you undertake this review, pay particular attention to avoid following common mistakes.
    • Not addressing review criteria explicitly and sufficiently: Your research and personal statements need to explicitly address “both” the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impact of your proposed work.
    • Poor writing: Do not make spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors. These will distract the reviewers from focusing on the intellectual merit and broader impact of your proposed work and you will lose credibility with them.
    • Selecting wrong primary field: Consult with your mentor if you have any doubt about the most relevant primary field for your research. A mistake in this regard can cause your proposal to be assigned to a panel that may not be able to give it due consideration.
    • Lack of research focus: Do not give a shallow discussion about several broad topics. If your research builds on these topics, then explicitly illustrate how you connect these through a deep discussion.
    • Failure to link education preparation with research: You should explicitly explain how your education has prepared you to dive into your proposed field of research and to be successful.
    • Stale research topic: Seeking funding in an area that has been previously supported is not helpful. Carefully explore the status of your research field and seek funding in an emerging area of research that may have only recently started attracting interest. Find out terra incognita in this field and focus on that.
    • Lack of background research: Do not neglect to include and cite prior research literature in your field.
    • Violating page or word limits: Do not go beyond the allowable page or word limits.
  1. Choosing reference letter writers: Reference letters are an essential part of your application, thus selecting appropriate letter writers is of paramount importance. Applicants can submit up to five name of letter writers and prioritize three for reading by the review panel. It is a recommended to get two extra letters, just in case. Your proposed research supervisor ought to be one of the reference letter writers. The two remaining letters can be from your research or internship mentors or professors with whom you have done coursework.
  2. Diversity of information in reference letters: Each reference letter represents an opportunity to highlight and communicate a distinct quality or strength that you possess. The page limits of GRFP statements can prevent you from communicating all of your relevant characteristics to the review panel. Thus, it is important that all letter writers know you well and they bring out at least one unique quality about you that you have not addressed explicitly in the application. Ideally, they should be able to support what and how they think about you through illustrative examples of specific encounters (e.g., what was the situation, what task was to be accomplished, what actions did you take, and what was the end result).
  1. Submit your application at least a day early: Make sure that you have reviewed all your application materials and statement for accuracy, compiled it all in one place, and uploaded it in the GRFP application portal at least one day in advance of the deadline. Having worked on it for last two or three months, there is little you will be able to add to enhance your application meaningfully. Rushing on the last day to edit or submit application can be stressful and the rush can often cause you to make mistakes (e.g. not uploading correct version of document, etc.). The GRFP application portal converts the documents you upload into PDF formal (it even redistills PDF documents) and sometimes you may find that your narrative statements no longer fit within the required page limit upon PDF conversion! Finding these issues late in the game will be stressful, it may even result in a submission that is deemed failing to meet requirements and thus turned down without review. Thus, be kind to yourselves and everyone else who has supported you through the GRFP application process (including your letter writers) by completing your submission a day early.
  2. Re-apply: It is difficult for most people to overcome rejection and failure. However, with competitive awards and grants such as GRFP, it is highly advisable that if you fail in your first application attempt (as a senior undergraduate) then you make use of your second opportunity to apply (as a graduate student). Moreover, you should also seek out and apply for other graduate fellowship opportunities (see list on this website). If your GRFP application is declined, you usually receive feedback from the review panel about the aspects lacking in your application. You can use this feedback to effectively prepare your application for your second GRFP application opportunity.