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h-index

Any STEM fellowships/funding sources based strictly on research proposal and research potential?

10 posts in this topic

I realise that this is quite an open-ended topic, but I was wondering if you were aware of any funding sources awarded based on (1) the merit of the research that you propose to do in graduate school and (2) the potential for research that you've demonstrated in your scientific career thus far.

To clarify, I mean this to the exclusion of other factors such as college extracurriculars, personal narrative, and "leadership". I had formerly believed that GRFP was like this, but I recently found out that it strongly weights a "broader impacts" dimension that is orthogonal to research merit. Guess that's one fewer fellowship that I'll be applying to.

(I am asking from the perspective of somebody who will be applying in the 2018 cycle.)

Thank you for your input.

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How is the broader impacts aspect of GRFP "orthogonal to research merit" in your view?

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3 hours ago, rising_star said:

How is the broader impacts aspect of GRFP "orthogonal to research merit" in your view?

That was the overall impression I got from reading reviewers' responses to the awardee applications hosted online:
Example 1
Example 2

In general, reviewers' critiques of the broader impacts section don't focus on the potential societal impacts of the applicants' research as much as they do on the applicants' personal background and engagement with the public (for instance, running popular science blogs). This post from a recent awardee captures my impressions quite well.

What I'm basically looking for is a funding source that looks more like a traditional NIH/NSF grant and less like a college application.

To answer my own question for anybody who might ask in the future, it seems as though the Hertz Fellowship is in general far more research-oriented than NSF GRFP. NDSEG has sections for engagement, but these are short sections, and the application doesn't appear to hinge on them as much as the GRFP hinges on Broader Impacts.

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1 hour ago, h-index said:

In general, reviewers' critiques of the broader impacts section don't focus on the potential societal impacts of the applicants' research as much as they do on the applicants' personal background and engagement with the public (for instance, running popular science blogs). This post from a recent awardee captures my impressions quite well.

As you said, the BI section is not meant to discuss the potential impacts on society of your research. Instead, it is about the impact of you, as a person/scientist, on academia and society in general. However, I disagree with you that this is "orthogonal to research merit". I would say that your impact on the research and your impact on society are complementary aspects of being a successful scientist. Research does not operate in a vacuum and your future success will depend both on your ability to produce good work and your ability to effect positive change. 

1 hour ago, h-index said:

What I'm basically looking for is a funding source that looks more like a traditional NIH/NSF grant and less like a college application.

I also think it is not correct to conflate evaluating factors outside of research merit with "college application". 

1 hour ago, h-index said:

To answer my own question for anybody who might ask in the future, it seems as though the Hertz Fellowship is in general far more research-oriented than NSF GRFP. NDSEG has sections for engagement, but these are short sections, and the application doesn't appear to hinge on them as much as the GRFP hinges on Broader Impacts.

Based on my experience with people who have been shortlisted for these awards, you would be mistaken if you think these fellowships do not care about factors outside of your research. Of course, there is a range in how much each award considers non-research aspects and the GRFP is on the high side, at 50%. 

That said, these prestigious awards are not just looking for who has the most interesting research program. That's what internal awards and other small stuff is for. Large, prestigious awards have a bigger picture in mind than just "the most interesting research".

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2 hours ago, h-index said:

What I'm basically looking for is a funding source that looks more like a traditional NIH/NSF grant and less like a college application.

What makes you think NIH/NSF grants don't look at these same things?

The NSF-GRFP is very, very similar to an NSF grant in many aspects, and is predominately based around your research proposal. 

Broader Impacts are exceptionally important for non-graduate NSF and NIH grants as well, and a key component of broader impacts is convincing people that you have a track record of, well, doing things that are impactful. 

It's really easy to say you'll do all these great broader impacts, but they look at what you've done as a predictor for what you will do.

2 hours ago, h-index said:

In general, reviewers' critiques of the broader impacts section don't focus on the potential societal impacts of the applicants' research as much as they do on the applicants' personal background and engagement with the public (for instance, running popular science blogs). This post from a recent awardee captures my impressions quite well.

Broader impacts is quite clearly not supposed to just be about the societal impacts of your research. It's largely about education and outreach, of which dissemination of your work can be part of it. 

It's the same for major NSF grants and NIH grants. The last two I was a part of both had significant outreach portions developed in tandem to the project- they're exceptionally important for securing funding. 

Saying "my research will revolutionize society" doesn't count. That's really under the intellectual merit of your project. 

18 hours ago, h-index said:

To clarify, I mean this to the exclusion of other factors such as college extracurriculars, personal narrative, and "leadership". I had formerly believed that GRFP was like this, but I recently found out that it strongly weights a "broader impacts" dimension that is orthogonal to research merit. Guess that's one fewer fellowship that I'll be applying to.

In short, no funding looks at things like this. Not graduate fellowships, not postdoctoral fellowships, not research grants. Narrative and leadership and your involvement with things outside of your work are always going to be important. 

From discussions with respect to NDSEG and Hertz, as mentioned, they will not be what you're looking for either. I honestly don't know of anything that is.

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4 hours ago, Eigen said:

In short, no funding looks at things like this. Not graduate fellowships, not postdoctoral fellowships, not research grants. Narrative and leadership and your involvement with things outside of your work are always going to be important. 

This is exactly what I was getting at when I asked my question above. There really aren't a bunch of grants that are solely focused on research purely for the sake of research, with no concern of the broader merits/implications of said research. Maybe you can find a private donor or foundation which will fund you for that but it's doubtful.

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1 hour ago, rising_star said:

There really aren't a bunch of grants that are solely focused on research purely for the sake of research, with no concern of the broader merits/implications of said research. Maybe you can find a private donor or foundation which will fund you for that but it's doubtful.

I don't have much direct interactions with private donors and foundations but some of the research groups that I am a part of are partially funded by these organizations. From talking to the faculty members that are involved in soliciting these funds, I definitely do not get the sense that donors/foundations want to fund things just based on research merit alone. Usually, there are two motivations for such an organization to fund research: 1) they want to say "I/we supported this" when it creates a big positive difference in the world and/or 2) the donor has a personal interest on the outcomes of the research question (e.g. they have a family member with some disease, and they fund research in that area). For reason (1), the research has to be something they want to be associated with. Some types of research just aren't going to be very glamorous and some donors/foundations aren't going to be interested in that. So I would say that, with some exceptions, these sources of funding are even less in the "research-merit-only" camp because most philanthropists have some goal they want to achieve with their donations and it's usually not "fund the project with the most research merit, no matter what it is".

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There are some small research grants like Sigma Xi Grant in Aid of Research that is based only on your research proposal, but this is not a fellowship.

Without knowing your exact discipline, it is hard to know what type of grants can be recommended. The closest I can think of right now is the American Heart Association Pre-Doctoral Fellowship: https://professional.heart.org/professional/ResearchPrograms/ApplicationInformation/UCM_443316_Predoctoral-Fellowship.jsp

From what I've seen, the fellowships that are more tailored to your research, and not just about funding the person, are more discipline specific.

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Thanks for the responses, all -- best to confront the uncomfortable reality now rather than deeper into my career. I guess that I took it pretty hard realising that I didn't have a feasible path -- sorry if I came off as brash or condescending, or if I didn't communicate clearly.

My experience has been primarily with later career-stage grants, so that must have distorted my perception. When I worked with PIs and graduate students on their grant proposals, my work was typically focused on the research dimension (e.g., preparing figures and reviewing specific aims). The biographical sketches in the grants I read had also given me the wrong impression.

On 4/17/2017 at 4:51 PM, TakeruK said:

Of course, there is a range in how much each award considers non-research aspects and the GRFP is on the high side, at 50%. 

This is, I think, critical. I (wrongly!) framed my original question in a very dichotomous "either/or" manner, when I realise now that I was really looking for options further toward the research end of the continuum. In my case, GRFP is out, but I'd like to think Hertz and NSDEG are both still worth a shot.

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3 hours ago, h-index said:

This is, I think, critical. I (wrongly!) framed my original question in a very dichotomous "either/or" manner, when I realise now that I was really looking for options further toward the research end of the continuum. In my case, GRFP is out, but I'd like to think Hertz and NSDEG are both still worth a shot.

Your sidebar says your application year is Fall 2018 so you still have quite a bit of time before you are no longer eligible for the GRFP. In that time, you can surely build up a strong BI profile for yourself. This will help you later in your career too---even if you don't get the GRFP (it's very competitive), this type of experience will open more doors for you in the future. So I wouldn't simply just count yourself out of the running for the GRFP!

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