geographyrocks

NSF GRFP 2014-2015

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We might as well get this bad boy started as applications are officially open. 

This will be my first year applying.  I have a question for those who have gone through this process before:

If you have outreach in something that's not academically related, do you mention it?  I have academic outreach as an undergraduate teaching assistant and tutor, but I also perform Central Asian Dance for schools, libraries, and cultural events which is also a form of outreach as we explain the culture and traditions of each country before performing. 

I've just been power writing and now I have three pages worth of personal statement that are in dire need of editing.  It's difficult deciding what to include and what to leave on the cutting room floor. 

And I haven't even started on the research portion... :wacko:

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Better that you're starting with a lot than not having enough, though. Right? >< (ahhhhhh)

 

Yes. I think that's very important. Write as much as you can, cover all outreach activities and then cut down to fit the length limit. When I had everything on paper, I could really see the points I had to keep, and how to tie them together. Good luck!

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We might as well get this bad boy started as applications are officially open. 

This will be my first year applying.  I have a question for those who have gone through this process before:

If you have outreach in something that's not academically related, do you mention it?  I have academic outreach as an undergraduate teaching assistant and tutor, but I also perform Central Asian Dance for schools, libraries, and cultural events which is also a form of outreach as we explain the culture and traditions of each country before performing. 

I've just been power writing and now I have three pages worth of personal statement that are in dire need of editing.  It's difficult deciding what to include and what to leave on the cutting room floor. 

And I haven't even started on the research portion... :wacko:

 

For what its worth, outreach is probably the biggest reason I missed out on the GRF. It is important not to make light of it, so include all you can given the short format. The right balance is needed. 

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We might as well get this bad boy started as applications are officially open. 

This will be my first year applying.  I have a question for those who have gone through this process before:

If you have outreach in something that's not academically related, do you mention it?  I have academic outreach as an undergraduate teaching assistant and tutor, but I also perform Central Asian Dance for schools, libraries, and cultural events which is also a form of outreach as we explain the culture and traditions of each country before performing. 

I've just been power writing and now I have three pages worth of personal statement that are in dire need of editing.  It's difficult deciding what to include and what to leave on the cutting room floor. 

And I haven't even started on the research portion... :wacko:

I've gone through the process twice (and lost out both times, so you can take or leave my advice), but I'd say only include those outreach and broader impacts type of activities that are relevant to science. Remember, you're essentially writing a research proposal in the hopes of being awarded money. The grounds on which you will be awarded this money is primarily dependent on NSF's perception of your ability and likelihood to: 1) do good science and 2) fulfill their mission statement. For the broader impacts, they are specifically looking for the enthusiasm of scientific communication to a broader audience (outside of academia). As a rule of thumb, anything in your essays which doesn't contribute to, or detracts from, these overarching criteria should be axed.

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If you have outreach in something that's not academically related, do you mention it?  I have academic outreach as an undergraduate teaching assistant and tutor, but I also perform Central Asian Dance for schools, libraries, and cultural events which is also a form of outreach as we explain the culture and traditions of each country before performing. 

 

I did mention the outreach I did outside of science, as it contributed to the narrative theme of outreach and activism that I do. For instance, I mentioned my work creating safe spaces for LGBT peers in high school and undergrad, both outside of science, and then I talked about my LGBT advocacy work in the physics community. Oddly, my outreach work was mentioned in the reviews when I didn't win and it was not mentioned when I did win, so it's difficult to say what the effect was of keeping that in.

 

I'd recommend focusing on your academic outreach, but do (at least briefly) mention your non-academic outreach, as the NSF is specifically looking for diverse applicants, and your performance experience sticks out as interesting and diverse.

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Definitely, definitely, include anything and everything you can that makes you stand out from the crowd and contributes to the impression that you are an individual who can network and share with a wide variety of people. That being said, always tie it back to the "narrative" of your statement, like olorwen mentions above. 

 

In my statement, I spoke about my disability advocacy. I introduced the topic with the sentence "Reaching out and interfacing with a variety of people can make also ripples of powerful change for people with disabilities or health challenges" which followed a section on how I worked with people to make academic progress. I followed the sentence with an explanation about how disability advocacy affected my academic career and how I worked with that community, and ended the segment by stating that "[my school] has prepared me to become a capable researcher and productive member of the scientific and greater communities." Likewise, when talking about leadership opportunites I had that were not directly related to my field of study, I said "I have found my communication and leadership skills to be invaluable to the pursuit of my academic career," and proceeded to explain how. 

Edited by astroyogi

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That's probably what I'll do.  I'll keep it to one or two sentences at the most. 

 

I'm still debating letter writers.  I'll definitely have a good letter from the professor I did research with over the summer.  I can't ask either of my senior thesis advisers because they're just too damn unreliable.  I asked one of them for letters for grad school and 1) he didn't even start on them until 2 days after I asked him to submit them and 2) I had to practically stand over his shoulder and then fax the letters for him.  My other adviser is tenured and close to retirement.  He half-asses everything.  However, he was extremely supportive of me so I'm still torn as to whether I should ask him.

 

Is it customary to ask your current graduate adviser even though they've only known you 3 months or so?

What about professors who aren't in your field but know you and your work well?

 

Edit: I should have added that my current adviser is well-known and respected in the field for whatever that's worth in the NSF process. 

Edited by geographyrocks

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That's probably what I'll do.  I'll keep it to one or two sentences at the most. 

 

Your personal statement, as I was told, should be a genuine story. I think when you finish the first few drafts, you will know what to include, so dont worry about the page limit just yet.

 

 

I'm still debating letter writers.  I'll definitely have a good letter from the professor I did research with over the summer.  I can't ask either of my senior thesis advisers because they're just too damn unreliable.  I asked one of them for letters for grad school and 1) he didn't even start on them until 2 days after I asked him to submit them and 2) I had to practically stand over his shoulder and then fax the letters for him.  My other adviser is tenured and close to retirement.  He half-asses everything.  However, he was extremely supportive of me so I'm still torn as to whether I should ask him.

 

Is it customary to ask your current graduate adviser even though they've only known you 3 months or so?

What about professors who aren't in your field but know you and your work well?

 

Edit: I should have added that my current adviser is well-known and respected in the field for whatever that's worth in the NSF process. 

 

When I submitted my application, I had worked with my current advisor for only 5 months. It is expected for first-years to have one rec letter from their current advisors. 

I would suggest you try to get at least one from either of your undergrad advisors, and the other one from that prof who knows you well.

My rec letters priority went like this: (1) Main undergrad research advisor, (2) Current advisor, and (3) Undergrad mentor that knows me and my work well (I took his class, and worked for his research program 2 summers).

Hope this helps ;)

Edited by Cookie

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That's probably what I'll do.  I'll keep it to one or two sentences at the most. 

 

I'm still debating letter writers.  I'll definitely have a good letter from the professor I did research with over the summer.  I can't ask either of my senior thesis advisers because they're just too damn unreliable.  I asked one of them for letters for grad school and 1) he didn't even start on them until 2 days after I asked him to submit them and 2) I had to practically stand over his shoulder and then fax the letters for him.  My other adviser is tenured and close to retirement.  He half-asses everything.  However, he was extremely supportive of me so I'm still torn as to whether I should ask him.

 

Is it customary to ask your current graduate adviser even though they've only known you 3 months or so?

What about professors who aren't in your field but know you and your work well?

 

Edit: I should have added that my current adviser is well-known and respected in the field for whatever that's worth in the NSF process. 

 

I got a GRFP last year, and I had my 1). current advisor, 2). my undergrad advisor, and 3). one of my favorite professors from undergrad. The reason I put him as my primary reference is because I knew that he would write me an outstanding letter. PI's want NSF fellows in their groups because they don't have to pay an extra student as a research assistant, and it's a prestigious award, which makes them look good. 

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My advisor and I are talking about modifying last year's proposal for this year, and I have an intro course in fall in which I have to write a GRFP proposal anyway. Hopefully the reviewers like it a bit more this year. I got a few helpful comments last time, but the same amount were too vague to help much.

 

I agree with the above post that your graduate advisor, if you have one, should be a LoR. It would send red flags otherwise.

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I was wondering what people were planning on doing for proposed institution.  I figure a lot of people just select the best institution in their field, but that's kind of stupid because NSF can't give all their funding to students at one school.  I was planning on putting down my current school because I can argue in my Research Proposal that I know the facilities and am certain I could do the project.

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I was wondering what people were planning on doing for proposed institution.  I figure a lot of people just select the best institution in their field, but that's kind of stupid because NSF can't give all their funding to students at one school.  I was planning on putting down my current school because I can argue in my Research Proposal that I know the facilities and am certain I could do the project.

 

You should put down an institution that you are applying to. Unless you are applying to your current school, don't put it as your proposed just because you think that you know the resources well. Show that you know what resources are at a new institution and you can impress the committee.

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To piggy back what Monochrome spring said, as a moral human being, you should put down your top choice school; that is the school you intend to go to if you are admitted. 

 

Hmm I had been planning on writing my statements as if I would stay at my current MS university. I will be applying there so I didn't think it would be dishonest and I would be able write much better statements since I am so familiar my current PI's research. I have already come up with a really great spin to connect my volunteer work with my reserach interest. Does this seem dishonest to people? I thought that since I would be appying to this school too that it was fair.

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Hmm I had been planning on writing my statements as if I would stay at my current MS university. I will be applying there so I didn't think it would be dishonest and I would be able write much better statements since I am so familiar my current PI's research. I have already come up with a really great spin to connect my volunteer work with my reserach interest. Does this seem dishonest to people? I thought that since I would be appying to this school too that it was fair.

 

That's fair since you're applying there too. I meant that it would be dishonest if you were not applying to that university, at least in my opinion.

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Hi everyone! I had been contemplating applying for the NSF GRFP for a few months, and I've decided to give it a go. I think I have the perfect three letter writers: 1) my undergraduate advisor and senior project mentor, 2) an undergraduate professor that I took many courses with, worked with on a few projects, and volunteered with (he works for the Nature Conservancy), and 3) my current graduate advisor.

 

I think I'm solid on outreach experiences, and for the most part they are academic, so I can weave them into my essay fairly easily. I volunteered with a watershed group in the summer of 2011 and into the fall, and I also volunteered at a preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy last summer (2013) with the above mentioned professor. I helped out with programs for school groups and a nature camp. Additionally, I tutored for four semesters as an undergrad, and I will be tutoring and mentoring undergrads this upcoming semester as part of my grad assistantship.

 

I'm also trying to decide if I can work in how I act as a role model for women in biology... in my senior year as an undergrad, I had a lot of female students (both seniors and underclassmen) coming to me for help with papers and asking for advice about different courses and study skills, and then when I was accepted into my masters program, a lot of them told me that I was inspirational to them and wanted to pick my brain on the admissions process. After graduation, I continued to keep contact and I had several requests throughout the past year for advice on senior projects. It might also be useful to mention that after our senior project presentations, several freshmen had the opportunity to do an extra credit assignment and write about one of the presentations, and I had a number of students ask me for copies of my power point, research poster, and handout for reference.

 

I also read that the reviewers are looking for international connections. Luckily, I do have some international experience... I took an undergrad course that took me to Belize over spring break to work on a hummingbird banding project, and I was able to work alongside people from Belize, Costa Rica, and the US, and we also did a bit of outreach, inviting school groups to come see the banding station and educate them on avian conservation. I also went to Japan for part of my thesis research, and did 100% of the work finding field sites, a field station, and interacting with people there... the only thing my advisor did was pay the bill :) So I'm trying to decide how to work some of that in as a good hook for my first essay. I'm also trying to figure out how to incorporate how my project will help people globally when I discuss the potential results and impact of my project. I'm doing invasive species research, and that is a global problem, but I really need to give a good explanation of how it will have a global impact. Does anyone have any advice on how much to include in terms of global impacts or international cooperation?

 

Also, does anyone have any comments on how important transcripts are and how to address deficiencies? I've read in older threads that few people with low GPAs get fellowships, but it does happen, and that it's helpful to explain the reasoning behind any low grades in the personal statement essay. I don't have consistent cruddy grades in my undergrad record, it's not like I got a 2.5 every semester. I just have several bad semesters where everything went down the toilet, and plenty of semesters where I was close to a 4.0. Plus I changed majors and schools a bunch of times. I think it would be important to mention that I had a lot of trouble dealing with an anxiety disorder in my early college years and eventually got things under control, but I am also hesitant to bring up a mental illness, because it could imply to the reviewers that I could slip up at anytime and they might not want to risk it. So I'm not entirely sure about how to proceed.

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Also, does anyone have any comments on how important transcripts are and how to address deficiencies? I've read in older threads that few people with low GPAs get fellowships, but it does happen, and that it's helpful to explain the reasoning behind any low grades in the personal statement essay. I don't have consistent cruddy grades in my undergrad record, it's not like I got a 2.5 every semester. I just have several bad semesters where everything went down the toilet, and plenty of semesters where I was close to a 4.0. Plus I changed majors and schools a bunch of times. I think it would be important to mention that I had a lot of trouble dealing with an anxiety disorder in my early college years and eventually got things under control, but I am also hesitant to bring up a mental illness, because it could imply to the reviewers that I could slip up at anytime and they might not want to risk it. So I'm not entirely sure about how to proceed.

 

My advice for this stuff is the following.

 

In your essays, keep things positive. Spend more time talking about that notoriously hard class you got an A in (how you overcome challenges and such) rather than drawing attention to those semesters where grades were cruddy. You can also get an undergrad LOR to attest to your academic prowess. You should ask him/her to discuss this explicitly. In my case, I completely bombed a mass transfer course, but asked a professor to attest to my good understanding and practical use of the subject in research. They will know exactly how to handle this gracefully, as they read tons of recommendation letters all the time. If you can get a prof to say your grades aren't an accurate reflection of you abilities it can go a long way.

 

Regarding the anxiety, exercise caution bringing it up in your personal statement. Treat it as a challenge you have overcome if you must include it at all, focusing on how good things are now and not on how bad things were then. And whether or not you mention it yourself, you should have at least one LOR mention it. I would guess your current research advisor would be best for this, as he/she could attest to your stability now.

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Thanks for the advice, marty3! My two undergrad writers have both had me for classes, and I aced them all, so they can definitely attest to my academic prowess. Writer # 2 can especially back me up, since I took 9 courses with him, I was the only student exempt from his general bio final (out of 70 students), and the only student ever to get perfect scores on the finals for his upper-level courses. He also told me that one of my papers for his general ecology course was the best paper he has ever received from a student as well as being better than anything he ever wrote, and he now uses it as a writing sample for the course. Hopefully he'll put all that in there! I have read suggestions of putting together a packet for each LOR writer with pertinent information, including things I'd like them to highlight in their letters, so I think I will go that route.

 

The only issue with the bombed courses is that they have nothing to do with my current field of study, except for one biology course that I was taking to fulfill my gen ed requirements at the time. I majored in computer science, computer forensics, English, anthropology, and some various IT majors prior to entering biology... so my poor grades are in those topics and a few gen eds. Therefore, none of my writers can really attest to my knowledge in those courses, because they aren't really relevant. Which may end up being a strength, since I have done extremely well as a biology student (my GPA each semester has hovered between 3.7 and 4.0).

 

I'm still on the fence about how to approach the anxiety and grades in the essays. I've thought about briefly discussing my senior project presentation and my poster presentations and reflecting back on how a few years earlier, giving the presentations would have been next to impossible due to the disorder. That way I can both highlight my ability to communicate my research findings and explain my past performance without going into too much detail, and it would serve to highlight how I've overcome my obstacle.

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Got an HM last year, trying again this year.  Figure I'll revise last year's proposal since obviously I was doing SOMETHING right (just not quite right enough).  Hoping that being able to explicitly reference the resources I have available at my current school will help.

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Well, I just spent the last several hours power writing my way through the first essay. Came out a bit longer than 3 pages, but I was able to trim it down to 3. Overall, I like it. I think I need to work a little bit on writing about the university and lab I chose, and maybe expand on my career plans a bit. But I'm quite happy with myself right now!

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I'm already feeling behind...

 

I haven't started on the materials for the GRFP yet since I'm pretty caught up right now with Fulbright/Rhodes/Marshall/etc. application materials. For those who went through it before, what kind of timeline did you follow? Also, (for applying as an undergrad) who did you go to most for advice? Your research advisor at the time? The challenge for me is that the PI I work with is on sabbatical right now - not uncontactable, but it makes things more challenging.

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Don't feel too behind, Pterosaur. It actually helps tremendously for the GRFP to have applied to other fellowships. If nothing else, your recommendation letters will already be written, and will have been written at a time less busy for profs. The exercise of writing any proposal or application will help with others. If you plan it out well, you might even be able to salvage the topics of your research proposals. They will be different when you write them, perhaps very different, but chances are you won't have to read a dozen or more new papers on a new topic for each. For me, reading new papers and writing introductions were always the hardest part. Turns out they can be the most reusable parts.

 

As for the timeline, I did the Fulbright in August, GRE studying/testing in September, GRFP late October/early November, grad school apps late November/earl December, NDSEG mid December. It seems like a lot, but each thing your write gets easier and easier. Trust me.

 

For advice, these forums are very helpful! Is there a fellowships office at your school, or someone in charge of advertising these fellowships and offering advice or organizing writing workshops? Those people are often a great resource. The advantage with the PI however is that they know you. Other people can only offer general advice, which can be invaluable, but your PI would be best for bouncing ideas off of.

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