Tuesday, April 5, 2011

fellowships and grants -- pre-graduate

You know that feeling you get when people give you money?  Like, real money?  The kind of money that supports three years of research (read: three years of stipend) and makes your resume look really pretty?  Well, I do now.  Two months ago I was awarded a Fellowship from the graduate program at which I will be starting in the fall...

This morning, along with monstrous cramps and nausea, I received an email from NSF congratulating me on receiving a prized NSF GRFP grant.

...say what?

Please understand:  I wrote this grant before being admitted to a graduate program.  I did NOT expect to receive it.  I was hoping with all of my might that I would get onto the "honorable mention" list.  I am totally blown away.

Though I was not yet in a graduate program during the application process, I was very fortunate to have my boss' input as well as guidance from a former NSF GRFP applicant and awardee.  Below are the primary points which guided my application:

Research Proposal
1.  Format:
Two to three Specific Aims described with experimental approach
Brief conclusion describing implications
2.   Specific Aims #2-3 cannot depend on the outcome of Specific Aim #1

3.   Do NOT emphasize clinical translation; NSF is not interested in funding biomedical work.  For example, if you are proposing to study a model of Parkinson's disease, write about "neurodegeneration" or "stimulating neuroplasticity".

4.  Give brief, clear descriptions of things specific to your project very early on.  Your reviewers will be familiar with your field (e.g, Neuroscience), but do not assume that they will be familiar with specifics (e.g., substantia nigra, tyrosine hydroxylase).

5.  If you are an undergraduate, or an RA, write about a project that you would like to do.  In my case, I proposed a project based out of my boss' lab on the off chance that I would stay here for graduate school.  Because I ended up entering a program at a different institution (and have yet to even begin rotations), the project will change.  The GRFP understands this and is more interested in funding the scientist than the project.  As long as you submit your updates to them, and acknowledge NSF funding in abstracts and publications, you are set.

Research History
1.  Don't try to be too creative.  NSF is interested in anything you have ever done in scientific research, and how those things have brought science to the broader community.

2.  That's... that's really about the gist of it.  Find further suggestions at Philip Guo's blog.

Personal Statement
1.  Two thirds of this essay was paraphrased from my graduate school statement of purpose.  Communicate who you are as a budding scientist.

2.  The final third of my essay talked about my leadership experiences and how they had impacted the greater community (e.g., climate change activism, national affiliations and how they have influenced my scientific collaborations thus far).

* Happy to email out pdfs of my essays to anyone interested in a sample.


  1. Congrats! Individual predoc grants are a BIG deal! WAY TO GO! I've never gone the NSF route - only NIH - so interesting to see your take on nabbing funding from a different foundation/institution. Cheers to you, and can't wait to watch you keep succeeding!