By now, you should be familiar with the NSFGRF. If not, review the official program announcement. Familiarize yourself with the basic guidelines early in the application process to avoid any last minute questions closer to the deadline when the Help Desk will be jammed. I will just point out that different majors have different deadlines. Make sure you have all your deadlines entered in your calendar. There is absolutely nothing worst that getting disqualified because you did not follow the guidelines.
In future iterations, I might develop a usable check-list but for now you can use this one from Missouri to track your progress.
There are loads of reasons, chief among
them is: practice. Writing a competitive grant will give
you valuable experience over your peers (for your graduate school
applications, other grants, and your academic career). Additionally,
regardless of the outcome you will get some feedback on your proposal
from respected academics. While the feedback might be minimal, it is
still better than those generic rejection letters you get from graduate
schools and other fellowships. More importantly, the application will
help you develop a very undervalued skill: the ability to concisely
articulate a complex idea and convince others it is worth spending time
and money on it. This has been the most valuable skill in my career as a
graduate students, entrepreneur, writer, and public speaker. Finally,
applying for an NSFGRF will prepare you for a common element of graduate
studies and academic life: rejection. How you handle and learn from
failure is another skill that is rarely promoted. Besides, if you
succeeded in all your endeavours, when and where will you ever learn? In
How to win an NSFGRF
NSF is looking for a certain type of student to fund: students who can
articulate a hypothesis and show how they will go about proving it;
students who display the same passion and creativity for teaching as
for research; students who want to be involved outside the academy. If
you feel that's you, then congratulations the NSFGRF is yours to lose! As you can see 2 out 3 of the criteria are about you, and not your research project. This is a fundamental difference between an NSFGRF and an NSF grant. In an NSFGRF, the NSF is looking to fund you not just a research project. You have 3 essays and letters of recommendation to show them who you are and why you are a worthy candidate.
What if I am not what the NSF is looking for?
I have to be honest here. If you don't feel connected to the 3 traits I highlight above, you are better served not applying for an NSFGRF. First, if your heart isn't into it you will just waste your time applying (and failing). Second, if you are not dedicated to those ideas you might take the funding from someone who actually does care and has a better chance of succeeding in the long-term. Finally, life is too short. Do what you love and if academic research isn't it then go for what really drives you emotionally and intellectually (not financially).
How are we going to improve your application?
Your proposal is judged based on two criteria: intellectual merits, and broader impacts. Address these criteria and all (03) three of your essays and you'll already have a competitive application. The remainder of this guide will show you how to tailor your essays to fit a format that seasoned academics look for when they review grant proposals.
First year graduate student Vs. senior undergrad
The NSFGRF is open to senior undergraduates and first year graduate students. I am often asked how will reviewers judge my application based on my academic standing. From my experience, there isn't much of a difference. You will be evaluated based on the same criteria. However, there are a couple subtle differences: (i) First year graduate students are almost expected to have done research the summer before starting graduate school; (ii) graduate student research proposals should be more polished given that they would have had access to research faculty at their graduate institution, while undergrads at liberal arts colleges might have not.
Why follow this guide?
Besides the desire to submit a competitive application, you want to respect the reviewer's time and energy. These faculty members are reviewing hundreds of extremely dense applications as a service. Submitting a professionally written application that meets the standards and expectations of reviewers will definitely increase your chances of winning and build you some good karma, too!
Next: Part II - The Research Proposal
Return to NSF Graduate Fellowship Help page