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Introduction to “Demystifying the GRFP”

This is the first post in our Demystifying the GRFP series. See also: General Information and Tips, Letters of Recommendation, Research Proposal, Personal Statement

Welcome to a new blog post series from C-GEM focused on the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP). The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) is a prestigious fellowship that provides three years of support for graduate study in STEM or STEM education. The GRFP is as old as the NSF itself – it was the first program to be established when the agency was formed in 1951. Since then, over 60,000 fellowships have been awarded. This year, NSF expects to make approximately 2,750 awards – and one of them could be you! In addition to the award fellowships, the NSF assigns “honorable mentions” to highly rated proposals. These “honorable mentions” don’t come with any support, but can be a valuable line on your CV. 

NSF defines the purpose of the program explicitly in the solicitation

The purpose of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is to help ensure the quality, vitality, and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing full-time research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education. The GRFP provides three years of support over a five-year fellowship period for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education. NSF actively encourages women, persons who are members of groups historically underrepresented in STEM, persons with disabilities, and veterans to apply.

NSF GRFP was established to recruit and support individuals who demonstrate the potential to make significant contributions in STEM. Thus, NSF especially encourages applications from undergraduate seniors and Bachelor’s degree-holders interested in pursuing research-based graduate study in STEM. First- and second-year graduate students in eligible STEM fields and degree programs are also encouraged to apply.

We decided to focus on the GRFP because in our experience, applicants receive varying amounts of guidance and support in the application process. While some graduate programs organize extensive workshops, peer review, and faculty feedback, other students are navigating the process entirely by themselves. We want to take this opportunity to be transparent and publish the advice that is internally shared within C-GEM so that it can be seen and utilized by a broader audience, including those without a lot of formal support. Over the next four posts, we’ll cover the major parts of the GRFP application including letters of recommendation, the research statement, and the personal statement.

In the meantime, if you are thinking about applying, you should do the following: 

  1. Check your eligibility. The fellowship is open to US citizens and permanent residents, with some restrictions based on field of study, research, and career status – generally, you can apply before you enter graduate school and once in your first or second year of graduate study. If you are a first-year graduate student, discuss with your advisor or mentor whether you should apply this year or next year. 
  2. Attend a webinar. The NSF puts on a series of events during the GRFP application season – these are an opportunity to hear from NSF staff directly about the program and ask questions. 
  3. Read the solicitation. Then, read it again. Make sure you understand what should be included in your application, what reviewers will be instructed to look for, and follow the formatting instructions. 
  4. Take a look at some example applications. Make note of commonalities in form, structure, etc. Keep these in mind as you begin to organize your application. You may also want to check out the Cientifico Latino GRFP webinar with two previous winners. 

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