If you are in science, those are the words you fantasize about hearing (or reading in an email). Back in April, I was a lucky recipient of the NSF GRFP award. I could hardly believe it at the time, and am so incredibly grateful to have been chosen! I had entirely forgotten the winners were being announced at midnight on March 31st. A friend and fellow ecologist and PhD candidate, Roxanne Beltran, actually got to break the news to me, as she also received this grant. I didn’t get the award email because NSF sent out an email offering me lots of money…so of course, Gmail being the organized machine it is, this email got sent to spam. This (rather important) email arriving in spam happened to another friend/PhD candidate/ecologist, Julie Herman. So, if you are applying for grants, make sure to check your spam!
Roxanne has a wonderful blog post here with some great tips on what and what not to do if you are applying for the GRFP. Julie also has more great tips here for you to check out. Here are some tips from me, mostly directed towards the Personal Statement, because there isn’t much out there for that part of the application.
1.) Contact other people in the same field who have gotten the grant (or other NSF grants). For example, if you are just starting graduate school, ask around the department and talk to fellow grad students as well as professors.
3.) Remember the reviewers are people too and making yourself really personable and human is appealing. It helps if you’ve overcome a lot of difficulties in your life, but don’t manufacture any of your life story and make sure it is genuine.
4.) If you are having a hard time coming up with things to say in the personal story, I find it can be really useful to talk to a family friend who knows you very well (I recommend someone older) and ask their opinion about your life. It can be valuable and eye-opening to have another person’s perspective on what they think of as your difficulties, strengths and weaknesses.
5.) Include a picture of yourself. I don’t know anyone else who included a picture of themselves, but there’s no regulation in the personal statement that says you can’t. This can make you stand out and give the reviewer an interesting image that can help show your passion for your subject. For example, since I work with birds I chose a picture of myself holding a peregrine falcon.
6.) Otherwise, the classics: have people look over your manuscript to make sure it is thoroughly edited. Make sure there’s a flow your language to tell an interesting story in both the personal statement and your project proposal. I worked and re-worked my proposal and personal statement, tweaking it constantly. While content is incredibly important, once that is there, make sure the writing is excellent as well. I rewrote the project proposal fully several times and then edited it to hell and back, along with the help of my adviser, and a few other scientist friends. My cohort was very lucky in the sense that we all edited each other’s proposals. However, make sure you are specific about who edits your proposal as too many people will give you different directions and different ideas, so don’t always take all edits and recommendations.
Hope some of that is useful, and best of luck!