NSF GRFP 2016-2017

For a couple of years now, I have had a website with my thoughts on the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) and examples of successful essays. The popularity of the site in the past few years has grown well beyond what I expected, so this year I’m going to use this blog to try out a few new things.


Questions from You

I end up getting lots of emails asking for advice. While sometimes the advice really does merit an individualized result, many of the questions are applicable to everyone. So in the interest of efficiently answering questions, here is my plan this year.

  1. Before asking me, make sure you’ve read my advice, checked out the NSF GRFP FAQ, skimmed GradCafe, read my FAQ (next section), and checked out the comments for this blog post.
  2. I will not answer any questions about eligibility due to gaps in graduate school because I am honestly clueless on it.
  3. If you feel comfortable asking the question publicly, post it by commenting below.
  4. If you want to ask me privately, send me an email (my full name at gmail.com, include NSF GRFP Question in subject line). I will try and answer you and also work with you on a public question/answer that I can include here.



Here are some past questions I have been asked and/or questions I anticipate being asked this year.

  • My research is closely related to medicine. Am I still eligible?
    • I think the best test for this is to ask your advisor if they would apply to NSF or NIH for grants on this topic. If NSF you are definitely good, but if NIH, you will need to reframe the research to fit into NSF.
  • I am a first year graduate student. Should I apply this year or wait until my second year? (New issue this year since incoming graduate students can only apply once).
    • This is the toughest question for me since no one has had to make this choice yet. However, here is how I would personally decide. The important thing to remember is that undergrads, first year grads, and second year grads are each separately graded relative to their respective years. So you really need to decide how you currently rank relative to your peers versus how you will rank next year. If you did a bunch of undergrad research, have papers, etc, definitely apply as a first year. If you didn’t, it might payoff to wait, but only if your program lets you get right into research. If you will just be taking classes, I’m less confident your relative standing will improve. Good luck to everyone with this tough choice!


Requests for Essay Reading

Unfortunately, I now get more requests to read essays than I can reasonably accomplish. But I am still willing to read over a few and here is how I will decide on the essays to read.

  1. If you are in San Diego, and you think I am a better fit for you than the other local people on the experienced resource list,  send me an email with the subject NSF GRFP Experienced Resource List.
  2. If you are not in San Diego, first check out the experienced resource list and also ask around your school for other resources.
  3. If you can’t find anyone to read your essays, fill out this form. I will semi-randomly select essays to read.

What do I mean by semi-randomly? Well, in the interest of supporting the NSF GRFP’s goal of increasing the diversity of graduate school, I will give priority to undergrads who are without a local person on the experienced resource list and/or are from underrepresented groups. The NSF GRFP specifically “encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, persons with disabilities, and veterans to apply”, and I am willing to extremely loosely define minority group by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, family socio-economic status, geography, colleges that traditionally send few students to graduate school, etc. The form is fill in the blank, so feel free to justify your inclusion in any other underrepresented group that I did not explicitly list.

I’ll then take the prioritized list and make some random selection. The number of people I select this way will depend on the number of local people I end up advising, but I will definitely read at least 2 non-local applications.


Here is a my time-line for essay reading:

  • Sept 16th – Random drawing number 1
  • Sept 30th Extended to Oct 5th – Random drawing number 2 (I’ll include everyone again, so early birds get double the chances of being selected)
  • Oct 21st – Last day I will help people (sorry I’m traveling near the deadline)




4 thoughts on “NSF GRFP 2016-2017

  1. As a senior undergraduate, I’m not sure how to select a topic for my research statement plan. Should it be based on my undergraduate research, even though I plan to do different research in grad school? Should it be based on my anticipated graduate school research, even though I am less knowledgeable on the topic? Thanks in advance!


  2. This is a tough choice and depends on what you actually mean by different. Check out the Gross Field on this page: https://www.nsfgrfp.org/applicants/application_components/choosing_primary_field

    If your planned graduate research would fall under a different gross field (ignoring the proposed panels, those are not guaranteed) than your undergraduate research, then you don’t have a choice, you need to do something related to your graduate research.

    Additionally, if you actually have a strong connection with a potential graduate supervisor, then writing about your anticipated research is a good excuse to further that relationship.

    But if you are like me and new generally what type of graduate school you wanted to do, but weren’t 100% sure the topic, I think its okay to do your undergraduate research. Personally I knew I wanted to do theoretical physics, but I wasn’t sure the topic. So I wrote about my undergraduate research. I actually didn’t get into any grad schools where I could do that research, so there was no choice but to do something else. And I ended up doing research that on a topic that I wouldn’t have even dreamed I would work on, so there was no way I could have accurately predicted that. I think that NSF realizes this and that is why they won’t hold you to any specific research aims.


    • Thanks for the advice. I guess I should clarify. Both my current research and my intended future research fall under the “Life Sciences” field. That being said, my current research is biochemistry or possibly proteomics (antibiotics and enzymology) and my intended research would fall under the subsection “genetics, genomics, and proteomics” (I want to focus on gene therapy).

      Unfortunately, I don’t have a connection with a potential mentor, and there is no one at my university that would be able to advise me on my intended topic.

      Thanks again!!


      • I personally feel that those are close enough that you should just do your undergrad research. Both areas share the word proteomics anyways, and I think that genetics and biochemistry blend together. So I can’t see why NSF would really care about the distinction. I think that NSF only cares about the gross fields because I would guess that is the level at which they are trying to balance out the number of awardees.

        Good luck!


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