Grfp Personal Statement Example

Personal, Relevant Background &
Future Goals Statement

Statement Purpose

This statement introduces you to the reviewers. In a compelling fashion, you will share your motivation and readiness to pursue advanced studies; steps you have taken to gain professional knowledge and skills; your experience working independently and on teams; and your career goals. Reviewers will be seeking strong evidence of your past intellectual merit and broader impacts.

Important: Before you begin writing

Precisely follow the instructions for this statement, found in the online application form in Fastlane GRFP https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/grfp/Login.do. Remember: This statement is limited to three pages.


Your Writing Process

To begin writing, create an outline to organize your thoughts. (My next page has additional tips.) Next, select experiences that best illustrate your knowledge, skills and abilities. When ready, begin writing freely (you can edit later.) Now review your work. You may need to rearrange the order of your paragraphs for better flow. Add transition language to connect the paragraphs. Edit for clarity and length. When you have completed a first draft, ask family members and friends for feedback. Revise. Set aside your draft for a day or two and reflect on your writing. Fine tune. Ask your mentor(s) and a GRFP Resource Person to read your polished statement. Faculty members are extremely busy, so allow at least a week turn around time. Based on the feedback, revise your essay again. Consult a campus writing tutor for help with grammar or mechanics.

Highlight Your Publications, Presentations and Posters!

First, make sure to list your all of your publications/presentations/posters in the Education and Work Experience section under "Other Experience." List scholarly work first, then add public outreach (lay audience) presentations. Second, summarize your productivity in your narrative. For example, after explaining an independent research project, add "As a result of this undergraduate research experience, I coauthored a refereed journal article and presented an outreach poster for state legislators. See citations listed in the 'Other Experience' section."

Check your Intellectual Merit examples:
Questions a reviewer might pose about this essay

  • What motivated this applicant to pursue advanced studies?
  • How prepared is this student to commence with graduate studies?
  • How does the chosen degree program fit with the student's career goals?
  • Does this person learn from mistakes? Seek advice? Collaborate with others?
  • How does this applicant face adversity, solve problems and move past barriers?
  • What is the scope of this applicant's previous research experience? What was the intellectual merit of his/her previous research projects?
  • Has this student explored creative, original or transformative concepts independently or as part of a team?
  • How did this student share scientific knowledge through scholarly articles, conference presentations and scientific posters?
  • Does this student's academic or career goals include an aim to advance scientific knowledge?
  • Might this student become a scientific leader within or across disciplines?
  • More on Intellectual Merit through the Eyes of a Reviewer

Check your Broader Impact examples:
Questions a reviewer might pose
about this essay

  • What are the broader impacts (societal benefit) of this applicant's previous research topics and research activities?
  • To what extent did this student engage in BI activities? For example, did this applicant engage people from diverse backgrounds in research activities? Conduct educational outreach aimed at improving public scientific literacy?
  • Did this student teach or mentor younger STEM researchers from diverse backgrounds? Is she/he likely to continue mentoring and teaching?
  • In what ways has this student been a leader in various settings (on/off campus)?
  • In what other ways did this student demonstrate a commitment to broadly benefit society and/or advance societal outcomes?
  • More on Broader Impacts through the Eyes of a Reviewer.

Writer's Block?

See writing prompts for this statement on the Writing Resources page.

Social network discussions
Advice from Fellows

…once you finish the NSF GRFP application, your graduate apps will be a snap.

Adam Daily

'12 Fellow, Biomedical Engineering

University of Texas at Austin

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About this site

Permissions, Background & References

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program Resources

If you would like more information on attending one of our NSF Support Series workshops, please consult our Professional Development events calendar. Students who interested in the GRFP or are actively working on the application can contact the Office of Grants and Fellowships at gradgrants@nd.edu for more information.

Applying for the NSFGRFP

Applicants should first explore the user-friendly NSFGRFP applicant website.
Familiarize yourself with the official NSF solicitation.
Read the NSF Guide to Proposal Writing.
Create a Fastlane user account and read the Applicant Guide.

The Graduate Research Statement (PDF)

You must convince the readers that your plan of research:

  • is worthwhile.
  • is feasible within the grant parameters.
  • should be undertaken by you.

Choosing a project:

  • Begin with an area with which you are familiar. You should be comfortable with the concepts and vocabulary pertinent to the field.
  • Complete a literature review to get an idea of what questions are being asked in your area, and what still remains to be done.
  • Imagine the “next question” to ask of the work being done in the lab you work in (or have worked in).
  • Frame your interest in a hypothesis driven manner.
  • Brainstorm the experiments you will complete and outline what the results would mean one way or another for your hypothesis.
  • Discuss your research plan with a faculty member. Verify that your program has the resources to complete your project and that your intellectual merit and broader impact are realistic within its scope.

Drafting your proposal:

Your project proposal must demonstrate:

  • the significance of your research.
  • the originality and creativity of your idea.
  • the soundness and rigor of your methodology.
  • that you are in the right institution to pursue your plan.

Proposal components:

Title: Create a clear, concise but descriptive title.

Key Words: list several descriptors that best describe or categorize your study

Introduction: State the nature and scope of the specific problem(s). Cite key findings from literature that demonstrate the scope of the problem and the gap your research fills.

Hypotheses or Research Questions: List 2-3 specific hypotheses.

Research Plan: Describe your methods, connecting specific methods with specific hypotheses. Explain your timeline, any compliance issues, how you will monitor and evaluate progress, what limitations may exist, and what your contingency plan may be. Note anticipated results and give a rationale for these expectations. If your plan is part of a larger team effort, clearly explain your specific responsibilities and the role of your work in the larger project.

Intellectual Merit & Broader Impact: Restate the significance of the problem. Describe the potential outcome of the research, and who will benefit and how. Explain how you will communicate your findings.

References: Include key citations. References do count within the two-page limit.

The NSFGRFP Research Guide may be helpful in planning your proposed research essay.

Questions to ask of your completed first draft:

Intellectual Merit:

  • How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields?
  • How well qualified is the proposer (individual or team) to conduct the project?
  • To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
  • How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity?
  • Is there sufficient access to resources?

Broader Impacts:

  • How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning?
  • How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, geographic, etc.)?
  • To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships?
  • Will the results be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding?
  • What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society?

General:

  • Is there sufficient documentation of the background and justification for the study?
  • Does the plan address a significant need or problem?
  • Does the plan address NSF funding priorities?
  • Are the proposed methods rigorous and appropriate for the hypothesis? Are the steps or the process clear? Are potential pitfalls addressed and a contingency plan been outlined? Is the plan doable in the time allotted?
  • Are the intellectual merits and broader impact suggested realistic for this project?
  • Does the project proposal address the aims of the NSF, and the GRFP specifically?

The Personal Statement, Relevant Background, and Future Goals Statement (PDF)

This essay will work to demonstrate your ability to successfully undertake your proposed project and your potential to be a leader in science and/or education.

Like your research proposal, it must address the intellectual merit and broader impact criteria. It should be an integrated narrative that motivates, both personally and professionally, your choice of graduate study, and indicates how your future goals stem from your past experience.

This essay should show readers how well prepared you are to conduct research and how likely you are to complete your proposed project. You should give concrete examples of experiences in which you demonstrated characteristics like ingenuity, resourcefulness, determination, flexibility, reliability, etc.

Possible topics:

  • Experience on faculty-led research projects, research assistantships, leadership on student research teams
  • Experience during internships, field research, study abroad, or employment
  • Experience in coursework, lab work, or scholarship.

For each experience describe your role, your contribution, the outcomes, what you learned, and skills you gained.

  • Describe how the experience will be useful to your future research, and how it has influenced your perspective and/or determination.
  • Describe how the experience helped you improve your analytical skills, self-direction, time management, creativity, resourcefulness, etc.
  • Describe the methods or technical skills acquired: research design, data collection, field research, data analysis, data protection, responsible conduct of research, grant proposal writing, presentation skills, etc.

Remember that reviewers are looking for students who are highly engaged, will encourage diversity, and will advance scientific knowledge that benefits society. You should demonstrate cultural competence, respect for other disciplines and other people, global awareness, and a willingness to integrate science and education.

Possible topics:

  • Research with international faculty and/or on interdisciplinary research projects.
  • Reaching diverse audiences through teaching, scholarship, presentations, public outreach, media, etc.
  • Leadership in field organizations, membership in professional societies, attendance at conferences.

If appears that your proposed research plan would be a challenge given your current ability, you should demonstrate your eagerness to learn the skills necessary to complete it. Give examples of your willingness to seek out and accept feedback and explain your plans to gain the necessary training.

This essay should also demonstrate your potential in a more personal manner: your motivations, your goals, your abilities, your character.

Ideas to address:

Intellectual Merit:

  • How motivated are you to pursue your studies, and this project? What motivates you?
  • What efforts have you undertaken to improve your skills and knowledge, inside and outside the classroom?
  • Can you demonstrate a willingness to challenge assumptions, test new ideas, learn from mistakes, overcome barriers, think creatively, find resources, act independently, etc.?
  • What qualities do you possess that will make you a leader in your field?

Broader Impact:

  • Do you demonstrate an understanding of local and global challenges, and a passion to make a difference in the lives of people in the US and abroad?
  • What are your career aspirations, and how will you contribute to your field?
  • Do you demonstrate leadership qualities as well as the ability to be a collaborative team member?
  • What are/will be your personal contributions to society?

General:

  • What key experiences made you who you are today?
  • What are you passionate about? Why is your research important to you?
  • How have you helped others?
  • How will you adapt to advances in the future?

Steps to writing your essay:

  1. Brainstorm notes about experiences that best demonstrate your research qualifications, your personal strengths, and the motivation for your professional goals.
  2. Reflect on these experiences and decide which best demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and the characteristics that demonstrate potential. Reflect on which experiences best reflect the intellectual merit and broader impact criteria.
  3. Select concrete examples that make your skills, strengths, and motivations clear to your audience.
  4. Choose a writing structure. You might describe your experiences chronologically, or write about your most meaningful experiences first. You might also list skills you have acquired, and give a concrete example of how you applied that skill.
  5. Write a draft of your essay. Don’t be initially concerned if you go over the 3-page limit – it is generally easier and more effective to cut material than to add it. After you’ve included all your relevant experiences, try to identify an overall theme and use this to create a compelling introductory paragraph.
  6. Create a compelling introduction and conclusion that bring your ideas full circle.
  7. Share your essay with the fellowships advisor, writing tutors, family, friends, etc. to get feedback.
  8. Set aside your essay for a few days, and then revise with fresh eyes.

Questions to ask of your draft:

  • Did you provide evidence of your intellectual merit and broader impact with concrete examples?
  • Have you accurately represented your research experiences?
  • Is your past experience connected with your future research and professional goals?
  • Will a reader believe that you have the necessary skills and drive to undertake your proposed research?
  • Does this essay reflect the real you? Does it feel sincere?
  • Is the writing clear, compelling, and detailed?
  • What sets your essay apart from other applications?

Sample essays:

Students interested in studying sample essays for the NSFGRFP should contact the Office of Grants and Fellowships at gradgrants@nd.edu. The sample essays cover most fields and disciplines.

Sample reviewer comments

By analyzing reviewers’ comments on both successful and unsuccessful applications, you can determine what to include in your essays. Elements highlighted in blue will help boost your score, and elements in red should be avoided.

References

Much of the above material was adapted from GRFP learning materials created by Dr. Robin G. Walker, University of Missouri – Columbia. Visit her GRFP Essay Insights website for more information.

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