PhD Admissions: Fellowships!

One of the “hidden secrets” of PhD admissions is applying to fellowships. I had no idea what a fellowship was until I started randomly searching on The GradCafe forums and discovered the sub-forum known as the “The Bank“. The first thread that I came across was for the 2017-2018 NSF GRFP application cycle and I learned so much just by reading through the responses.

There are several fellowships out there for prospective students to apply to, but the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) may be the most popular. It is quite competitive in that it can be very hard to get awarded or even get honorable mention (HM). I won’t be going into great detail about the GRFP in this post because there are already so many great resources out there. I just wanted to put it on your radar, especially for those who are unfamiliar with it. I actually applied and was awarded HM and will be including my application materials as well as my reviewer comments at the end of this blog post! When working on your application, keep these tips in mind:

  • PRO TIP #1: READ THE PROGRAM SOLICITATION. THEN READ IT AGAIN. THEN READ IT ONE MORE TIME. Here is the current version. It will not only tell you what fields of study are eligible and who can apply, but it also gives you all the information you need to know to have the best chance of being awarded. This leads me to my next tip.
  • PRO TIP #2: Play close attention to the formatting requirements. PLEASE. If the font size is wrong, they will return your application without review. If you go over the required page limits, they will return your application without review. NSF really doesn’t play, so don’t take any chances.
  • PRO TIP #3: START EARLY! I cannot say this enough, please start early. The applications are usually due sometime in October (the dates will vary depending on your field of study) and it can take a lot out of you. I started working on mine two weeks before it was due because I was going back and forth deciding if it was worth it to apply (it is!) and became a zombie. It was not a fun time. Please make better decisions than I did! Also be sure to read through the FAQ (will update if it changes to match the new solicitation).
  • PRO TIP #4: The two most important parts of the NSF GRFP application are the Graduate Research Plan Statement and the Personal, Relevant Background, and Future Goals Statement. Making sure these essays are solid are going to be key for having any chance at being awarded the fellowship or HM. Have as many people read them and give you feedback as possible, especially those who have experience with the process. I had my letter writers/mentors read mine, along with a grad student. Also, get help with formulating your project idea for the research statement from your advisor if you can. I wasn’t able to and doing it on my own proved to be very challenging, but rewarding.
  • PRO TIP #5: Apply to as many fellowships as you can, you never know what could happen!
  • PRO TIP #6: Enjoy the process! Even though it was grueling, I enjoyed thinking extensively about the research area that I want to focus on in my PhD program and writing about it. I hope you do too!

Here are some wonderful resources about the NSF GRFP that I would highly recommend checking out:

Other fellowships to keep in mind:

  • Ford Predoctoral Fellowship
    • Goal: To diversify academia in the U.S. by increasing the number of BIPOC scholars that become faculty members as well as those who want inclusion to be part of their teaching pedagogy.
    • Website
    • Most recent thread on The GradCafe
  • National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program (NDSEG)
  • Hertz Fellowship
    • Goal: To invest in a person’s potential to be a leader in their field who will address the most pressing challenges facing society.
    • Website
  • Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans
    • Goal: To support thirty New Americans (i.e., immigrants or the children of immigrants) who are pursuing graduate school in the United States. 
    • Website

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