Yesterday, I submitted my application for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP). The major field of study I applied for was “Human Computer Interaction” under “Computer and Information Science and Engineering.”

I gotta give a quick shout out to Alex Lang and Mallory Ladd’s websites (link and link). Great resources and wonderful examples of the essays.

With that said, time to reflect on my takeaways/lessons learned:

1. Don’t be afraid to apply, even if you’re still an undergrad

At the time I’m writing this, I’m a senior undergrad (which is a Level 1 applicant for the NSF GRFP). To be honest — and maybe this is because my impostor syndrome was kicking in — I didn’t feel qualified to fill out an application. I’ve never done any grant writing, so I was intimidated by the whole process. But I realized, we all have to start somewhere. And I think it’s pretty cool that the NSF GRFP encourages undergrads to apply.

2. Just write

Speaking of starting somewhere, I had a hard time getting started on writing the essays. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but I had cold feet. I think one of my mentors said it best, “Just get your ass in a chair and write!” (I’m probably paraphrasing a bit hehe).

Even if it’s a super duper rough draft, at least you have something you can work with and edit.

3. And make sure you read up on the literature in your field

Not only does this enhance your knowledge, but it exposes you to scientific writing.

4. Start earlier than September

I severely underestimated how much time it would take for me to get an application ready. I started writing my essays around the end of September, so that left me about 3 weeks until the deadline.

I managed to get it all in on time, but I definitely had to go into overtime.

5. Proofread proofread proofread

I went through so many revisions. And that’s a good thing. I’m thankful to all the people who ready my stuff and gave me feedback. Looking back at my first draft versus my final draft, I can easily say there was a huuuge improvement.

6. This process helps you critically think about your research, and will come into some use later on

Earlier this morning, a colleague told me that even if you don’t get funded, everything that you did for the application will useful to you.

I can attest to that. Going through this NSF GRFP application made me go through many scientific papers, learn how to write better, and become a better at communicating and articulating my ideas.

Final thoughts

Overall, I’m glad I underwent this. I’m debating if I should post my essays somewhere, in the spirit of paying it forward. I think I’ll go ahead and do that after results come out or something 🙂