I received a Sustainability Grant from the UGA Office of Sustainability to study water infiltration on the UGA built environment, comparing the effectiveness of rain gardens to surrounding land. We developed two posters on water quality and infiltration, which we shared at the UGA IRIS conference.
As a ProjectRefocus student teacher, I taught sustainability lessons to students at Hilsman Middle School and developed a Sustainability in Schools handbook. Students imagined a sustainable school through art and learned how to test water for harmful chemicals.
NSF GRFP Documents
I applied for an NSF Graduate Fellowship in 2015 and 2017. In 2015, I applied to the Life Sciences - Ecology section, and I was not awarded. In 2018, I applied to the Life Sciences - Environmental Biology section, and I was awarded the fellowship!
2015 Application (unsuccessful, no Honorable Mention)
2017 Application (successful!)
I have uploaded my application essays (research and personal essay) and my reviews, because I believe more examples and more transparency benefits everyone. You can see how I developed over time, from an undergraduate applicant to a 2nd year graduate student. I was so incredibly lucky to have the experiences that I did, and I know that my circumstances afforded me opportunities that others may not have. With that being said, I believe these are a few of the factors (and tips~) that led to my application being successful:
1. Publications. Publishing scientific articles is considered to be the lifeblood of academia. While it is very difficult to publish as an undergraduate or early graduate student, doing so will set you apart. I was fortunate enough to have an undergraduate adviser who was very focused on publishing, so by the second time I applied, I had 3 publications and one submitted for publication.
2. Experiment-driven research proposal. In my field (forest ecology/environmental science), there are many cases where observational studies are used to make inferences about the world. However, for the NSF GRFP, you are expected to describe an experimental hypothesis-driven study. The more novel and potentially transformative for the field or for applied science, the better.
3. Science outreach relevant to your research is key! As you may know, GRFPs are judged equally on Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. Broader Impacts refer not only to the impact your research may have on the scientific community, but also how you will impact land managers, middle-schoolers, teachers, etc. Being able to show a history of meaningful outreach in your field, along with concrete plans that are a logical progression from your past outreach work is important. Plugging into an on-campus group or starting your own outreach group is a great idea! You can also find cool ways to reach people further online such as through iNaturalist or PlantingScience.
4. Recommendation letter-writers that tell your cohesive story. I knew that I wouldn't be able to fit in everything I wanted to talk about within the confines of a 3 page personal essay. Since you must have 3 recommendation letters, I identified 3 people that I had worked closely with, but who all had different experiences with me. I chose my undergraduate adviser, whom I had worked with for nearly 5 years, my current graduate adviser, and a member of my committee who had taught me a new skill. If you are able, the more explicit you are with what you would like them to write about, the better. For instance, I asked one of my letter writers to write about my potential as a scientist and another to describe examples where I overcame challenges (you can even remind them of what examples you may prefer). I used this resource from Vanderbilt on an example letter of recommendation to guide my requests. In the end, it's up to your letter writer to craft a great letter, and I had no idea of the contents of any of my letters.
5. Choose Field of Study carefully! The number of awards given per Field of Study is directly related to the number of applicants in that Field of Study. If you are choosing between two fields of study, chose the one that you think you will stand out in, or that the reviewers will be a better audience to your proposal. I fretted for a long time when choosing my field of study for the second time around - is it really Ecology? should it be classified as a subsection of Geosciences?? where does Environmental Biology fit in? In the end, I chose that it would be interdisciplinary but leaning toward Environmental Biology. I decided that it wasn't a good fit for any Geosciences category, and that it wasn't exactly Ecology either. What really helped me was reading the about each division of science within the NSF website (here is Environmental Biology) and deciding which field my research fit under best.