My Journey in Applying for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (aka) An Article on Shooting Your Shot

Here’s the thing about the NSF GRFP application. According to my obsessive research on Google and Quora, winning it seems to be something like pure luck (not to diminish the winning applicants). I’ve never been particularly lucky, but I’d like to think I’m somewhat of an optimist. For those who aren’t aware of what the GRFP application is, it’s a fellowship application funded by the National Science Foundation that provides full tuition and a living stipend for students in STEM graduate programs to focus on conducting innovative and individualized research.

So, basically, it’s everything you could ever ask for as a graduate student. Why would you not apply? The application consists of similar materials you would use to apply to graduate school such as: transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and a research proposal. The research proposal was the hardest for me because it’s honestly hard coming with a solid research question. Hence, the reason I am in a master’s program so I can further enhance these skills. On the other hand, some people struggle with the personal statement because in essence it can be the hardest part knowing how to effectively talk about yourself. You want it to be impactful, insightful and persuasive enough for people to want to invest in you. Knowing how to tell the story of yourself and how your research question aligns with your interests, your skill sets, and your resources available to you in your program are essential.

While applying for the fellowship, I definitely felt a range of emotions. Hopefulness birthed the motivation to consider applying, then fear and defeat came along when I worried I wasn’t experienced enough or maybe I should just wait until next year, then optimism told me I actually did have some experience and that I just needed to know how to tell the story, and eventually I just got to saying what the heck, what do I have to lose (besides sleep)? To be honest, it took me a while to even really consider applying because I lacked a lot of confidence in myself so I ended up applying really close to the deadline. After some very broad research interests, lots of talking with my hands in front of professors who encouraged me to dive deeper and do some free writing, I was finally hit with a research question I felt was specific enough and relevant to my interests and a need I could see in the field.

After putting together my application in a rapid amount of time, I’m not sure if I’ll win the fellowship. But I know that I have gained so much in the process. I’ve narrowed down a problem I’m interested in studying. I’ve fostered some new partnerships with professors and given them a better understanding of me and who I am and what I’m interested in. I’ve also gained the confidence that I can pull together a story of myself and relate that to important work I apsire to do in the future. All of this work was indeed worth it and necessary. Applying for the NSF GRFP wasn’t about just shooting my shot for the fellowship, it was also about the continuous need to shoot my shot on myself. I have talents, experiences, and the capacity to do really great work and it’s up to me to put myself on the line and to be confident in illustrating that to other people. Learning how to pitch myself and pitch my ideas is a critical skill I will need for the rest of my life. This is my spontaneity. This is my “I’ve got guts.” This is my tenacity. To stick it through even if it is last minute and the pressure is seriously on. To pursue opportunities that seem like a shot of luck and having the mentality to cope with the possibility of any outcome. To keep moving forward. Dreaming bigger. Following up with actions.

Here’s the point.

Learn to be flexible, to be driven, to be optimistic and a risk-taker. Shoot your shot when it comes to your biggest and wildest dreams, because what do you have to lose? Beyond the obvious, what else do you have to gain in the process?