Dreaming of Graduate School? Wondering how to pay for it? Opportunities Abound through National Science Foundation (NSF) Fellowships

Submitted by Meredith Berthelson and Jennifer Slimowitz Pearl, PhD

377 Many students getting ready to graduate with their baccalaureate degrees contemplate graduate studies or are planning to continue their education. One of the major obstacles can be funding: students who have just finished their undergraduate education may not want to add more tuition bills to the pile. If only there was a way to help them continue their education and execute some of the research that they wish to do. Ah, but there is! One of the most valuable funding mechanisms for mathematics and statistics graduate students is the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).

Key Elements of the NSF GRFP

The GRFP is a 5-year award that is worth $126,000. The NSF Graduate Fellow receives three years of support (useable over a 5 year period). For each of these three years, the Fellow receives a $30,000 stipend and the graduate institution receives a $12,000 educational allowance to cover tuition and all required fees. The Fellow also has access to international research opportunities and to supercomputing resources.

Eligible applicants must be either a U.S. citizen, national or permanent resident, and an early-career graduate student pursuing a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in an NSF supported field. In mathematical and statistical sciences, the following categories are included: Algebra, Number Theory, and Combinatorics; Analysis; Applied Mathematics; Biostatistics; Computational and Data-enabled Science; Computational Mathematics; Computational Statistics; Geometric Analysis; Logic or Foundations of Mathematics; Mathematical Biology; Probability; Statistics; Topology; or Other (related fields not included in the list). Applicants must be planning to enroll in an accredited institution in the United States by the Fall following announcement of the award. Anyone who has already received a graduate degree is not eligible.

Application Tips on “Intellectual Merit” and “Broader Impacts”

To enter the competition, you need to submit a complete application via NSF FastLane. The application consists of a personal statement, description of previous research experience, proposed plan of research, and transcripts. Part of the application also includes three letters of reference, submitted separately via FastLane by the reference writers. Reviewers evaluate the applications on the basis of the two National Science Board criteria: Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. For Intellectual Merit, you will need to demonstrate your academic capability and other conventional requisites for scholarly, scientific study. Details such as the ability to plan and conduct research, work in a team as well as independently, and interpret and communicate research are useful. To demonstrate Broader Impacts, convey how your research will contribute on a larger scale to society and the breadth of its audience. Will it encourage diversity, broaden opportunities, and allow participation of all citizens in science and research? If so, this should be evident to the reviewer. Examples of Broader Impacts activities may be accessed here.

Don’t Be Shy! Share your Accomplishments

When preparing the application, you should be clear and specific, so that the reviewer doesn’t struggle as he or she is reading the application. Describe your experiences—whether they are personal, professional, or educational—which have been factors in your preparation and that have driven you to pursue graduate study. Be detailed about your involvement in any scientific research activities and what you learned from those experiences. If you have not been involved with any direct research, then describe any activities that you believe have prepared you to start research. Also don’t let the reader try to glean from your writing that you “could” be a leader in some capacity. Instead, describe your leadership potential directly. How do you see yourself contributing to research, education and innovation? Provide the reviewers with your career aspirations and specific goals you hope to accomplish. You need to sell yourself in your application.

Words of Wisdom about the Application Process from a Fellow SACNISTA

SACNISTA Gina-Maria Pomann, a current NSF Graduate Fellow, hammers home the importance of some of these requirements. 376 Gina-Maria & mentor Dr. Ricardo CortezGina-Maria Pomann is pursuing her PhD in Statistics at North Carolina State University. Her research interests are functional data analysis with applications to magnetic resonance imaging and dynamic treatment regimens. She feels that the GRF, in combination with her AT&T Labs Fellowship, has allowed her to work on an array of different projects as well as with different mentors. Gina-Maria started out earning an AS degree from Middlesex County College and then transferred to The College of New Jersey where she earned her bachelor’s in Mathematics with a minor in Statistics. Gina first learned about graduate school and the GRF at the Mathematical Science Research Institute Undergraduate Program (MSRI-UP). MSRI-UP also took Gina and her fellow participants to a SACNAS conference where the students were further informed about the GRF as well as other opportunities. Her advice to students seeking a GRF is, “Get as much undergraduate research experience as possible!” She states her early research experiences helped her focus her research interests and helped her to write her GRF application.

The Official Details

For the official NSF solicitation, visit the Division of Graduate Education website for announcement of the new 2012 Solicitation. For more information, and tips from awardees and reviewers, go to the GRFP Website at http://www.nsfgrfp.org or contact: 1-866-NSF-GRFP (673-4737), email: info@nsfgradfellows.org. For access to the online applications, user guides and other official announcements log on to the FastLane website at https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/grfp/

There will be opportunities to learn more about the GRFP at the SACNAS National Conference this year in Seattle. On Saturday, October 13th there will be two sessions:

1. Workshop on NSF Funding for Graduate School (1:30 pm – 3:00 pm)

2. Graduate School Funding: scholarships, fellowships and institutional resources (3:15 – 4:45 pm)

NSF will also have an exhibit during the conference.

About the Authors

Meredith Berthelson, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe, is pursuing her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Montana where she is currently serving in a six month QEM/TCUP fellowship at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Meredith also received a Master’s of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Montana where her research focused on improving Native American students’ interest in mathematics and science through the use of the astrobiology field and select pedagogies. Her undergraduate career was spent at Montana State University where she earned her BS in mathematics.

Jennifer Slimowitz Pearl, PhD, currently serves as a Program Director in the Division of Mathematical Sciences at NSF. She was formerly a Program Director in NSF's Office of International Science and Engineering. Dr. Pearl has held positions at the National Academies and at Rice University. She was an AAAS/NSF Science and Technology Policy Fellow and was awarded a NSF/NATO Postdoctoral Fellowship to conduct research at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Dr. Pearl earned her PhD in mathematics specializing in symplectic geometry from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and her BS in mathematics from Duke University.

This article orginally appeared in the September issue of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics Bulletin online.