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NSF Graduate Experiences

Questions and Answers

  1. What do you think was a key differentiator on your particular application package that may have captured reviewers attention?

    Andy Malone: One thing that really helped me was the international research experience I had while at WVU. I was able to work in 3 different labs, with 2 of the labs being in another country (China and Germany). This showed that I was capable of international collaboration and I think it really made me stand out.

    Jacob Cordonier: The use of colorful illustrations that explained my research topic succinctly definitely made my proposal stand out. Graphics make it easier for your reviewers to visualize your thoughts and follow along with your ideas.

    Nicholas Ohi: I think the biggest thing that made my application stand out is that I described work I had done on projects as an undergraduate related to my proposed graduate research in my application. This showed that I already had experience and have achieved successful results in this field and would be capable of carrying out my proposed research.

  2. If there was one thing you would say that a prospective applicant should do, what would that be?

    Andy Malone: Other than spending time in a lab, it's really important to focus on the importance of the broader impact of your work as well as yourself. NSF is looking to fund people and ideas that are capable of impacting the world in a positive way. For me, my work focused on more accessible and cheaper pharmaceuticals, but I also spent a lot of time on STEM outreach for children through the college.

    Jacob Cordonier: I would tell them to start as early as possibly, to start formulating ideas at least six months ahead of the submission deadline. This enables the applicant to go through many iterations of an idea before settling on something that is plausible, novel, and fits into the guidelines of the program.

    Nicholas Ohi: Get involved with research projects before you apply. Having prior experience on related topics and showing you can work on difficult research gives you a lot more credibility and proves you can actually generate results. Through that involvement on research projects, be willing to step up to take on some of the more challenging problems being worked on by the research team. Above all, get involved in a project that is working on a topic that you truly care about.

  3. Even though you won the award, is there something else you wish you could have done differently?

    Andy Malone: I wish I would have spent more time focusing on the specifics of my research plan. Its really tough as a senior in college as you don't actually know what project you will be working on, so the more time you spend researching topics and thinking of novel methods, the more competitive your application will be.

    Jacob Cordonier: I would have started writing earlier, in the summer. With classes and work during the semester, it is difficult to find time to dedicate to the application. I didn't submit my application until the last day, and it made that week unnecessarily stressful!

    Nicholas Ohi: I wish I had taken more time to do more background research before I submitted my proposal so that I understood more specifics of what I would need to do to pursue my proposed research topic. Now that I have had more time to think about and work on my research topic, I think I have achieved that, but I would have liked to have had more depth in my knowledge at the time I developed and submitted my proposal.

  4. How did you get your advisor involved and do you think that was very important?

    Andy Malone: Getting my advisor involved was the best thing I could do for this fellowship. I had never written a grant proposal before, and she provided a lot of great mentorship as to what reviewers for NSF are looking for. As for getting her involved, Dr. Dinu was really hands-on so I told her I was interested in applying, and she started helping immediately. She was really great.

    Jacob Cordonier: I went to my advisor asking for help with revisions and asking for input on my research topic. My advisor was an invaluable resource throughout my application process. I would definitely recommend anyone applying to seek out their research advisor.

    Nicholas Ohi: My graduate research advisor helped me tremendously. He encouraged me to apply and he helped me review my proposal and gave me guidance based on his many years of experience writing research proposals. His guidance was very important in helping me write a successful proposal.