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What's the Secret to the NSF?


jeeves0923
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Many people have asked me for advice. I figured that I don't really need to re-invent the wheel here. I followed Elly's advice from last year after I got HM, and it paid off this year...

 

I could add some insight here: I received the NSF but was rejected from all top-10 schools. I took the NSF application very very seriously- I wrote all of my essays with the evaluation criterion in mind, to the point of being ridiculous. Read some of the sample proposals available online, these aren't necessarily the best written or soundest proposals, they just mastered the game of how the scoring works. I'm not saying people that receive the award don't deserve it, it's just there is a large group of sufficiently awesome people, they give it to those who followed the directions.

 

The bolded statements, I ran with. A few things I might be able to expand on.

 

1) In your research proposal be very precise about your deliverables and how those deliverables add to the literature and (most importantly) add to broader impacts criteria.

2) In your Personal Statement, make sure you very specifically and explicitly address each broader impact. The graders have a check sheet. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to check off each broader impact as 'excellent'.

3) Read sample essays. It is helpful. I'll look up some that were posted here and edit them into this post.

 

I highly recommend applying, especially for those with less of a well-known undergrad. It can help your admissions beyond belief! I spent more time on my NSF application than I spent on my other 15 applications combined. I had upwards of 10 people read each of my essays. Even if you don't win, you get the experience of writing a proposal to the NSF.

 

All that said, I still don't have my review sheets back, so I may be able to provide more insight after I get those...

 

EDIT: Check this thread http://www.www.urch.com/forums/phd-economics/99171-nsf-sample-essays.html for some sample essays. Very helpful.

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congrats on MIT!!!!!!!!!!!

 

btw, what i never understood: what makes schools (especially reputable ones such as MIT) reconsider you because of NSF?

 

your academic profile hasn't changed...

 

is it just that MIT is low on funding and bringing your own funding will lower the academic bar? an NSF winner is still the same candidate on paper, right?

 

what's in it for MIT?

 

thanks!

 

didn't even know he could have applied for an NSF scholarship as an economist,

economics

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I agree with the goals outlined in Jeeves post, but I think this thread could use some more discussion on how to effectively reach these goals.

 

First, one slight addition to the list of goals -- intellectual merit of course is the other criterion. This isn't simply grades and test scores (and I know of more than a few NSF winners from lesser-known schools and QGREs that prevent their applications from being read at some places). I would sum this up with the sentence, "Credibly demonstrate your competency to carry out your research proposal."

 

So for this goal, and the broader impacts, I would write down all the specific criteria, and think carefully about every your aspect of your life that lends some supporting evidence to your competency to carry out your research proposal and your competency in carrying out the broader impacts related to your research proposal. The connections can be pretty loose, but they can be made. This could include coursework, RA work, research experience, even certain extracurricular or work-related activities. If your LOR writers can vouch for any of this, make sure they do so directly. In other words, make sure your LOR writers can point to specific things you've done that demonstrate your competency to carry out your research proposal.

 

This list of goals, and how to execute these goals, certainly can help guide you to an appropriate choice of a research proposal in the first place. Hopefully this can come pretty naturally. If you've always pursued research questions that most interested you, there will be a lot of things you can point to in your life that demonstrate your interest in your proposal and competency to carry it out. If not, it's harder, but probably not impossible.

 

Jeeves can tell me whether he agrees the above was true of his application, but my impression is that other NSF winners I've known did the above effectively.

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Jeeves can tell me whether he agrees the above was true of his application, but my impression is that other NSF winners I've known did the above effectively.

 

Couldn't have said it better myself, Golden Rule!

 

The life factors were mostly in the Personal Statement, Competency Factors in the Research Experience Essay and some in the PS, and of course the Proposal speaks for itself. I made sure they were all quite related, and I tried to be as precise and specific as possible as to how I would fulfill every criteria that they listed as important.

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congrats on MIT!!!!!!!!!!!

btw, what i never understood: what makes schools (especially reputable ones such as MIT) reconsider you because of NSF?

your academic profile hasn't changed...

is it just that MIT is low on funding and bringing your own funding will lower the academic bar? an NSF winner is still the same candidate on paper, right?

what's in it for MIT?

The difference is basically people coming from lesser-known schools with less-known recommenders, their applications may lack a particular signal of quality, and the NSF adds that signal. If people don't make some minimum quality cutoff, ad coms aren't getting to spend the time to closely evaluate every applicants' research profile and quality.

 

Once an applicant wins the NSF, the committee will then take a closer look at the applicants' WHOLE profile and quality beyond the simplest measures, and find for themselves that the applicant is better than they noticed on the first pass. That and the additional signal from the NSF, and the funds from the NSF, can all then be a factor in the student being admitted on the second pass.

 

People have joked that some schools outsource admissions to the NSF, and to some extent that's true. It might be possible that the NSF has the unintended consequence of lowering the effort ad coms spend evaluating applicants from lesser-known places, since they figure if such quality candidates exist, the NSF will let them know.

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Jeeves .. I think you got honorable mention last year. Did you refine your proposal from last year and make it sharper (or) did you create a proposal with a new idea altogether?

 

Good question. It was a distinctly different proposal with some similar ideas, but completely different approaches.

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The difference is basically people coming from lesser-known schools with less-known recommenders, their applications may lack a particular signal of quality, and the NSF adds that signal. If people don't make some minimum quality cutoff, ad coms aren't getting to spend the time to closely evaluate every applicants' research profile and quality.

 

Once an applicant wins the NSF, the committee will then take a closer look at the applicants' WHOLE profile and quality beyond the simplest measures, and find for themselves that the applicant is better than they noticed on the first pass. That and the additional signal from the NSF, and the funds from the NSF, can all then be a factor in the student being admitted on the second pass.

 

People have joked that some schools outsource admissions to the NSF, and to some extent that's true. It might be possible that the NSF has the unintended consequence of lowering the effort ad coms spend evaluating applicants from lesser-known places, since they figure if such quality candidates exist, the NSF will let them know.

 

Couldn't have said it better myself.

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By the way, congrats again, and thank you for all of your continued feedback on the process. It'd be easy and understandable to think you'd take a TM break and relax somewhere in Costa Rica for a while :)

 

Actually, forget us, go take a break somewhere in Costa Rica for awhile.

 

After today, I will be trying to faze out my participation in the forum, and come back in to strike with advice only at the most opportune times... When I grow up, hopefully I can be like Antichron :)

 

If after I stop posting, anyone has specific questions, please feel free to PM me!

 

It won't be Costa Rica, but it will be nice :) Thank you for the kind words, Mobius, and I wish you nothing but success in Michigan. Tell asquare I said hello :)

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Like you said above, there are some limits to how much grad school you can have done before you apply for the NSF. What I'm wondering is whether masters degrees (yours in math, or in econ) count against that. Like for you, was this the last year you could apply, because of your math masters? Or would it not count, since you were applying to econ programs? If it is the case that your math masters didn't count against your application times, would it also be the case for econ masters? What if say, someone got a JD or other professional degree first. Would that preclude them from applying to NSF?
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Like you said above, there are some limits to how much grad school you can have done before you apply for the NSF. What I'm wondering is whether masters degrees (yours in math, or in econ) count against that. Like for you, was this the last year you could apply, because of your math masters? Or would it not count, since you were applying to econ programs? If it is the case that your math masters didn't count against your application times, would it also be the case for econ masters? What if say, someone got a JD or other professional degree first. Would that preclude them from applying to NSF?

 

In general, all post-baccalaureate study counts against this, but you can ask for (and you'll generally receive) an exception if you change fields. It is just another 'essay' you have to submit saying that you don't have more than 12 months post-bac in your intended field of terminal degree

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In general, all post-baccalaureate study counts against this, but you can ask for (and you'll generally receive) an exception if you change fields. It is just another 'essay' you have to submit saying that you don't have more than 12 months post-bac in your intended field of terminal degree

 

Cool, thanks! I'm sad to see you'll be scaling back on posting, but you gotta do your thing I guess. Keep it real.

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congrats on MIT!!!!!!!!!!!

 

btw, what i never understood: what makes schools (especially reputable ones such as MIT) reconsider you because of NSF?

 

your academic profile hasn't changed...

 

economics

 

I imagine schools can identify the top-50 or so applicants (the "perfect ones") relatively quickly and easily, and MIT knows it will almost fill its class from this pool. Rather than dig deep into the pile to fill the last few spots, MIT lets the NSF figure it out for them. This is my take.

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First, let me say congratulations Jeeves, well done and I wish you future success.

 

I wanted to ask you this, within your proposals did you speak of the impact that your research would have in terms of public debate and discussion or in terms of government policy changes or both? I am now considering applying next year and I want to begin my process now, but I have not begun to read about the process thus I am still uninformed about it.

 

Thanks for any help you can offer.

 

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First, let me say congratulations Jeeves, well done and I wish you future success.

 

I wanted to ask you this, within your proposals did you speak of the impact that your research would have in terms of public debate and discussion or in terms of government policy changes or both? I am now considering applying next year and I want to begin my process now, but I have not begun to read about the process thus I am still uninformed about it.

 

Thanks for any help you can offer.

 

I'm not saying that this is the only way to be successful, but it is what I did:

 

I talked about the potential broader impacts of my proposal regardless of the results. Those were 1) How exactly it will add to the literature in terms of the technical methodology and 2) How different results of the project would affect the subject.

 

It wasn't so much about public debate and I avoided any ideological slant. I made sure just to address a question and describe how it is interesting and relevant.

 

You really don't have much space in 2 pages to do too much aside from a brief summary, methodology and explanation of broader impacts...

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I'm not saying that this is the only way to be successful, but it is what I did:

 

I talked about the potential broader impacts of my proposal regardless of the results. Those were 1) How exactly it will add to the literature in terms of the technical methodology and 2) How different results of the project would affect the subject.

 

It wasn't so much about public debate and I avoided any ideological slant. I made sure just to address a question and describe how it is interesting and relevant.

 

You really don't have much space in 2 pages to do too much aside from a brief summary, methodology and explanation of broader impacts...

 

This is interesting. So I guess the broader impacts is about the impacts on the field, not the world.

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