NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in Ecology

If you are interested in applying for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in the field of Ecology, you’re in the right place! The fellowship is a fantastic opportunity to financially support your graduate school endeavors; however, the application can be a bit tricky to navigate. I’ve worked with several graduate student fellows to compile some tips that we found useful during our application process:

  • Be overly explicit about Broader Impacts in both the personal essay and in the proposal. In my final year, I actually had over a page of my personal essay under a “Broader Impacts” heading because in the previous years reviewers kept saying I was vague about them.
  • For the proposal, pick simple enough methods that they can be explained clearly and concisely! Biting off too much makes the methods section muddled, rushed, and too long.
  • Remember that NSF is funding YOU – not your project. In the research proposal, they want to see you carefully craft a hypothesis and then clearly outline the appropriate methodologies. In the personal essay, they want to find out why you are qualified to undertake high quality science.

Below are some example essays from graduate students who have been funded. I have included both successful and unsuccessful applications for students who were not funded the first time. Please remember that all materials are property of the original author and cannot be reproduced or copied without permission. A huge thanks to all of the graduate students who contributed essays and tips!

Evolution of embryo behavior: heterochrony of cued hatching mechanisms (Funded in 2016)

Effects of topographic complexity from crustose coralline algae to kelp forests (Funded in 2015)

Bioenergetics model of Weddell seals (Not Funded in 2014, Funded in 2015)

Effects of ocean acidification on the acorn barnacle (Funded in 2014)

Mule Deer/Bears (Not Funded in 2010, Honorable Mention in 2011, Funded in 2012)

Climate change and marine mammal behavior (Funded in 2008)

Importance of sea mounts to species of conservation concern (Not Funded in 2005, Funded in 2006)

Elephant seal lactation efficiency (Funded in 2001)


In addition to the proposal essays above, I have found the following materials, put together by James Faghmous (University of Minnesota) and Doug Causey (University of Alaska Anchorage) to be extremely helpful (and very concise):

Here are some links for websites that discuss the application process in much more detail:

And a couple websites that give very helpful tips:

Feel free to email me (roxanne.beltran@gmail.com) with questions that you have – I’m happy to help in any way that I can. Good luck with your NSF GRFP application this year!

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