If you’re applying to Ph.D. programs, it never hurts to have your own funding. You’ll have more time for research, you’ll probably be paid better, and it gives you independence. But even writing an unsuccessful application is worthwhile because it will help you early on to collect your thoughts about where you might go with your Ph.D. For that reason, I strongly advise prospective Ph.D. students to apply for a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP for short).

This year, GRFP applications are due in late October, so it’s a good time to contact potential advisors and start discussing ideas. Writing a proposal, even a short one, takes longer than you think, even after accounting for the fact that it takes longer than you think. If you haven’t started a Ph.D. program already you may feel like you don’t know enough to write a proposal. I would say it’s still worth writing. Why?

  • Writing a proposal will help you hone your thoughts for when you talk with potential advisors and apply to programs.
  • Your proposal will be reviewed and these comments can help you improve it for next year.
  • It shows potential advisors and programs that you take initiative.
  • Also, you might actually be ready and get funded!

So if you’re interested in writing a GRFP proposal, check out some successful NSF GRFP examples compiled by Yaniv Brandvain. Better still, if you want to study plant evolution and ecophysiology in Hawai’i, please email me to discuss writing a GRFP proposal to work in my lab.