Office of Graduate Student External Grants and Fellowships | GradFund

The Challenge with “Broader Impacts”

by | Jan 2, 2017 | Proposal Writing Advice


Even if you are very engaged with community outreach, diversity work, and mentoring, it can be hard to communicate the “broader impacts” of your work. This post in particular applies to fellowships that require you to address how your research will benefit others, such as the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, the Ford Foundation Fellowships, AAUW Fellowships, and several others.

It can be difficult to tie in your extracurricular activities with your research activities. Many fellowships will ask you to do this either in your personal statement or research statement. Here are some questions to help you think about the broader impacts of your research outside of your dissertation.

Does your work advance the methodologies of your field, and are these advances widely accessible?

Perhaps you have developed a more efficient way of analyzing a particular type of dataset. Have you published this method and/or made it easily accessible online?

Does your work impact a diverse group of people? 

Maybe you study a particular demographic of people or a certain geographic area. Would the results of your work benefit those communities? Is there a way you can disseminate this research through publishing in a local newspaper or giving a presentation in the community?

Will the knowledge you have gained from your research benefit humanity? 

Does your work involve improving disease detection or treatment? Have you developed a new way of teaching or evaluating the efficacy of teaching art, math, or any other subjects? If there is any way your research will benefit humanity, have you communicated the impacts of your work to the community? If you haven’t, how could you go about doing that?

Can you involve undergraduates or high school students in your research? 

Involving undergraduates in research is not only a transformative experience for them, but for you as well. It will build your mentoring abilities and problem-solving skills beyond what they would be if you did not engage in mentoring. Can you give an undergraduate a small task as part of your larger project? It could be a particular part of a literature review or developing a small piece of methodology.

Can you bring your research to your community, either through local schools or another organization? 

Community organizations and local schools are often interested in learning about university research. You could partner with a science teacher at a local school and present your research to the class, most importantly making it relevant to the class’s subject of study. Or you could reach out to a local community group. If your research involves studying addiction, local support groups (such as AA) may be interested in learning about your research and findings. On the other hand, if you study a particular aspect of World War I history, a local senior center may be interested in your findings.

One more tip: Addressing funder goals. 

When describing the impacts of your work (besides contributing to your academic field), it is important to keep the goals of your funder in mind. For example, do not discuss the benefits to health or disease detection for an NSF application because the NSF’s goal is to fund basic science. If you tutor at an inner-city school with a predominantly minority population, make sure you mention specifically how this advances other women if you are applying for one of the AAUW fellowships.

If you would like to discuss how you can frame your research and extracurricular activities into broader impacts for a particular fellowship application, make an appointment with GradFund!

GradFund would also be interested in hearing how you think about broader impacts. Please leave comments below with your ideas!

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