The National Science Foundation funds basic science research at the early graduate, dissertation, and postdoctoral stages. The NSF uses two criteria for evaluating funding applications: intellectual merit and broader impacts. In this blog post, I will explain ways in which you can go about addressing the broader impacts criteria in your application.
Brainstorm and free-write
In the first stages of drafting your application, it is best to consider all the possible ways your research addresses broader impacts. To do so, consult the NSF’s 2013 document on Revised NSF Merit Review Criteria. The document will serve as guide for you to write an open-ended rough draft on the ways in which your work has and will continue to advance any of the various facets of the broader impacts as defined in NSF literature. In this brainstorming stage, consider your experience in teaching and training, outreach and dissemination, and the societal benefit of your research.
Be creative, but evidence based
After you have brainstormed and completed a comprehensive free-write on the impact of your teaching and research, you will next want to strategize how to most effectively frame your narrative. What are the outreach, training, and other activities that both qualify as broader impacts and speak to the unique profile you want to create for yourself as a scientific researcher? Aim to tell a story that sets you apart from other candidates, but also make sure that the impacts are tangible. For example, if you have decided to use social media as a platform for outreach to a non-scientific audience, you will need to reassure the reviewers that there is an actual audience for the work you are disseminating on the internet. Be creative, but be evidence based.
Solicit feedback and revise
As you develop your NSF application, make sure to share your drafts with your advisor and relevant faculty as they will be familiar with the NSF review criteria. Application review meetings with a GradFund fellowship advisor will also help you work through the brainstorming and revision stages of your application, and guide you toward writing an effective proposal.