Office of Graduate Student External Grants and Fellowships | GradFund

Developing a Relationship with your NSF Program

by | Mar 18, 2019 | Best Practices, NSF, Seeking and Receiving Feedback, Understanding Award Types

*This blog is in preparation for GradFund’s upcoming Applying to the NSF workshop

The National Science Foundation funds graduate students every year in a wide array of disciplines, from cultural anthropology to biomedical engineering. Awards are available for almost every level of graduate study, whether it be applying for the Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) during your first year of study or submitting an NSF postdoc application as you finish writing your dissertation. If only for this reason, it is important to be familiar with the NSF structure and know how it could impact your research trajectory both during grad school and beyond.

Grant proposal submissions might feel like you are sending this perfectly manicured document into a dark abyss. What exactly happens to the PDF you upload and where does everything go when you hit submit? For the NSF, every grant or fellowship application of a specific discipline is sent to a corresponding program officer. Program officers are full-time NSF employees that work exclusively in a set area in which they themselves have a doctorate. Do you ever wonder who decides who will review your application? It’s your program officer. Who collects your reviews and makes final funding recommendations? It’s your program officer, and they do these things for every level of award each year.

Applying for an early stage graduate fellowship like the GRF puts you in contact with your program officer early on in your career. This same person will be involved in your DDRIG application several years later. Developing a “relationship” with the NSF means your program officer will recognize who you are as a researcher, understand your focus, and grasp the importance of the questions you ask. This means you will get better feedback from reviewers because your program officer will know who should judge your application. Reviewers will then become familiar with your work and recognize your name later on when it matters.

Building a line of communication with your program officer is important for the downstream effects. Contacting your program officer should not be something to fear. They are members of the academic community with a specific purpose. This means, with just reason, you can contact them to find out information about the scope of awards, specific funding questions, and other pertinent logistical questions about NSF funding. I’ve even emailed my program officer to ask about content for GradFund blogs! Many program officers even go to national conferences and are more than willing to sit down with you.

The NSF will always be a potential source of funding for anyone in a STEM field, including the social sciences. The easiest way to develop a “relationship” with the NSF is to develop good rapport with your program officer. Program officers are busy people with lots on their plate. By being a familiar, dependable name, you will only enhance your fundability.

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