These fellowships are ideal for new graduate students because they can apply during their lab rotations (the fellowships are specifically for new graduate students). I was fortunate to hear about these fellowships shortly after I started grad school, and was additionally very fortunate to be awarded the NDSEG fellowship. Because I know many students don't know about these fellowships, I want to spread the word and offer whatever insight I can think of. The following are some points I think are useful to think about when preparing the applications, and especially when writing the personal statements.
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
1. Get Started EarlyThis is important for any grant or fellowship, and I’m sure it's obvious. Getting a head start is important because it gives you time to get your papers together, it gives your references plenty of time to submit their section, and it will give you plenty of time to think about your application, have it edited by others, and revise it. Of course one of the goals is to get the fellowship, but this is graduate school so it is just as important to learn about writing a good application.
As an additional note, it is important to get started on this early in your graduate career. Students are only eligible during the first two years of grad school (and can even apply during their last year in undergrad).
2. Broader Impacts
The reviewers said they wanted to hear more specifics about what I have been doing, during my early months in graduate school, to promote the broader impacts of my science. Therefore, the main point I want to pass on is that you need to focus on the specifics of your broader impacts (mention the names of organizations you are working with or want to work with, not vague ideas), and currently be engaging in most of those activities. Luckily it is still the summer, so try to get out there and do what you can so that you will be set for applications like these.
3. Basic ScienceI think this point will be taken most by scientists like me who are primarily trained for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) program. I am not all that experienced with applying for NSF grants, but I do know that it needs to be basic. Do not propose medical or translational research here. You will need to propose a project that is purely basic science.
DoD National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship
1. Similar to the NSF Fellowship
2. Research, Education, and Public ServiceI wanted to mention these three points because these were the three career goals I focused on throughout my successful personal statement essay. I found it helpful to summarize my broad goals in five words, and then have those as my foundation for the rest of the essay. It is a good idea to keep these essays concise, well structured, and simple.
3. Commitment to Your CountryI think an important aspect of this application is showing your commitment to serving your country through your research. One of the ways I did this was mentioning that I am an Eagle Scout and that I have continued to be committed to my community and country. If you are an Eagle Scout or Gold Award Girl Scout, in AmeriCorps, in the military, or anything related, be sure to explicitly mention it because these achievements show your devotion to your country and community. Additionally, mention your extracurricular activities as an undergrad because service through those groups also shows commitment to you country and community.
4. Military & Defense ScienceLike I mentioned above, be sure to focus on how your science is important for the Department of Defense, as well as how you will use it to benefit the general American public (similar to the broader impacts idea for the NSF).
5. Get on FacebookInterestingly, I have found that I get most of my fellowship information from Facebook, not through emails. The NDSEG fellowship has a Facebook group that is full of applicant questions that have been answered. If you want to stay updated on the application process and everything, you need to join their Facebook page.
Practical NDSEG Information
1. The Stipend and TaxesThe NDSEG fellowship provides a generous stipend that is paid monthly as direct deposit. Overall it was the same setup as the stipend I was getting from my Penn graduate program. Taxes were also not difficult to figure out. I did not have many issues and the people at the NDSEG fellowship office are helpful so it’s a smooth process.
2. Delays or Issues with Stipends & TuitionLike I alluded to in the above section, I did not run into any problems that I could not easily fix by working with the people at the NDSEG office. It was a smooth process in my experience.
3. Which of the Two is Better?I have been asked (especially by somebody who was offered both the NSF and DoD fellowships) which fellowship is better. I obviously have a slight conflict of interest because I have the NDSEG fellowship, but here is my opinion anyways. The main advantage I can see for the NSF fellowship is that they offer you money for traveling, while the NDSEG fellowship offers some cool internship opportunities over the NSF fellowship. In the end, they are both very similar and excellent fellowships.
The application process for these fellowships is difficult and time consuming, but it is all worth the experience and the possibility of winning the award. The best thing you can do is to learn as much as you can from online resources like these, and to ASK for help & advice. Feel free to hit me up with any questions (probably best to use the comments section below or email) and good luck!
I thought this website was a good place to start: Jennifer Wang
And I remember reading this site too: Philip Guo
Works CitedNSF NDSEG Logo: https://si0.twimg.com/profile_images/1523775279/NSFGRFP.jpg
DoD Logo: http://www.stanford.edu/~kywei/images/ndseg.png