Applying for a NSF GRFP while in a Clinical Psychology Program – Part V

I have written extensively on applying for a NSF GRFP while in a Clinical Psychology Program in this blog. See previous posts in Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV. In today’s post, I am planning to discuss the research proposal. 

Research Idea:

In order to write a research proposal, you first need to think of a research idea. I suggest you narrow down a topic area before you even start this process. However, you must be careful that your topic area is supported by the NSF. Below is what the NSF does not support:

“Clinical study that is ineligible includes patient-oriented research, epidemiological and behavioral studies, outcomes research and health services research. For example, clinical study that is ineligible includes investigations to provide evidence leading to a scientific basis for consideration of a change in health policy or standard of care, and includes pharmacologic, non-pharmacologic, and behavioral interventions for disease prevention, prophylaxis, diagnosis, or therapy. Community and other population-based intervention trials are also ineligible.”

“Research with disease-related goals, including work on the etiology, diagnosis or treatment of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or malfunction in human beings is normally not supported. Animal models of such conditions or the development or testing of drugs or other procedures for their treatment also are not eligible for support. However, research in bioengineering, with diagnosis or treatment-related goals, that applies engineering principles to problems in biology and medicine while advancing engineering knowledge is eligible for support. Bioengineering research to aid persons with disabilities also is eligible.”

Once You Narrow Down Your Topic Area…

Once you narrow down your topic area, it’s time to start thinking of research ideas. I suggest you schedule a meeting with your graduate mentor and let him/her know that you are interested in pursuing an NSF, and that you are thinking of a particular area. Ask your mentor to send you articles/etc in this topic area, and look for some on your own. When you read the articles, pay attention to gaps in the research literature. Specifically, pay attention to the sections that elaborate on further research that needs to be conducted in the field.

Make a list of any potential research ideas that come to mind. You can think broadly at this point, and they don’t need to be perfect. After you make a list of topics, you can elaborate on at them a bit. Elaborate on 1) Why it is important to study this topic and 2) What potential study you could conduct.

Run them by your mentor and get his/her thoughts on the topics (note – this is VERY important. Do not skip this step). At this point, you are likely going to be able to narrow down on a topic.

Writing the Proposal

Once you have specific research question, you must work on what methods you are planning to use. Read past literature in the field to see what methods have been used by other researchers, and certainly consult with your mentor.

After you know your methodological approach, you can begin writing. Your essay should include:

  • Methodology: You must have a clear overview of your research methodology. This includes:
    • Detailed explanation on the methods, and why they are appropriate
    • Timeline
    • Progress monitoring
    • Ethical issues
    • Contingencies
  • Resources:  What resources does your university have that will enable you to conduct your research? Be sure to include your mentor as a resource, and why he/she would be a good resource to you.
  • Skills: Explain what skills you have that will allow you to conduct this project successfully. If you lack the skills, explain how you will acquire them. Also, elaborate on what new skills you will acquire by conducting this research topic.
  • Intellectual Merit:  How is your topic innovative and trans formative? How will your research question inform your particular field and scientific understanding in general? Are you planning to publish findings and present them at a research conference?
  • Broader Impact: Explain how your research will benefit society as a whole. How will diverse populations benefit from your research? How will you inform people inside and outside of academia about your research?
  • A strong ending.  State how this research topic will be related to your dissertation and long-term research, if applicable. End strongly by re-iterating why the NSF should invest in you.

 

Applying for a NSF GRFP while in a Clinical Psychology Program – Part IV

One of the biggest pieces of the NSF GRFP application is the personal essay, also known as the personal, relevant background, and future goals statement. 

What should this essay accomplish?

In this essay, you should:

  • Elaborate on what motivated you to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology
    • Elaborate on why you chose Clinical Psychology and your particular program specifically
    • Highlight teaching/leadership/research experience/etc that motivated you to pursue a PhD, and elaborate on why it motivated you to do so
    • Be sure to mention any hardships or how you would be adding diversity to the STEM fields
  • Review your past research experience and other relevant activities
    • Be concise. Briefly summarize the research, the results, and what you did
    • You should mention how the findings fit into the wider arena of science as well as your field in particular
    • You should mention how your past projects inspired your future research plans/career goals
    • Elaborate on your role. How long did you work on this project? Did you work individually or as part of a team? How did your work relate to the larger research project?
    • If any research experience is related to your graduate topic, be sure to mention it and elaborate on it.
    • There should be some sort of flow from one experience to the next
    • Highlight your publications / posters in scholarly journals as well as how you presented your research to the mass audience
    • Be sure to mention any research and professional skills you gained, and how you plan to use them in the future
    • Describe the contributions of your activities to broader societal impact
    • You should make a point about how exciting research is to you
  • Elaborate on your career goals
  • Make sure to address the Broader Impact and Intellectual Merit criteria

How can you address the Broader Impact and Intellectual Merit Criteria?

You can address these criteria by:

  • When elaborating on how you decided to pursue a PhD, mention any work with diverse populations/teaching/study abroad that may have inspired you
  • Be sure to mention any leadership or outreach experiences you have had
  • Include any volunteer work you may have done, particularly if it is related to your research area
  • When elaborating on your career goals, elaborate on how graduate school will prepare you for an academic career that will expand on scientific knowledge and benefit our society
  • Specifying who will benefit from your research, and elaborating on how they will benefit

What is the world limit?

The world limit is 3 pages. 

Applying for a NSF GRFP while in a Clinical Psychology Program – Part III

In general, when reviewing NSF GRFP applications reviewers are asked to consider the two Merit Review Criteria – the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts.

Where Should You Address These Criteria?

These criteria should be addressed in both your essays.

Broader Impact

Broader impact refers to the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.  This relates to 1) the potential of the applicant for future broader impacts and, 2) broader impacts may be accomplished through the research itself (through either “the activities that are directly related to specific research projects, or through activities that are supported by, but are complementary to, the project“)

Specifically, the NSF values:

  • Participation of women, persons with disabilities, and URMs in STEM fields
  • Improved STEM education and educator development
  • Increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology
  • Improved well-being of individuals in society
  • Development of a diverse STEM workforce
  • Increased partnerships between academia & industry
  • Improved national security
  • Increased economic competitiveness of the US
  • Enhanced infrastructure for research and education.

Intellectual Merit

Intellectual merit refers to the potential to advance knowledge. This can be evident through your previous research, explanation of the resources available to you, and potential of the proposed project to advance knowledge and understanding.

Per the NSF…

Per the NSF, the following should be considered:

1. What is the potential for the proposed activity to
     A. Advance knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields (Intellectual Merit);
     B. Benefit society or advance desired societal outcomes (Broader Impacts)?

2. To what extend do the proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original or potentially transformative concepts?

3. Is the plan for carrying out the proposed activities well-reasoned, well-organize and based on sound rationale? Does the plan incorporate a mechanism to assess success?

4. How well qualified is the individual, team, or organization to conduct the proposed activities?

5. Are there adequate resources available to the PI (either at the home organization or through collaborations) to carry out the proposed activities?

Specific Tips

  • Make these sections visible. Refer to them by name/bold relevant passages/or even separate these sections out. Reviewers have a rubric for describing how the application meets these two criteria, and you want to make it as easy as possible for the reviewers to find this information
  • Ask reference writers to mention how they have witnessed your merits in these two review citeria
  • There are many ways to address broader impacts:
    • Show past engagement with community outreach – that you have promoted science outside of academia
    • Show that you have worked with international researchers / diverse populations in the past
    • Show past engagement in mentoring
    • Show past leadership experience
    • Teach others about your research via technology

 

 

Applying for a NSF GRFP while in a Clinical Psychology Program – Part II

A few days ago, I blogged about the unique aspects of applying to a NSF GRFP grant as a Psychology graduate student. Today, I am going to walk you through the application process.

Who qualifies?

Students applying to graduate school, first years, and second years in graduate school qualify for the NSF.

Now onto the specifics… 

You will need to:

  • Fill out the application
  • Write a 3 page essay on your background and future goals
  • Write a 2 page essay on your proposed project
  • Have 3 letters of references

The Application

The application is, for the most part, very straight forward. You will fill out some demographic information, upload transcripts, A couple points to note:

  • You will be able to upload up to five “other experiences” which could include fellowships, scholarships, teaching, and work experiences relevant to your field
  • You will be able to fill in presentations/publications/honors
  • You will be able to enter work experience and fellowships
  • Although you have to provide at least three references, you will be able to provide up to five in case one of your reference fails to submit a letter

Personal Statement

Please outline your educational and professional development plans and career goals. How do you envision graduate school preparing your for a career that allows you to contribute to expanding scientific understanding as well as broadly benefit society?

Describe your personal, educational, and/or professional experiences that motivate your decision to pursue advanced study in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). Include specific examples of any research and/or professional activities in which you have participated. Present a concise description of the activities, highlight the results and discuss how these activities have prepared you to seek a graduate degree. Specify your role in the activity including the extent to which you worked independently and/or as part of a team. Describe the contributions of your activity to advancing knowledge in STEM fields as well as the potential for broader impacts (See Solicitation, Section VI, for more information about Broader Impacts).

NSF Fellows are expected to become globally engaged knowledge experts and leaders who can contribute significantly to research, education, and innovations in science and engineering. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate your potential to satisfy this requirement. Your ideas and examples do not have to be confined necessarily to the discipline that you have chosen to pursue.

In other words,  you need to:

  • Explain how you became interested in behavioral science
  • Go through your research experience, and how it prepared you for graduate school
  • Briefly elaborate on your future goals, and how your personal/research background influenced those goals and prepares you to meet them

Graduate Research Statement

Present an original research topic that you would like to pursue in graduate school. Describe the research idea, your general approach, as well as any unique resources that may be needed for accomplishing the research goal (i.e. access to national facilities or collections, collaborations, overseas work, etc). You may choose to include important literature citations. Address the potential of the research to advance knowledge and understanding within science as well as the potential for broader impacts on society. The research discussed must be in a field listed in the Solicitation (Section X, Fields of Study).

In other words, you need to:

  • Discuss a potential research topic you would pursue if you received this grant (note: you don’t actually have to pursue it in the future, NSF funds the researcher not the idea)
  • You need to discuss your topic’s potential impact on society, behavioral science, and general science
  • You need to have a specific research plan for your project, and walk the reader through major steps

Applying for a NSF GRFP while in a Clinical Psychology Program – Part I

Are you interested in writing a Clinical Psychology NSF? If so, this is the time to start thinking about it, as in the past deadlines have been in early November. I will be writing a six part series on applying for the NSF GRFP as a Clinical Psychology student.

Part I – The Unique Aspects of Applying as a Clinical Psychology Student

Part II - Basic Outline of Application Process and Award

Part III – Review Criteria

Part IV – The Personal Essay

Part V – The Research Proposal

Part VI – Looking at Past Winners – What Did they Do Right?

So moving on today’s topic, The Unique Aspects of Applying as a Clinical Psychology Student

But.. can Clinical Psychology Students Even Apply?

There has been lots of back and forth on whether Clinical Psychology student can apply for NSF GRFP grants. As of right now, the NSF is funding Clinical Psychology students. However, Clinical applications are still pretty uncommon – you will notice when you apply that you will have to choose  your field as “Psychology (other)” and write in Clinical.

There are, however, some limitations on what you can and cannot do as a Clinical Psychology applicant. On the NSF website, it says that “Clinical study that is ineligible includes patient-oriented research, epidemiological and behavioral studies, outcomes research and health services research. For example, clinical study that is ineligible includes investigations to provide evidence leading to a scientific basis for consideration of a change in health policy or standard of care, and includes pharmacologic, non-pharmacologic, and behavioral interventions for disease prevention, prophylaxis, diagnosis, or therapy. Community and other population-based intervention trials are also ineligible.”

 Last years program solicitation further elaborates, stating the following, Research with disease-related goals, including work on the etiology, diagnosis or treatment of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or malfunction in human beings is normally not supported. Animal models of such conditions or the development or testing of drugs or other procedures for their treatment also are not eligible for support. However, research in bioengineering, with diagnosis or treatment-related goals, that applies engineering principles to problems in biology and medicine while advancing engineering knowledge is eligible for support. Bioengineering research to aid persons with disabilities also is eligible.” Once the program solicitation is updated, it will likely contain an update.

So to summarize, clinical/patient related research, outcomes research, epidemiological and behavioral studies, interventions, and any research directly related to disease (etiology, assessment, treatment) are not allowed.

What kind of studies can Clinical Psychology students do?

Your study cannot be related to a disordered part of the population. So, with that in mind, you will have to think of a research topic that is connected to your work but broader in nature and more involved with basic sciences.

For example, if you currently research overeating, you will have to think of health behaviors in general. If you research substance abuse, you will have to look at risk taking. If you research eating disorders, you will have to think of a topic in eating behaviors, etc.

 What are some past funded NSF GRFP topics in Clinical Psychology?

After a lot of web searching and looking at past 2014 winners and their research, I found that these are some broad and specific Psychology topics that the NSF has funded:

  • False memory, age-related differences in cognitive processes, and the assessment of cognitive decline
  • Neurobiological basis of addiction
  • Neurobiological underpinnings of undergoing obesity prevention program
  • Neurocognition of maladaptive eating behavior
  • Effect of chronically elevated levels of serotonin, using an Anorexia Nervosa sample, and their effects on cognitive processes and anxiety
  • Neuroimaging methods to examine reward processing in depression and bipolar disorder
  • PTSD and Decision Making
  • How brain networks involved in executive function develop in young children, using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI)
  • Bodily contributions to emotion and in how conceptual complexity contributes to emotion experience and perceptions
  • Impact of Exercise on Stress Response Both With & Without Psychological & Physical Stress.
  • Whether and how engaging with food-related blogs and other social media influences parental feeding decisions

Getting the Most Out of Conferences

The goal of a conference is to meet as many people as you can in your field, and to thus open the door to new opportunities. The best way to meet people at a conference is to not hang out with people from your own lab. Try to introduce yourself to other graduate students, post-docs, and professors.

If you need more publishing opportunities or people who will serve as a consultant for a grant, a conference might be the way to find new collaborations. If you will be in the job market soon, going to a conference and introducing yourself to people with whom you will be applying to work with in the future could give you an edge over other applicants. Meeting older graduate students who have gotten F31s or NSFs in you area could help you seek mentorship to get these grants yourself. 

You can approach people by going to their talks/stopping by their poster booth and introducing yourself, expressing an interest in their research. If you want to make sure they remember them, asking for something that will require for you to reach out over email (ex- ask if they can send a copy of their presentation, or an article that’s in press). You can also network before the conference, by looking through the list of speakers and emailing the ones that you are interested in meeting, telling them that you will be at conference and suggesting to briefly meet for coffee. 

 

The Best Way to Network as a PhD Applicant

The Professor Is In recently wrote an article about Networking as a Postac, which inspired this post.

One of the best things you could do as a graduate applicant is to find a list of the major conferences in your area (ei – ABCT) in the fall. Then look at the abstracts, and pick one in which a lot of the mentors with whom you are applying to work with will be attending. Invest the $ (perhaps you can share a room with someone, or crash with a friend) and attend this conference. 

During the conference, you should attend the presentations given by your potential future mentors. After each presentation is over, go up the potential mentor and introduce yourself. Mention that you will be applying to work with them. Many will ask you to email them your CV. If your CV is otherwise good, this will express interest in the program and general initiative, as well as ensure that your potential mentor looks out for your application.