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.



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