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

A Book Everyone Applying to Clinical Psychology Programs Should Get

Last week, the new edition of Insider’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology was released. This book helps you pick Clinical and Counseling Psychology PhD programs to apply to based on your research interests. It is a book that was invaluable in helping me pick programs that would maximize not only my chances of getting in, but also my probability of success/happiness as a graduate student.

As many of you are starting to think of what programs to apply to in the next application cycle, I strongly suggest you get this book. It may be the best $20 you spent in the application process.

Grant Writing in Psychology as a Graduate Student – Tips

Last week, I wrote about graduate school funding sources. With that in mind, I wanted to mention some grant writing tips. Although a lot has been written on the subject, I haven’t found much advice directed towards psychology graduate students specifically, so I thought I would put in my two cents.

Finding a Topic

Perhaps the most important part of writing a grant is finding a worthwhile topic. This in itself requires a lot of work – you must know what has been done and hasn’t been done in the field. Once you get the backrgound research out of the way, you must establish the aims for your study. What do you expect to accomplish? Why is this important? What is your reasoning for studying this particular topic?

Finding the Right Grant to Apply For

You also must find a grant that is a good fit for your particular research study and training goals. A research study that is a good fit for an NSF grant might not necessarily be a good fit for an NIH F31 grant. Depending on your project, you might be better of applying for a small research award. On the other hand, you could be selling yourself short with this strategy.

Sell Yourself

At this stage, most grants invest in not only the idea, but also the researcher. You must sell yourself. Grant funding agencies (ei – NSF/NIH/etc) tend to look for people who are productive researchers and publish in quality journals. They also want to see consistency and a trajectory, so try to present at 1-2 conferences per year and publish at least one paper per year in the years leading up to the application. Also, grant funding agencies are much more likely to invest in people who have a consistent program of research (even if this is not the case, you can make it seem this way by threading the loop – in the same way that you did with graduate school applications).

Get the Small Grants First

People who get large grants tend to be the same people who have gotten smaller internal and external grants. You become a much more attractive candidate for the larger grants if you demonstrate that you can get smaller ones

For the F31 – Be Strategic with Who You List as Consultant

The most important trait for people who you choose to be as your consultants is that they can support your training goals. It is absolutely okay to pick people you haven’t worked with before.

Look at Past Winners

You need to know what these funding agencies are looking for. The best way of doing this is by looking at past winners. See examples of NSF Winner Statements in Psychology here and here.

Get on the Phone

Find people who have won the grant you are seeking to apply for and get on the phone with them. Ask them questions. Perhaps they will be nice enough to share their grant applications.


18 Books Every Graduate Student Should Read

1. Dissertation and Theses from Start to Finish by Judith Cone

2. The Compleat Academic: A Career Guide by John Darley

3. Ms. Mentor: Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia by Emily Toth

4. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker

5. The Smart Way to Your PhD: 200 secrets from 100 graduates by Dora Farkas

6. The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career: A Portable Mentor for Scholars from Graduate School Through Tenure by John Goldsmith

7. Surviving Graduate School in Psychology: A Pocket Mentor by Tara Kuthers

8. The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.: 200 secrets from 100 graduates by Dora Farkas,

9. 168 hours by Laura Vanderkam – yes I know that this has nothing to do with your PhD, but her time-management tips are awesome

10. Getting Things Done by David Allen

11. Succeeding in Graduate School: The Career Guide for Psychology Students by Steven Walfish

12. Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or PhD by Robert L. Peters

13. Graduate Study for the Twenty-First Century: How to Build an Academic Career in the Humanities by Gregory Colon Semenza

14. Playing the Game: The Streetsmart Guide to Graduate School  by Frederick Frank

15. A Ph.D. is Not Enough! A Guide to Survival in Science by  Peter J. Feibelman 

16. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

17. Grad School Rulz 

18. The Idea Factory by Pepper White