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PhD/PsyD Writing an NSF in graduate school?

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cch0113

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I'm hoping someone can give me some feedback on writing an NSF, or other grants, in graduate school. I will be a first year and am hoping to hit the ground running and apply for one. I have the following questions:

1.) Would a neuroimaging study looking at biomarkers of preclinical Alzheimer's disease qualify for an NSF? I know it can't be considered strictly clinical research and I'm not sure exactly where they draw this distinction.

2.) Are NSFs more competitive than NRSAs? I know the NSF has higher and longer funding so I would assume yes but I wanted to double check.

3.) Would most people recommend waiting until year 2 to write a grant or would you say go for it? Also, if you are rejected year 1 could you tweak the project and submit a very similar (and hopefully stronger) application the next year? Or are there rules against this?

4.) Other than having a solid and novel research proposal that interests the committee, what matters the most when securing an grant? (publications, prior fellowships, honors, gpa, etc?)

I know that these grants are competitive and first and foremost I would like to apply to gain experience in grant writing, but it would be nice to know what I am up against! :)


Also-- I may not even be asking the "right questions," so please let me know if I am missing something. Thanks!
 
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PsychPhDone

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I'm hoping someone can give me some feedback on writing an NSF in graduate school. I will be a first year and am hoping to hit the ground running and apply for one. I have the following questions:

1.) Would a neuroimaging study looking at biomarkers of preclinical Alzheimer's disease qualify for an NSF? I know it can't be considered clinical research, rather basic, and I'm not sure exactly where they draw this distinction.

2.) Are NSFs more competitive than NRSAs? I know the NSF has higher and longer funding so I would assume yes but I wanted to double check.

3.) Would most people recommend waiting until year 2 to write a grant like this, or would you say go for it? Also, if you are rejected year 1 could you tweak the project and submit a very similar (and hopefully stronger) application the next year? Or are there rules against this?

4.) Other than having a solid and novel research proposal that interests the committee, what matters the most when securing an NSF (Publications, prior fellowships, honors, gpa, etc?)

I know that these are competitive and first and foremost I would like to apply to gain experience in grant writing, but it would be nice to know what I am up against! :)


Also-- I may not even be asking the "right questions," so please let me know if I am missing something. Thanks!

Regarding question 3, I'd apply in year one, and if you don't get it, make revisions based on feedback for year 2. That's what I did (didn't get it because of the clinical drama a few years ago, but i did get honorable mention in year 1).
 

cch0113

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Thanks! That's kinda what I was thinking. Glad to hear it's ok to resubmit the following year.
 

Ollie123

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Unless they've changed things (they might have) I'd actually assume that falls SQUARELY within the clinical research domain unless you have some alternative way of framing it. Tons of NIH projects are on similar topics and generally speaking, what one agency will fund the other will not. As of a few years ago, the guideline generally was that an NSF application should not make any mention of a clinical disorder of any kind. Now its often possible to game the system a bit (e.g. "I'm not studying depression, I'm studying the neural basis of emotion") but it can be tricky to pull off.

All of this may have changed since I was looking into it, so get confirmation from others. I can't speak to any of the other questions.
 

cch0113

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Unless they've changed things (they might have) I'd actually assume that falls SQUARELY within the clinical research domain unless you have some alternative way of framing it. Tons of NIH projects are on similar topics and generally speaking, what one agency will fund the other will not. As of a few years ago, the guideline generally was that an NSF application should not make any mention of a clinical disorder of any kind. Now its often possible to game the system a bit (e.g. "I'm not studying depression, I'm studying the neural basis of emotion") but it can be tricky to pull off.

All of this may have changed since I was looking into it, so get confirmation from others. I can't speak to any of the other questions.

So perhaps I could look at brain changes in relation to cognition, but not to Alzheimer's disease?
 

cch0113

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If doing AD research disqualifies me for an NSF, what other grants would you suggest for current grad students? An NRSA?
 
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nessa34

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The NSF has slightly higher paylines if I remember correctly, but I think they both fund 20-25% of applicants. The NSF application is much briefer, which is nice, but that also means the selection is more of a crapshoot. Be sure to discuss your "broader impacts" for NSF. The NRSA is another big fellowship, and I would also look at private foundations (AD organizations?), although those are likely to be money for research and not fellowships that pay tuition/stipend.

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nessa34

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So perhaps I could look at brain changes in relation to cognition, but not to Alzheimer's disease?
Yes, you could frame it this way.

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cch0113

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Yes, you could frame it this way.

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Interesting. Ok so you would just need to make sure to frame the study in a way which would not seem clinical, but that can inform clinical research later on...
 

cch0113

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Is there a benefit of writing an NSF over an NRSA (other than the funding amount) that would make a case for why I would choose the NSF?
 

nessa34

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Interesting. Ok so you would just need to make sure to frame the study in a way which would not seem clinical, but that can inform clinical research later on...
I wouldn't even frame it as that. NSF funds basic research, not clinical applications. It's a fine line and I'm not sure when it's crossed. You may be able to get successful applications from your university to see examples of how other students pitched it- some schools keep these on file.

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nessa34

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Is there a benefit of writing an NSF over an NRSA (other than the funding amount) that would make a case for why I would choose the NSF?
You generally don't apply for the NRSA until a few years in, at which point you're ineligible for the NSF. Also, at a 20% payline you may not get either, so apply to anything and everything :)

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cch0113

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You generally don't apply for the NRSA until a few years in, at which point you're ineligible for the NSF. Also, at a 20% payline you may not get either, so apply to anything and everything :)

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Oh I didn't realize that. So typically new grad students write NSFs and then later on write NRSAs? Would writing an NRSA in my first year be too ambitious or is it just that it would be less likely to be funded because they would prefer to fund more experienced students?
 

nessa34

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That's right. Although at least at my program, far fewer people applied for NSFs... don't think it was on their radar. But if you can, go for it!

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cch0113

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That's right. Although at least at my program, far fewer people applied for NSFs... don't think it was on their radar. But if you can, go for it!

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Great! Thanks for all the tips!
 
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You can only apply for an NSF GRF in year 1 or 2 of graduate school (or, in those rare cases where people are extremely prepared, the year BEFORE starting grad school). The NSF divvies up the monies so that some are alloted to pre-grad school students, some to year 1, and some to year 2, but I don't know the percentage of funding going to each level. I have heard that the reviewers are harsher on year 2 students (expect more productivity/experience and higher quality research plans), so better to submit in year 1.

Your topic sounds pretty clinical to me, and although clinical students can apply, some reviewers are really nitpicky about giving NSF funds to anything that sounds too clinical. One of my students submitted an NSF application and got "dinged" for being too clinical, even though the research proposed was decidedly more social, using healthy participants. Biomarkers of cognitive changes could be construed as basic science, certainly, and you want to think about broader impacts beyond just clinical applications. There's no harm in applying and getting feedback on your proposal, certainly. The NSF application, as others have pointed out, is much shorter than an NRSA; the NSF gives money to *promising students* whereas an NRSA is money for a *project* (which also just happens to include stipend, etc.), so some of the goals and aims of the applications should be quite different .
 

cch0113

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You can only apply for an NSF GRF in year 1 or 2 of graduate school (or, in those rare cases where people are extremely prepared, the year BEFORE starting grad school). The NSF divvies up the monies so that some are alloted to pre-grad school students, some to year 1, and some to year 2, but I don't know the percentage of funding going to each level. I have heard that the reviewers are harsher on year 2 students (expect more productivity/experience and higher quality research plans), so better to submit in year 1.

Your topic sounds pretty clinical to me, and although clinical students can apply, some reviewers are really nitpicky about giving NSF funds to anything that sounds too clinical. One of my students submitted an NSF application and got "dinged" for being too clinical, even though the research proposed was decidedly more social, using healthy participants. Biomarkers of cognitive changes could be construed as basic science, certainly, and you want to think about broader impacts beyond just clinical applications. There's no harm in applying and getting feedback on your proposal, certainly. The NSF application, as others have pointed out, is much shorter than an NRSA; the NSF gives money to *promising students* whereas an NRSA is money for a *project* (which also just happens to include stipend, etc.), so some of the goals and aims of the applications should be quite different .
Thanks so much. That is very helpful. I was having trouble distinguishing the two. I'm still a little confused though....So the NSF is not meant to be related to a specific research project? And the NRSA is? Then why do you propose research at all when applying for the NSF?
 

member978

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Maybe I misinterpreted, but I would disagree slightly/offer another perspective. I don't think the NRSA is intended to be a grant for a research project; the specific study is just one piece of a predoctoral NRSA. I don't know a ton about the NSF proposal, but the NRSA is a training grant at heart, it is not a grant for the sole purpose of funding a research study. Yes, the proposed study must be of high impact and high quality, but you must also have a pretty extensive graduate training plan strong supporting faculty sponsors to facilitate your training.
 
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Yes, the NRSA is a training grant, and in that way it is focused on the person, that's true. The difference is that with an NSF proposal, you are proposing a series of research studies, essentially setting up a program of research. You do not go into depth about any one study at all in an NSF application because you don't have the space (it's just a few pages). The NSF gives funding toward a person, for several years of graduate study, to those they believe will become leaders in the field. The NRSA is at heart a training grant, absolutely, and when submitting an NRSA there is a training plan in addition to description of a study. The NRSA will give funding for study-related materials, travel, etc., as well as a stipend. In that way it's much closer to a "real" grant than an NSF, including the scoring of the grant submisison. My point was only that the NSF doesn't include this component.

Also, btw, from the NSF website: "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."
 

PsychPhDone

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I'd apply to NSF right away if you can manage to propose a non-clinical study. For example, I proposed research about emotion. I then started in on DoD grants. NRSAs are something you typically apply for a little later on in grad school and are more about training, as others have said. :)

I usually argue that you should apply for as much as possible because the odds are slim, but keep in mind -- your time is finite, so the more you apply for grants, the less time you have for other things. So prioritize, adjust, and balance. Good luck! :)
 

mxbz

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Other than NSF are there other fellowships that post-bacc's can apply for prior to enrolling in grad school? Also, is NSF funding added to any university based funding (i.e. stipend/tuition waiver) or is it given out instead of?
 

member978

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I don;t know of any other pre-graduate school fellowships that would be useful. They may exist, I am just not familiar with them. For a lot of these (like the NRSA) you are going to want to work heavily with your mentor in its preparation, so having some familiarity with what is possible and what your mentor will support is helpful if not necessary.

As for the second part about the funding, that may depend on the school/funding source. At my school there are some fellowships thats will replace the university funding (fellowship may cover tuition and provide a stipend to allow protected research time so you dont have to rely on a TAship). There are others I have heard of that are supplementary, and pay additional funds on top.
 

cch0113

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Has anyone ever sat on a selection commitee for the NSF? What matters most? It seems like they are funding "you" and your potential, so what impacts this judgement? Are they interested in gpa? Publication? Honors and awards? Fellowships? Gre scores? If it is an "all of the above" situation, is there one thing that can really set you apart? And if so, what might that be?
 

cch0113

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Also-- if I propose to study some basic science questions relating to cognition or memory, is it going to hurt me that my mentor does Alzheimer's research? Will they automatically assume my research will then be clinical?
 

nessa34

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here is a good website about how to apply for the NSF: http://www.alexhunterlang.com/nsf-fellowship
keep in mind that reviewers only spend a few minutes reviewing each application (all my feedback was a few sentences, if that), so it needs to be presented as a coherent whole. Research experience is probably most important, but keep in mind the two criteria NSF uses (intellectual merit AND broader impacts).

It is fine (i think, i'm just some random person on the internet, so what do i know) if you use a disease as a model to study a cognitive process. However, I would make sure to focus on other things as well (e.g. I'm interested in memory, I want to use AD as a model of memory dysfunction and follow up with a memory-related study in a normal population).

As for other fellowships, there is the ford fellowship and the NDSEG through the DoD, although I'm not very familiar with either.
 

GirlNeuro13

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As far as proposing a line of research for the NSF, is it important to have published something related to this research? For example, if you are now starting grad school and working in a lab that uses fmri and you have never published any imaging papers, is it okay to propose using this technique? Or would you recommend only proposing research that you already have a publication history in?
 

nessa34

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As far as proposing a line of research for the NSF, is it important to have published something related to this research? For example, if you are now starting grad school and working in a lab that uses fmri and you have never published any imaging papers, is it okay to propose using this technique? Or would you recommend only proposing research that you already have a publication history in?
Grad school is for learning things, right? :) you don't have to be published in the same area, but make sure to connect your past experiences to your proposed research in some way.

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GirlNeuro13

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Grad school is for learning things, right? :) you don't have to be published in the same area, but make sure to connect your past experiences to your proposed research in some way.

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I'm glad to hear that! I agree that grad school is for learning and it makes sense that you would be acquiring new research tools and techniques. Thanks :)
 

fallen625

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Does anyone know if research related to physical activity and/or behavior change considered OK, or too clinical?
 

cch0113

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Does anyone know if research related to physical activity and/or behavior change considered OK, or too clinical?

Yeah I'm still pretty confused on where the line is drawn between clinical research and basic research. It is not clear anywhere on the Nsf website either. I guess we will just find out when we apply! Lol
 

member978

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These sound like questions that the advisor you would be working with should be able to help with. Also I'm not as familiar with the NSF fellowships, but do you have a program officer you could contact to help?
 
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Again, from the NSF website: "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." Looking at mechanisms of cognitive, emotional or social processes is typically fine. The people who apply for NSFs are in all ranges of basic science (biology, chemistry, etc.) and in psychology it's typically cognitive, social, behavioral neuroscience. So if your proposed study could also be studied by people in those other areas of psychology, it's probably OK.

The other thing is that some of what is "acceptable" or not depends on the reviewers, and you have no way to know who they will be and how sympathetic they are to clinically-oriented or extremely clinically relevant phenomena.
 

PsychPhDone

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When I applied, I actually Googled everyone who recently won in the possible subject areas I could submit to, and I figured out who, of those, were in clinical. I contacted them and received very good advice -- you might want to see if you can get in touch with someone who has had good results in a similar line of research.
 

fallen625

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When I applied, I actually Googled everyone who recently won in the possible subject areas I could submit to, and I figured out who, of those, were in clinical. I contacted them and received very good advice -- you might want to see if you can get in touch with someone who has had good results in a similar line of research.

I have tried doing this, but I am having a hard time finding recent winners in my subject area. Do you remember what terms you used to google them?
 

cbt4lyfe

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Hi everyone,

I am a first year graduate student who applied for and received a clinical psychology NSF GRFP in this year (2014). If anyone would like to discuss more specifics about the application process etc., feel free to back channel me via private message. I'd also like to weigh in a bit on this NRSA vs. NSF GRFP discussion. While an NRSA is primarily a training grant at heart, funding (including stipend) is very much tied into completion of the proposed research study or project. The NSF GRFP is unique from this in that while you may propose a specific research project in your short proposal, you are not given money (i.e., a grant, as you are with an NRSA) to do that specific project. Instead, you are given a 3 year stipend to support your research activites in general. In a way, the student is freed up to do whatever research they want as a function of not being funded by a Teaching or Research Assistantship.

In general, I think a unique distinction CV-wise is that an NRSA can be listed as Grant Funding, with specifics about what amount of money you were allotted. An NSF GRFP cannot, however, though it seems to have its own unique prestige associated with it.

I hope this is helpful and adds to the discussion. Best of luck!
 
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