Broader Impact Sets You Apart

As one of the members of the review committee for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, choosing the right candidates is a difficult one. Many engineering candidates are more than qualified to the receive the fellowship. However, there is one aspect of the application that often sets candidates apart — the personal statement.

When examining one’s personal essay, its easy to assess most students are technically sound, there is no surprise there. Their research interests and background will often also align with the mission and vision of NSF. But what most students fail to recognize is how important clearly highlighting their broader impact in their personal essays will be. As a foundation that prides itself on making a lasting social impact, a candidate’s work must go beyond making an impact in their field. Can your work and research create impact on a national scale? On a global scale? Will your work impact under represented communities?  If a candidate can clearly express the impact their work will have, they can go far with NSF.



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7 Responses to Broader Impact Sets You Apart

  1. Robert Battikha says:

    Mmm, good point there. I totally agree! You can have the most technically impressive research project, but if there are no practical benifits that kinda puts a damper on it. This was a good reminder for me, to keep this in mind as I begin to develop research goals. Thank you!

  2. Monal Mehta says:

    Hey Ashley,

    I think you brought up a great point that most candidates are qualified to receive a fellowship, but need something extra to set them apart from the rest! I always have difficulty with writing personal statements, but I will definitely keep in mind the point you made of highlighting the broader impact of the research. Good luck with writing your grant this summer!

  3. I think this is an important observation. Personal statements are so important in that they show what kind of writer a person can be and that is so important when trying to convey your research to a broad array of people. I think you are right in saying that while assessing one’s technical ability may be easier, the personal statement is what sets someone apart especially showing how one will make a lasting impact. I hope that we learn more about it through this Grad Fund process.

  4. Humna Awan says:

    Hey Ashley, I agree that highlighting the broader impacts of your research is a critical component of the application. Personally I feel that you normally know more about a work’s impacts if you truly understand it – making broader impact discussion in the proposal a great opportunity to show your insights into your research goals.

  5. Jen Novikov says:

    “Broader impact” claims can easily fall into self-aggrandisement, talking the talk without walking the walk. May you could think of a more modest critical approach. Instead of “global scale” and “impact[ing] under represented communities” (which to me vaguely hints to your class/geopolitical privilege), you could say how the data you explore will add to the understanding of a subject or community. Before reforming, dig deeper into who these people are.

    • Ashley Hollingshead says:

      I completely agree with you Jen! As someone who is a part of several under-represented communities, my own research will discuss how identity formations, institutions and policy connect to create or create barriers for communities of color. I am 100% with you; I believe that if your data/research does not create a deeper understanding of community, or will not benefit the community in some way or form, then you actually lack broader impact. And I believe that is the beauty of the NSF application; they explicitly ask you to discuss broader impacts in several sections of the application. I believe the application makes it really clear who is just “talking the talk without walking the walk.”

  6. Pingback: Dear member of the NSF GRF review committee, | GradFund Conversations

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