Who’s destined for greatness?
On the application’s other side, among the reviewers, there might also be bias. All GRFP reviewers, including the agency’s chosen scientists and graduate education specialists, are required by NSF to complete bias education. However, as Kannankutty observes, “in the [GRFP] case, where we were actually assessing individuals as opposed to research, the propensity for bias is even greater.” Decisions about whether early-career candidates have the potential to be “leaders” may be particularly vulnerable to rash conclusions. Reviewers may automatically look for other indicators of success because students on the verge of careers have a limited track record in research; this is where bias can sneak in.
According to Cover, “there are a lot of assumptions about what that path looks like” when the NSF states that its objective is to identify students who have the potential to become high-achieving scientists, namely finishing a bachelor’s degree at a prestigious university before starting a graduate program at another illustrious institution. In addition, “people’s own experiences definitely color how they think about this issue of what is an academic pathway that shows someone has the potential to be a great scientist,” “A professor with a Ph.D. from one of the top R1 institutions D. is more likely to think that others who have taken similar paths are the kind of “STEM leaders” the GRFP seeks to support at 27—a common trajectory among faculty members.
“In theory this is supposed to be about promise,” Price says. “But in practice, I think its the Matthew Effect,” referring to how work from well-known scientists receives greater recognition. “Youre going to think the most promising person is the person who already had access to the most resources and support.”
Stewart was given feedback of that nature in her rejection. The reviewers “talk about me falling short compared to my cohort, but they’re not comparing me to my true cohort unless they’re comparing me to other low-income disabled postbaccalaureate students at community colleges,” she claims. “I believe I’m exactly the kind of student the GRFP should be helping,” “.
In 2016, NSF announced graduate students would only be eligible to apply for the GRFP once during their graduate career; before, applicants had two opportunities. The idea, it seems, is that undergraduates or postbaccalaureate applicants—”a more diverse population than admitted graduate students,” as the announcement puts it—would stand a better chance at winning an award if they werent competing against second-year graduate students, and those improved odds might encourage more undergrads to apply.
Although it may be too soon to tell how this change will affect things, Teliss analysis doesn’t look good. Following the change, the top 10 institutions that awardees attended as undergraduates saw an increase in winners, while the overall number of undergraduate winners stayed the same.
Perhaps its time to consider more radical solutions. On Twitter, McGlynn asked whether a cap on the number of applicants per school may help level the playing field. Universities would vet applicants and decide on a certain number to advance to NSF, giving less-represented institutions a better shot at winners. But McGlynn acknowledged critics who pointed out that such a process might just introduce bias at the institutional level instead.
The most important thing in everything NSF and the community do is to acknowledge injustice, examine it, and work to find a solution. Every year, Telis asserts, “as a scientific community, we have a responsibility to ask these questions.”
* Names have been changed.
Jane C. Hu is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington.
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NSF GRFP tips from a reviewer and PI
How hard is it to get the GRFP?
One of the most prestigious fellowships for graduate school, the NSF GRFP offers students a $32,000 annual stipend for a period of three years. Additionally, it contains a startling statistic: the award is given to about 1 in 7 applicants. This is good news because it increases your chances of winning.
How many people win the GRFP?
Currently, 12,000 students apply for Graduate Research Fellowships each year; 2,000 are chosen, and they travel to U S. graduate institutions of their choice.
Is the NSF GRFP a big deal?
The National Science Foundation (NSF) offers the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF-GRFP) grant each year to about 2,000 students pursuing research-based Master’s and doctoral degrees in the natural, social, and engineering sciences at US institutions.
Does NSF GRFP care about GPA?
research and graduate study. There are no minimum GPA requirements, but NSF recipients must have a 3. 6 or better GPA. It is crucial to show evidence of academic achievement and to have well-developed, supported research and study plans that are supported by credible reference letters.