The Graduate School encourages students pursuing their graduate education to apply for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

Five students at a panel presentation
From left to right, graduate students and NSF Graduate Research Fellows Amrit Bal, Jamshaid Shahir, Chad Hobson, Samantha Hellberg and Alyssa Grube spoke at a recent workshop, providing insights on the application process. Photo by Ilich Mejía

Every year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) selects about 2,000 graduate students nationwide who are, according to the NSF, “anticipated to become knowledge experts” for its Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). The fellowship offers each recipient three years of support through a competitive annual stipend, a cost-of-education allowance and professional development opportunities.

Over 350 graduate students across more than 30 disciplines at UNC-Chapel Hill have been supported through the NSF GRFP since 1995. The Graduate School administers these awards within the University. This academic year, 114 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students are NSF fellows.

“The Graduate School is committed to helping students learn about and prepare for a variety of prestigious funding opportunities, such as the NSF GRFP, to support their graduate careers,” said Julie Montaigne, The Graduate School’s director of fellowships.

“An external fellowship is about so much more than the funding. It affirms the value of graduate student research and contributes to the University’s reputation.”

Recently, the UNC Initiative for Maximizing Student Development, funded through the National Institutes of Health, and The Graduate School held a workshop to provide background about the NSF GRFP. In addition to informing undergraduate and graduate students about this opportunity, the workshop featured insights on navigating the application process. The workshop also featured a student panel of UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students and NSF fellows who answered questions about their experience applying for this award.

Raising awareness about the NSF GRFP includes encouraging students from underrepresented fields to apply for this significant fellowship, said Jennifer Gerz-Escandón, associate dean for interdisciplinary education and fellowship programs at The Graduate School.

“While UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students have proven hugely successful in GRFP primary fields such as chemistry, mathematical sciences and life sciences, they are also highly competitive in the social sciences due to strong graduate research in history, urban planning, anthropology, political science, public policy and many other disciplines from the humanities.”

Similarly, it is a goal of both the NSF and The Graduate School to increase the participation of underrepresented groups, including women, persons with disabilities, and racial minorities, she added.

During the student panel, Jamshaid Shahir, NSF Graduate Research Fellow in UNC-Chapel Hill’s genetics department, encouraged students from underrepresented backgrounds to leverage their diversity as a strength in their application. “It’s great if you can present a clear interest in furthering the success of underrepresented minorities in research, especially if you’re in a STEM field where there is still a wide achievement gap.”

Shahir, a doctoral student and member of The Graduate School’s Royster Society of Fellows, says the NSF fellowship has allowed him to explore more of a leadership role within his department.

“Receiving the NSF fellowship has bolstered my confidence as an aspiring scientist. It has given me the intellectual freedom to pursue questions that fascinate me and take ownership of my projects, affirming that I can excel and become a leader in my field.”

Undergraduate and graduate students are encouraged to learn more about the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program application process.

Application deadlines for academic fields are listed below:

Fields Deadline
Life Sciences, Geosciences October 21, 2019
Computer and Information Science and Engineering, Engineering, Materials Research October 22, 2019
Psychology, Social Sciences, STEM Education and Learning October 24, 2019
Chemistry, Mathematical Sciences, Physics and Astronomy October 25, 2019
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