Merit Review

The GRFP applications are evaluated based on two merit review criteria: Intellectual Merit and Broader Impact. Thus, it is essential that applicants prepare their two narrative statements (i.e., personal statement and research statement) to explicitly address the two review criteria. It is of paramount importance that the applicants brief their referees about the criteria so that they adequately address these in their reference letters.

Each application is reviewed by a review panel consisting of disciplinary or interdisciplinary experts in science, engineering, and other relevant disciplines. The review panels assess each application independently according to the two merit review criteria. It is highly recommended that, the personal and research statements both include sections labeled with Intellectual Merit and Broader Impact to ensure that relevant statements receive due consideration from the panelists.

Following important considerations can help refine your statements addressing merit review criteria.

  • A research plan that advances knowledge and understanding within discipline while simultaneously being of benefit to the society.
  • A research plan infused with original, innovative, and creative concepts and ideas.
  • A well-structured action plan that is deemed reasonable to achieve the research goals.
  • Alignment of applicant’s qualification and preparation for conducting the proposed study.
  • Availability of adequate resources, over time, to perform the proposed activity.

The Intellectual Merit criterion is primarily concerned with the potential to advance knowledge. Thus, the reviewers assess individual applications on the basis of the applicant’s potential to produce new scientific discoveries or propel engineering advances, as evidenced from their entire application package. Therefore, an applicant’s two narrative statements, prior academic achievement, research or professional experiences, scholarly publications, and references letters all play an essential role in establishing his or her intellectual merit. To summarize, the intellectual merit statement has to effectively communicate that the proposed research seeks to answer a question that is of interest to the research community, the suggested research methodology offers a viable plan of attack, and the applicant is academically qualified, well prepared, and potentially capable of advancing the line of inquiry suggested in the research plan.

The Broader Impacts criterion is concerned with the potential societal benefit. An applicant’s prior personal, professional, and educational endeavors and goals and aspirations for future provide critical information that can be utilized to assess his or her potential for boarder impact. There are no universally applicable formulations concerning how an applicant can demonstrate potential for future broader impact. For example, it is possible that an applicant’s primary research activities in a scientific or engineering domain are directly amenable to demonstrable societal benefit, broadly and beyond just the creation of new knowledge. Alternatively, another applicant may engage in secondary activities that support or complement the main goal of the project to create broader societal benefit. The National Science Foundation places high value on activities whose direct outcomes are of inherent benefit to the society. Some illustrative examples include:

  • Increased participation of women, people with special needs, and underrepresented minorities in STEM (host undergraduate students for summer research internships).
  • Improved STEM education at all levels (e.g., engaging high school students in research, collaborating with K-12 teachers to develop learning modules that are informed by your research).
  • Increased scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology (e.g., presenting an exhibit, demonstration, or hands-on activity at a local science museum).
  • Development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce (conduct a workshop for industry practitioners at a professional conference).
  • Increased economic competitiveness of the US (disseminate your research database, algorithms, tool design, etc., through community resources such as GitHub).
  • Improved national security.