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Other Does NSF care about GPA? (After 1 year in Grad)

  1. Jul 30, 2016 #1
    I'm already in grad school and I have my last shot at applying for the NSF. The first semester of my grad school was going great until a death in my family to someone I was very close to. I unraveled and my grades sunk.
    Just not that bad, like I overall passed my classes. However, I am sure it doesn't look good.

    I really do not want to talk about it. I really really don't... however I can. I mean I am just barely getting better. I feel like spending time to explain this would cause me to go back and think about those moments, and get sad all over again. I wish this wasn't the case for me, normally I am a very hard worker. I just never had this kind of loss before. :/

    I have a good chunk of the personal statement written, but still more to go.

    Thank you for any advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 31, 2016 #2


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    Truly sorry to hear about your loss.

    As you wrote, this is your last shot at the NSF grant, but keep in mind this does not preclude you from other sources of funding should this not come to fruition, including that as an RA, etc.

    I don't think GPA is critical, but a low GPA (say mainly B's) would have to be accompanied by a story (e.g., family issues), strong letters and an excellent personal statement, and by this I mean a very well developed research that is also cutting edge.

    Another way to put it is to have a strong response to each of the criterion by which your application will be judged.

    1. What is the potential for the proposed activity to: a. Advance knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields (Intellectual Merit); and b. Benefit society or advance desired societal outcomes (Broader Impacts)? 2. To what extent do the proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts? 3. Is the plan for carrying out the proposed activities well-reasoned, well-organized, and based on a sound rationale? Does the plan incorporate a mechanism to assess success? 4. How well qualified is the individual, team, or organization to conduct the proposed activities? 5. Are there adequate resources available to the PI (either at the home organization or through collaborations) to carry out the proposed activities?

    For full disclosure, I never submitted a GFRP proposal, but have written more than my share of DOE and NSF grants.
  4. Jul 31, 2016 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    I agree with DrSteve, but think that it should be even stronger. These are insanely competitive - even with straight A's, you need a very, very, very strong application on all the other fronts. Getting lower grades, even with a good excuse, means the application has to be even stronger.
  5. Jul 31, 2016 #4
    Thank you! Thank you for your input and advice as well! It was just one B, but still. It's not good and I wish I could change things, but I definitely do not want to relive that time ever. I am definitely focusing on the questions you are suggesting for my personal statement. The one I find to be really hard is Broader Impact! I'm going to ask my advisor for advice on that part. I haven't started on the proposal part ( the most important), but that will allow me to focus on most of the questions you pose. It's why I am having so much difficulty with the proposal!

    Thank you for your advice! I agree! I am just hoping that I don't have to explain it. I want to focus on all the other parts and make it very strong! However, a small part of me is wondering whether it is something that will not go unnoticed and has to be explained.
  6. Aug 9, 2016 #5
    I can give some personal experience on the matter, but not your exact situation. For a bit of back story, I applied for the NSFGRFP after my senior year of undergrad as I was applying for graduate school. At the time, I had 2 and a half years of research experience, one first-authored paper, one coauthored paper, and another first-authored paper going through the revision stage, and 4 conference presentations. I also had 2 years of consistent outreach (science days at local middle/high schools, leading science demos for kids, etc.).

    If you're unfamiliar, when you get your results of the NSF proposal back, you are reviewed by three referees, each gives a fairly qualitative score (Very Bad, Bad, Good, etc. "Excellent" being the best). You see what each referee had to say about your application, you get their ratings of your application in each required category of the application, then a final decision is reached by the committee after taking into account all of the referee's scoring of your application.

    My Scores were all "Very Good" or "Excellent", the top two scores you can get, in every single category and I still was unfortunately denied the NSF GRFP. When I looked at the more in depth breakdown, the single negative comment I got on my entire application was: "Applicant's GPA is not competitive." For reference, my cumulative GPA was 3.71 while my GPA in my major (Physics) was close to a 3.85. Unfortunately, it seems like in my case, GPA was fairly important.
  7. Aug 9, 2016 #6
    Similar to the above comment, I do know of one person who got all "excellent"s, and still was denied the GRFP. They had a 3.5 GPA, but did not receive any comments about that particular aspect of their application. Who knows?
  8. Aug 9, 2016 #7


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    The letters are very important based on my experience and they also like publications in prestigious journals.
  9. Aug 13, 2016 #8
    I was really hoping this is what counts, but based on the other comments it seems like gpa really matters.

    In general, doing well on timed exams has never been my strong suit... certainly no when I was depressed due to a death in my family. However, truly learning and understanding physics is something I do enjoy. I think most of professors see that in me and many have said that as well.

    Well I might not get it, but I think it's good to try. I know there are other fellowships too. Hoping for the best!

    Thanks guys for the feedback!
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