Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Honorable Mention

This morning I got the official email that I received a GRF Honorable Mention (they gave out 1,639). Receiving an honorable mention is an improvement from last year's application, but ultimately offers nothing more than a line on your CV, unless you need to use the supercomputers you can have access to, which I do not.

Reading my reviews today was disappointing because they were only marginally better than last year's reviews even though every part of my application was better this year (except my GRE scores, which didn't change). Three reviewers each rate my application for Broader Impacts and Intellectual Merit, so I get two rankings from each reviewer for a total of 6. They are ranked as Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, or Excellent. Here's a summary:

2007 Application
1 Good
4 Very Good
1 Excellent

2008 Application
5 Very Good
1 Excellent

I'm actually surprised that those rankings got me an Honorable Mention. From what I've seen, you need to have 5 or 6 Excellent marks to get an Award. I know at least a few of my 200+ new visitors must have won the NSF lottery- how many Excellents did you get? Inquiring minds want to know.

The circumstances under which I applied this year were vastly superior to my first attempt. Last year I started my application 2-3 weeks before the deadline while Jon and I were in RFC. I figured it would be a good experience and I had nothing to lose. At the time we were field assistants for a project in a rural area where we were unable to get high speed internet access. I had extremely limited access to scientific literature and no advisor to review my proposal. I could barely download the pdfs I asked my friends to send me over our dial up connection. All things considered, I'm glad I applied last year as it was a great learning experience and gave me something to start with this year. It would have been nice to get it last year but I knew my chances were slim.

This year I had feedback from Herb, Leo, Herb's lab group, and a bunch of other people during the proposal writing process. I had four letters of recommendation instead of three (Herb, Leo, SFC professor, and Mid-Atlantic Field Station researcher). It goes without saying that I also was sitting at a desk with a T1 and access to a huge university library system, unlike last year. I know my personal statement, research experience, and plan of research were all better. Why wasn't that reflected in my feedback?

The most frustrating part of all is that hardly any of the feedback from this year offers suggestions for what I could improve. Last year I had an error in my experimental design that only one reviewer caught, but once they pointed it out to me it was blantantly obvious. Comments this year said that my methods were sound, the project was feasible, is an important area of research, and that I have proven experience in science outreach and communicating with diverse audiences. It sounds like I had a solid proposal that simply lacked that intangible 'something' in my writing that divides the Excellent proposals from the Very Good.

I suppose I'll apply again next year, but I've got to double check that I'll still be eligible. I'll probably post about that soon. I hope some of my new readers stick around. Click on the link to the left to subscribe and save the RSS feed in your bookmarks.


Anonymous said...

I have a secret feeling that the whole thing is sort of a crapshoot: if its good, it's good... but you only win if the particular reviewer thinks you are awesome... so it depends if they had some good coffee or not.

My reviews were precisely opposite, with one person saying how amazing I was, and the other saying how pointless my research/experience was.

I hope that you are eligible to apply next year and that you get reviewers that aren't facing foreclosures, poorly behaved children, or the coffee shop running out of their favorite flavor on the day they read your application. :)

Helen said...

I got an honorable mention, too, and I didn't get any "Excellent" ratings at all! On the intellectual merit criteria I got: 2 "Very Good" and 1 "Good" and on the broader impacts I got 2 "Good" and 1 "Fair". It sounds like you were very close to getting the award with your scores!

My rating sheets were also contradictory. One person said that my research plan was "rather interesting" and that I am "encouraged to write [my] proposals with more detail", while another said that my "research plans seemed unfortunately narrow" and detail-oriented.

I'll be a third year gradute student next year, so I won't get another chance to apply. Good luck on yours!

Thanks for the great blog. I'm one of the readers that found you while searching for NSF info. I'll definitely keep reading!

Karina said...

Hmm, interesting. Anonymous and Helen each had two reviewers, but I had 3 this year and last year. Is this something that varies by discipline? Which field are you in?

Helen said...

I had three reviewers, too. Each reviewer gave me one "Intellectual Merit" score and one "Broader Impacts" score.

Karina said...

Ah, I see. Whoops! I didn't read closely enough on your comment, Helen.