Hi! I’m Antonio Gómez, and I was a Master’s student in the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Entomology and Insect Science at the U of A from the fall of 2012 to the summer of 2014. I’m on a short break with lots of trips in the field to collect beetles in our wonderful outdoors in southern Arizona before moving to Oregon to start a Ph.D. in the Integrative Biology Department.
The best piece of advice I can give to you regarding the amazing opportunity of the Graduate Research Fellowship is simply to apply! Seriously, just apply. You can use whatever cliché you like for inspiration. I’m sure you’ve heard them all before, but the truth of the matter is that you’ll miss every shot you don’t take.
The first time I applied to the GRFP, I was an undergraduate just getting interested in biological diversity, taxonomy, systematics, and evolutionary biology. I felt like I had written a well-designed proposal, and, yes, I was absolutely crushed when it was rejected - despite telling myself not to get my hopes up. I was still feeling bitter about the experience even after beginning my graduate program at the U of A. In fact, I was so stubborn that I told myself I was not going to apply again. It felt so frustrating to put so much energy in and to not be selected, but I was overlooking the fact that I had grown and learned a lot in a year. I was sitting in lab meeting when the application deadline was brought up.
My adviser looked over at me and said, “Aren’t you going to apply?”
After saying no to her question, the post-docs gave me the same advice I’m giving here.
“You really should.”
Thankfully, despite my reticence, I listened and applied. Aside from the words of encouragement of my lab mates and adviser, the feedback I received from the NSF review panel also proved invaluable. So save those few sentences from the reviewers and use them to come back stronger.
Also, don’t let the fact that you may not be 100% sure of your career trajectory stop you from applying. A large part of the application is you convincing the NSF that you can design a successful research project, can communicate effectively, and are committed to giving back. Many don’t realize that master’s students can apply for this grant. So if you are using the master’s experience to determine whether you want to continue onto a Ph.D., I still encourage you to apply. If you do decide to pursue a Ph.D., for whatever reason, then you have a tremendous amount of freedom to go where you see yourself thriving.
In addition, to the stipend and the prestige that come with this award, there are also numerous opportunities made available to fellows. I’m am grateful for funding for travel to conferences.
As my advisor is fond of saying, “It’s not just what you know; it’s who you know.” Because of this, conferences get better and better for me every year. I know more people and get to share with them what I’ve learned and be part of a big family.