Spotlight on Sofia Rodriguez McGoffin - NSF GRFP

Nov. 3, 2020

Dear Graduate Students,

My name is Sofia Rodriguez McGoffin and I am a second year PhD student in the School of Geography, Development and Environment (SGDE). I am currently investigating whether grassroot mobilization on the Tijuana-San Diego border is increasing recognition of local needs in governance decisions. My long-term research goal is to assess and identify strategies to enable greater public say in environmental decision-making on the US-Mexico border, particularly in underrepresented communities.

Finding out you were not selected to receive funding can be difficult, especially when applying to funding out of need. This is certainly the case for me. As a first-generation, Latina student and a parent of a young child, I apply to fellowships and scholarships to fund research I am personally invested in, but also to make higher-level education and research feasible.

Because of the importance of financial support, students should be strategic when applying to fellowships. My experience applying for funding, but not being selected for an award (with my first application to the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program) taught me some pit falls to avoid when applying to fellowships. Not giving yourself enough time to develop a proposal, not writing for a wide audience, and not getting familiar with the solicitation or review criteria are just a few.

Despite the disappointment that can come with not being awarded a fellowship, the application process can be useful. For example, people who write recommendation letters for you can submit additional letters on your behalf for other applications without needing to “reinvent the wheel.” Also, you can revise and reuse your research proposal and personal statement. Additionally, the process of writing a proposal, getting feedback, and revising may offer insights into your work that would otherwise not be evident. For example, reviewers might suggest novel methods, highlight recent developments in the field, or help you articulate your work more clearly. These things are not to be underestimated. I believe getting feedback on my proposals made me a better writer and communicator.

I received the NSF GRF in 2019 after applying for the fellowship a second time. I started the new application about eight months before the proposal was due. I began by reading successful proposals and trying to reengineer their tone and structure. I attended workshops offered at the University of Arizona to clarify NSF expectations. I read the NSF solicitation to make sure I understood the review criteria. I developed the application with the help of the University of Arizona Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement Fellowship Application Development Program. The program matches students with editors who review application documents and provide guidance on the application process. The feedback I received from the Graduate Editor assigned to me was very valuable as they helped me articulate how my proposal matched NSF goals. I also received feedback from professors and other graduate students, from within and outside my department. By the end of this process, I must have revised the proposal about 50 times.

This is all to say that applying for fellowships is not easy. But it is worthwhile and there is a lot of support at the University of Arizona to do so. A few things I recommend:

  • Surround yourself with people who will provide feedback in an empathetic manner (shout-out to the Graduate Editors and to my advisor Margaret Wilder in SGDE!)
  • Start early and focus on writing clearly and compellingly (hook the reviewer!)
  • Don’t self-select out

Best of luck in your funding journey!