The Value of Professional Upkeep

I have been working a lot on my professional profile the last few weeks, primarily
because I’m gearing up to submit an NSF GRFP application.
Since the beginning of graduate school, I’ve been a bit wary of “professionalism” and
“doing professional things”, mostly because I think it makes you take yourself too seriously,
which I believe is bad for actually getting work done. That being said, being forced to do
so has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise, as it’s made me focus a lot on what exactly
I want to do.

Two things are required for the NSF application. There’s a research proposal and a personal
statement. I’ll talk about how each has helped me in the last few weeks.

The research proposal:

This piece is simple in theory—write a proposal on some research you’re planning on doing.
In practice, this is much harder to do. It’s easy to get bogged down with 10 million ideas, but
NSF isn’t asking for 10 million, they’re asking for one. It’s helped me really narrow my focus,
and think critically about one problem I’d like to tackle and how I plan to tackle that one problem.
For me, this was awesome. I love thinking of tons of problems and hackney solutions to those problems
, but rarely spend time to focus on how to solve just one thing really techincally, let alone write it
on a piece of paper. Even if my ideas don’t pan out, it’s definitely a skill that a grad student should
get better at, and I feel I’ve gotten better at is in the last few weeks. Yay, personal growth. In addition,
the prompts mandate that you pull out both the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts of your work, which
I believe are the cornerstone to any scientific endeavor (Pasteur agrees with me).
You should start thinking about how your research fits into these categories broadly, as they
will help shape the end results of your research. At least, I think so.

The personal statement

I hate writing about myself. A lot of my friends in academia also hate writing about themselves. That
makes the personal statement a special kind of hellish request. 3 pages of “I’m awesome” is enough to really
bring me down. That being said, I think there’s a way to write about yourself in a way that doesn’t
come off as totally boorish. At least, I hope so, since I employed that technique to write my
personal statement!