Yesterday I submitted my first application for external funding. It was for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, and it’s safe to say that almost every first- and second-year PhD student in any STEM field (as well as many fourth-year undergrads) in America applied for the award. When I began to seriously think about my application about 2 months ago, it seemed like a relatively small, reasonable task. Last winter I applied to about 8 grad schools, each with different essays and application requirements, so this seemed small in comparison. As the deadline kept getting closer, the magnitude of the project seemed to increase. The main components of the application are a personal statement (your past, current interests, and future goals), and a research proposal for a project you’ve designed yourself. Now that I’ve hit the Submit button, I have a moment to reflect on just how valuable this process was, regardless of the success of my application.
I had been working on the essays with my advisor throughout the process, but the day before the deadline, I met with her to work out the concerns I still had. We scrutinized every word in my application. We questioned the value of every sentence. We simplified, clarified, and, sometimes, we agonized. Four hours later, I could confidently say that the application as a whole accurately reflected the applicant I believe I am.
I’ve recently started deciding how long a task should take and setting a stopwatch for that time. When it’s up, I’m done. While it works pretty well for tasks like readings in which absorbing every word isn’t crucial, this final editing experience was a perfect example of a pitfall of the stopwatch method. I’m incredibly thankful that my advisor didn’t set a stopwatch when I walked in. She was fully on board with the fact that we’d work together until the task was truly complete. By the time we had shaved the last bit of a sentence, bringing my essay to the required length, it was dark and cold (by San Diego standards). But those facts were irrelevant in light of the state of the finished products. They’re a great mix of art and science: creative and melodious in places, while simultaneously logical, thorough, and articulate.
And now we wait.