Things that helped me from UNDERGRAD - Currently applying for graduate fellowships
- Volunteering with and generally befriending graduate students
- Establish strong relationships with at least 2 professors
- Make friends in other STEAM disciplines
- Education outreach. Community outreach. Seriously.
- Good grades and test scores and stuff.
Expansion on each topic:
1. Graduate student allies
So one day you’ll be writing personal statements for applications to grad school or scholarships or fellowships or jobs and/or all of the above. If you’re like me, you hate writing about yourself and will expend enormous amounts of energy writing (what in your mind you think as) complete shit. Graduate students you volunteer with on a consistent basis with their projects (and providing them with treats and food doesn’t hurt either—ask thesmileoctopus, she is a pro at this) could be willing to help you with your writing. Also, I find that they have this deep desire to edit with a pointy sword and make your draft bleed profusely (which is what you need). This is probably because they receive critical feedback as a form of currency and they gotta spend that gold somewhere. It’s important to invest in these types of relationships as an undergrad…you’ll be surprised by how willing some grad students may be to spend their valuable free time to help you.
2. Professor support (at least 2—but ideally 3)
This is a difficult goal to reach. But, as you may have already discovered, many applications ask for 2-3 letters of recommendation. So instead of going into why it’s important—let’s just briefly mention some ways we can earn the support of some academic giants:
- Perform well in their classes - good grades, participate, be a positive contributor to the classroom environment
- Go to office hours for help. Go to office hours and ask them about their academic journey to professor-ship. Demonstrate to them that you are constantly thinking about your future and how to reach your goals.
- Help out their grad students.
- Help their lab with education and community outreach.
3. Friends who are rockstars in their own STEAM discipline
Sometimes you just need the eyes and minds of a buddy who has had some different training. They can help out with the basic mechanics of your writing…they might have a trick/suggestion used by their field that can also be applied to your field. These kinds of friends can really help you broaden your perspective. Also, friends are awesome. Also squared, sometimes it’s nice to hang out with someone who is not working on the same thing as you — so you can stop thinking about your work for at least a little while.
4. Outreach, outreach, outreach
This is so crucial for things like NSF grants, fellowships, and internships. How do you bring STEM/STEAM to others? How do you spread scientific literacy? Go out and help out others. It makes you feel good and (if that’s not convincing enough) it looks really good on CVs and personal statements. Even if you aren’t sure what you want to do exactly, volunteer. You can always find the spin that makes it relevant later on. For example, I know people who received good reviews on their NSF proposals but did not receive an award because their Broader Impacts category was limited or nonexistent.
5. Work hard play hard—get dem grades and standardized test scores
This stuff is so obvious, but you want to have a strong foundation to stand upon whenever you apply for anything.
All right, that’s what I’ve learned so far in my first proposal process. I hope it helps someone else out there kick some serious booty in the future.
P.S. apologies for typos and other grammatical errors. Z has been distracting every 5 minutes because he is also trying to find ways to procrastinate from editing his proposal.