Monday, August 11, 2008

CS Grad School Part 3: Fellowships

I put fellowship applications before the actual applications themselves because the deadlines are sooner. You should figure out where you are applying for school, what you're applying for, and that kind of thing before you apply for fellowships. (The NSF and Hertz deadlines were in November when I applied in 2007.)

The reasons to apply to fellowships are as follows:
  1. They provide an nice supplement to your graduate stipend.
  2. Having a fellowship makes you more appealing to a potential advisor, who would otherwise have to fund you himself/herself.
  3. The process of applying makes you think about what you want to do and forces you to get your act together for your actual school applications.
  4. They look good on your CV.

Philip Guo has a nice summary of the three main fellowships available, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRF), the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NDSEGF), and the Hertz Fellowship. The NSF, which provides a stipend of 30,000 a year for three years, is given to the most people and favors women and minority groups in fields in computer science. The NDSEGF is slightly more money, given to fewer people, and harder to get. The Hertz is the most money, given to the smallest number of people, and the hardest to get. :)

When I applied to graduate schools, I applied for all three fellowships and was awarded the NSF. I was declined for the NDSEGF and the Hertz, although I did get a second-round interview for the Hertz. I will write mostly about my NSF application, but I will also describe my Hertz interview because this information may be helpful for you.

NSF.  For the NSF fellowship, you are required to write a personal statement, a statement of research experience, and a research proposal for a project you would pursue in graduate school. I was given the very helpful advice that I should make my essays clear and concise, as the readers would likely to be skimming. My materials are below:
  • Personal statement - I write about my life goals as they are relevant to my graduate pursuits and how I came to develop them.
  • Research experience - this was fairly straight forward. One helpful editor told me to provide enough background for understanding each research experience.
  • Proposed research - I described my undergraduate senior thesis. The project does not necessarily have to be a project you for sure plan to pursue in graduate school; you just need to show that you have thought about a large-scale project, the reasons for pursuing it, and what impact it may have. One good piece of advice I got was to make the problem as clear as possible as early as possible.
Hertz.  As my Hertz materials were quite similar, I will not post them. The Hertz fellowship is much more selective: you submit your paper materials for review in hopes of getting a second-round interview (given to 25% of applicants), the results of which get submitted as part of your file. If you make it past the second round interviews, they eat you. (I believe you might get another interview, and then perhaps the fellowship.)

The Hertz second-round interview is an hour long and with someone who has previously received the Hertz fellowship. My interviewer asked me about my experiences, peppering in questions to make sure I knew what I was talking about. My interviewer took me by surprise by asking me about protein folding--I was interviewing as a potential CS grad student, but I had done some research in computational biology. Other examples of fact-checking: when I said I liked compilers, my interviewer asked me to describe the compilation process, data structures involved, etc. The interview concluded with general questions (linear algebra, how would you tell apart jars of two different substances using kitchen supplies, etc.).

This is one of my "applying to grad school" blog posts.
  1. Deciding to Apply
  2. Standardized Tests
  3. Fellowships
  4. Applications
  5. School Visits
  6. Some notes on picking grad schools/advisors
  7. FAQ: Applying to Graduate School for Computer Science
You may also be interested in these blog posts I have written:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting your NSF materials - that's very helpful to those of us who are still applying! I'm a biologist and I noticed some things in the previous research statement that you might want to change if you reuse these summaries in a CV or fellowship application again later.

First, cnidaria do not have central nervous systems - they have decentralized nerve nets. This is really quite a difference when you consider the implications for evolution of the CNS.

Second, nematostella is not a sponge - it's a sea anemone and thus a cnidarian. Moreover it's not a hydrozoan, but rather an anthozoan. Did your study also include hydra? If not I would change your parenthetical reference to hydra.

Finally, the statement connecting the work to autism is disingenuous. Your work has palpable relevance! Don't jeopardize that by setting off the BS detectors.

These distinctions probably seem unimportant since your contribution to the project was computational. However, when you mix these things up you give the wrong impression about (a) your involvement in planning the work and (b) your understanding of its significance. This is all easily corrected of course... Just trying to help out since you were kind enough to share your essays.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, thank you for this. I love your writing style -- I can see why you got the NSF fellowship. It's very concise.

Arif Hossain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john said...

Thank a lot

Anonymous said...

those materials are not available now. Kindly took to it.

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anonymous said...

good post!