Graduate Research Plan Statement

With this statement, you must demonstrate that you can conceive and begin planning an original research project.

Component Instructions

Precisely follow the instructions for this statement, found here:

  • standard 8.5″ x 11″ page size
  • 12-point, Times New Roman font
  • 10-point font may be used for references, footnotes, figure captions and text within figures
  • 1″ margins on all sides
  • Single-spaced (approximately 5 lines per inch) or greater line spacing. Do not use line spacing options such as “exactly 12 point,” that are less than single spaced.
  • This statement is limited to two pages.

Statement Prompt:

Present an original research topic that you would like to pursue in graduate school. Describe the research idea, your general approach, as well as any unique resources that may be needed for accomplishing the research goal (e.g., access to national facilities or collections, collaborations, overseas work, etc.). You may choose to include important literature citations. Address the potential of the research to advance knowledge and understanding within science as well as the potential for broader impacts on society. The research discussed must be in a field listed in the Solicitation (Section X, Fields of Study).

For your consideration

As appropriate to your discipline and research topic, you may propose a qualitative or quantitative or mixed methods study. While it seems that the words “general approach” signal writing flexibility, you should (a) work from an outline (b) propose rigorous methods, and (c) write in a scholarly fashion. Your research statement should read like a two-page research abstract.

Other suggestions:

  • Your rationale for selecting a research topic and methods should be informed by the literature (or bodies of literature if you are proposing an interdisciplinary project).
  • Select a graduate research topic that relates to your stated career goals.
  • The scope of the research project must be doable for a graduate student.
  • Be realistic about needed resources (e.g., travel, equipment, supplies) and how to cover costs.
  • Select appropriate and rigorous data collection/analysis methods for a quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods study. Borrow a research methods book from your mentor.
  • Work closely with your advisor or mentor on this statement.

Addressing your role in a larger research project

Reviewers understand that quite often students work on lab teams funded by external grants. If your graduate research topic is part of a larger research project, make certain that you explain this. Devise a rigorous plan, then specify how your findings will contribute to the overall research project. Be clear about your role and responsibilities. IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not copy and paste sections from a grant proposal – that is plagiarism. Final tip: Reviewers understand that student researchers need to acquire and hone additional research skills. If your proposed research topic will be a challenge with your current skill level, don’t fret. Briefly explain how you will gain the necessary skills to conduct your research successfully (e.g., graduate courses, summer research, training and/or mentoring).

Questions a Reviewer Might Pose Related to the Graduate Research Statement

Intellectual Merit:

  • Has the student presented a well-organized statement? Writing clear? Definitive?
  • Is the topic creative, innovative or potentially transformative?
  • How did the student justify the need for this research topic?
  • Is the “general approach” appropriate for the topic? Are methods rigorous?
  • Has the student identified possible pitfalls or limitations with this topic?
  • Is this student ready conduct a graduate research project on this topic?
  • What is the mentor’s expertise and how strong is the mentor’s support of this research?
  • Do the reference letters confirm that the student will have adequate research resources?
  • How will the student publish/present scholarly findings within and across disciplines?
  • If the student proposed international research or field study, is it relevant?
  • How will this research help the student acquire new knowledge and skills?
  • Potentially, how might this research advance knowledge within and across disciplines?

Broader Impacts:

  • What are the inherent broader impacts (or societal benefit) of this research topic? How will society benefit from this research topic – directly and/or indirectly? Does the topic address a significant global problem, societal need or NSF priority?
  • What broader impacts (or societal benefit) may be realized through the research activities? For example, will research activities broaden participation of people from underrepresented groups?
  • Are the proposed, complementary BI activities realistic? Sustainable? Specifically, what groups will be reached and how will they benefit from the BI activities?
  • Does this applicant propose to teach public audiences about science and discoveries?
  • Might this study enhance research and education infrastructure (e.g., facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships)?
  • What is the applicant’s record of broader impacts efforts to date? Is this applicant likely to be proactive and consistent with BI activities in the future?
  • If the GRFP makes an investment in this student, how will this student help the NSF work toward “desired societal outcomes”?


Submission Instructions
The maximum length of the Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement is three pages. The maximum length of the Graduate Research Plan Statement is two pages. These page limits include all references, citations, charts, figures, images, and lists of publications and presentations. Applicants must certify that the two statements (Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement, and Graduate Research Plan Statement) in the application are their own original work. As explained in the NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG Chapter I.D.3): “NSF expects strict adherence to the rules of proper scholarship and attribution. The responsibility for proper scholarship and attribution rests with the authors of a proposal; all parts of the proposal should be prepared with equal care for this concern. Authors other than the PI (or any co-PI) should be named and acknowledged. Serious failure to adhere to such standards can result in findings of research misconduct. NSF policies and rules on research misconduct are discussed in the PAPPG Chapter XII.C, as well as 45 CFR Part 689.”

Both statements must address NSF’s review criteria of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. In each statement, applicants should address Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts under separate headings, to provide reviewers with the information necessary to evaluate the application with respect to both Criteria.