Thursday, November 6, 2014

NSF: Not Sure if Funded

Assuming my references get their letters in on time, my application for the 2015 NSF GRFP is complete. It might be a strange strain of Stockholm Syndrome, but I almost miss the process of writing and editing and writing and editing and drowning in self-doubt and editing...

Unearthing stuff from undergrad was pretty entertaining, but the actual writing was my favorite part. It was incredibly difficult, even frustrating at times, but it felt good to be creating something from scratch. The process also reminded me of one of my favorite aspects of our group; we care about writing.

That said, there are a few things from this experience I want to remember, so I'm recording them here. Hopefully they'll be useful to others, particularly new people if they happen to creep backwards in time through the Burke Blog.

  1. Think it's too early to start? You're probably a week late from when you should've started.
  2. If you're really stuck or don't know how to improve, just rewrite the whole dang thing (or if that's unfeasible, a big chunk). Justin suggested this and I used it a few times with good results
  3. Let non-Burkies (non-scientists for bonus points) read your writing. The science has to make sense, but the story needs to make even more sense. Speaking of which,
  4. Pick a story you want to tell and tell it. If you have to write a personal statement, don't just blabber on about yourself. Center the piece on something you think is interesting. This is true of science stuff too.
  5. Give letter writers as much time as possible to write their letter for you. They might wait till the last minute, but let them make that decision; don't make it for them.
  6. Print out things before you click submit. Read the thing out loud. Seeing typos is harder than you might expect.
  7. For sciency stuff, find textbooks and papers and see how experts talk about what you're going to talk about. There is usually a dialect already in existence and sticking to it will make you sound more competent. It also saves you the trouble of trying to explain stuff you may not really understand on your own.
  8. Don't be unnecessarily wordy. You aren't being impressive, you're wasting time and space. In the same vein, tighten everything once you've "finished" what you're writing. Often, parts of sentences can be rephrased to be more concise or removed altogether.
  9. Drink coffee. A lot.
  10. To quote Lori, "Know when to walk away." If the thing is due in 2 hours. You should probably stop adding to it make sure there aren't any tpyos.

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