Graduate Research Statement

The Graduate Research Statement is a proposal for a graduate research project. You must fit your proposal within two (2) pages. Your idea must be original and related to one of the fields that NSF supports. The objective is to demonstrate that you have the potential to contribute to significant advancement in your field. Your proposal should address the following questions:

  • What will you do?
  • How will you do it?
  • Why is it important?
  • How is it relevant?
  • How long will it take?
  • How much resources will you need? (money, equipment, etc.)

Proposal Structure

Having a sound proposal structure will make it easy to ensure you answer each of the above questions. A good research proposal follows a format similar to the one below:

Objectives of Proposed Research (Summary)

This is a clear and concise description of what you propose to do and why. Consider it a primer for what the entire proposal will explain. State your hypothesis here and get your point across in 3-4 sentences.

Project Description (Background)

This is the body of the proposal, which provides most of the information about how you will do what you propose. The introduction should describe existing issues and the motivation behind your project. The background explains the current state of your field. This includes any products that compete with your project or similar research that has already been done. You should show how your proposed work stands out and why it is necessary despite other research or competing technologies.

The closing of the project description should clearly indicate how you will test your hypothesis. This is graduate level work, so you are expected to conduct advanced scientific, technical, engineering, or mathematical analyses. Whether you are using multivariate methods in particle physics or pinch analysis of a chemical process, you should indicate all methods that you will use. The total length of the project description is about a half-page.

Anticipated Results

Describe the expected outcomes of the work you will do. Since you haven't done any actual work up to this point, you are not drawing a conclusion. At best, you are making an educated guess about what will happen, so you don't want to appear biased toward some result. Summarize your expectations in 2-3 sentences.

Research Plan

Your plan should provide explicit detail about how you will carry out your project. Describe the experiments, methods, and/or analyses you will use. What are the key dependent and independent variables measured? What will the recorded data characterize? What equipment will you use? Where will you conduct the research?

Also, consider the potential challenges you may run into and provide solutions to these problems. This will show that you thought about worst case scenarios and prepared to handle setbacks. Round out the research plan with a simple project timeline. Depending on the length of your project, a month-to-month or year-to-year, bulleted list of your activities is sufficient. The total length of the research plan is about a half-page.

Broader Impacts and Intellectual Merit

This is where you explain the relevance of your project as it relates to the review criteria. For Intellectual Merit, show that you have the skills and resources necessary for your project's success. Will you use methods that you perfected in previous research? Do you have access to equipment that you already have experience using? Do you know potential collaborators who are experts in your research area? Is your work potentially transformative?

For Broader Impacts, show who your research will influence and indicate opportunities for you to share your results with the research community.  Will your work be adopted by the many on a larger scale? Will society as a whole benefit from it? Will you use your work to teach young students? Will you present your work at a major conference? 

The length is about 3-4 sentences for each review criterion.


As you would for any publication, provide references for any ideas that you did not generate on your own. Choose a citation style that is frequently used in your field of study. You can abbreviate the citation style and reduce the font size (for citations only!!!) to 10-point. Follow all formatting guidelines as described in the Program Solicitation.

Other Considerations

  • It is helpful to provide keywords at the beginning of the the proposal
    • It prepares the reader for the most relevant ideas you'll be discussing
  • You can include figures in your proposal, but remember this takes away from the total page length
    • Figures should be high quality, easy to interpret, and properly cited
    • Make sure colored figures are easily understood even if printed in black & white
  • Your reviewer will be knowledgeable in your field of study, but likely won't be an expert on your specific research topic
    • So, don't go on and on about about theory and technical details
  • You are not required to carry out the research that you propose in graduate school
    • You just need to convince the reviewers that you can develop an original project idea and see it to completion

My sample statements and reviewer feedback are provided in links and references.