How to Apply for Funding and Fellowships

Here are some tips and advice on applying for fellowships for graduate research funding. (For post-doctoral fellowships, see Postdoc.)

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Here is the official NSF GRFP page.

At a glance:

  • Application deadline: Around Halloween each year. You may apply in the fall before you enter grad school, and/or in your first year of grad school, and/or in your second year of grad school.

  • Who can apply: Masters or PhD students who have completed no more than one year of graduate-level study, US citizens only.

  • What you get (may change yearly): $37,000, tuition waived, student health insurance, reimbursal of UA's student fees.

  • Application requirements: Personal Statement, Research Statement, 3 reference letters, transcripts

Tips and thoughts from successful applicants:

  • This is a really great fellowship to get! It offers the most money and the most freedom. And it's not quite as much work as a NESSF application.
  • Have a specific plan in place regarding the "Broader Impact" criterion required for the application. Use LPL's resources to help you come up with this plan. For example, you can get involved with EPO for a current mission, or set up something with the Teaching Teams project at LPL, etc...
  • If you are a first year student applying, you should choose two references from your undergrad school (these should be strong references), and one reference from LPL, as strong as you can possibly get. But don't worry if the LPL reference doesn't know you as well. Encourage the LPL reference to speak as much as possible about their evaluation of your potential based on the few months you've been at LPL.

Grads to contact who are willing to share their application materials (add to email addresses):

  • Melissa Dykhuis (dykhuis)
  • Sarah Sutton (ssutton)
  • Ali Bramson (bramson)
  • Margaret Landis (mlandis)


NASA Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST)

Look for the solicitation on NSPIRES. This is the site through which most (all?) NASA fellowships are posted, submitted, etc.

At a glance:

  • Application deadline: Early February (note you can apply to planetary, astro, solar, or Earth and I think sometimes they have slightly different deadlines)

  • Who can apply: Students admitted to, or already enrolled in, a full-time Masters and/or Ph.D. With two equal applications, US citizens get preference, but applications are never truly equal, so apply even if you're not a citizen.

  • What you get (may change yearly): $35,000 stipend; $10,000 for tuition fees, publication costs,conference travel, etc. You will most likely do a 1/4 time RA or TA both fall and spring at LPL to make an amount comparable to other grads. By doing a 1/4 RA or TA, 1/2 your tuition is waived and you get health insurance. In recent history, LPL has always covered any tuition that is not otherwise covered by FINESST or RA/TA, but they do not guarantee that this will always happen in the future.

  • Because FINESST applications are through NSPIRES, they have to go through UA Sponsored Projects. This means you have to submit everything to sponsored projects a couple days before the true deadline. Talk to your advisor (and Glinda!) about the details of when and how to do this.

Frequently Asked Questions (updated 12/2023):

  • Can you defer the award?
    • Yes, the award can be deferred to some degree. Some students have recently deferred the award by a semester and it is likely that you can get a deferral up to a year. This often can be used if other internships or research opportunities pop up that would benefit from the time granted by a deferral.
  • Can you move institutions, if needed, and keep your FINESST funding?
    • Yes, the applicant can move institutions and the award will go with them. The awardee will need to identify a PI at the new institution that would be qualified and able to help with the completion of the project.
  • If you're applying early, how do you project confidence in the proposal that you will be able to perform the research?
    •   This one is tricky and best addressed on a case-by-case situation. One good way of addressing this is to focus on getting a small portion of your research to a level of completion that lets you show success on part of the project. The 
  • Where can I tell NASA that I'm storing data as part of the data management process? 
    • The University Library archive services, ReDATA, can be placed as a data management tool and several students have had success putting this on their application (and being given the award).
  • High risk, high reward? 
    • These are very confusing, even to people experienced with using NSPIRES. As of 2023, there is a "High Risk, High Reward" box that can be checked on your application for NASA reviewers
  • Where can I get feedback on my proposal?
    •  Reach out to grad students at LPL! Many will be happy to review your proposal. Your advisor and co-investigators should also be happy to help review your work. Note that you will need to add a sentence for transparency in your application saying who has reviewed your proposal. 
  • What are common pitfalls for the proposal process?
    • Not starting the budget process early enough (and then the LPL business office has to rush). Starting earlier is better, but definitely start by mid-November!
  • What are common weaknesses 
    • Not explaining the model, background, software, etc. thoroughly enough (you only get a few pages!). You have to be concise in your statements.
    • Having too many things on your application so that the project is not feasible in the timeframe of a PhD dissertation or the timeframe proposed.
    • Inadequate assessment of feasibility of your project. It's a burden on the proposer to explain why the project is feasible
    • Risk mitigation not discussed. This can be especially difficult for projects with a time-critical data acquisition component, for example large data sets with large processing times or observational projects which may loose time to weather, equipment malfunctions, etc.
    • Proposals will fail to show how the results of their experiments, model, observations, etc. will answer the driving science questions of the proposal.
  • What level of publication should I propose in my application?
    • Two papers for a three-year award time seems to be reasonable. Several students have proposed three publications in three years and been able to successfully keep to that (no one actually holds you to that), but it is very ambitious and has been mentioned as a weakness in several publications. Other successful applicants have done two papers in three years by combining aspects of the research that go well together into one paper. Keep in mind, you eventually could ask for a no-cost extension that would apply specifically for wrapping up your publications.
  • What happens if I only request funding for 2 years (since most people apply for 3 years)?
    • Scale the projects appropriately for the timeframe you want to propose! The review panel takes into account the amount of work you're proposing for the timeframe. Sometimes it is even beneficial because your overall award is cheaper to fund!
  • What are the selection rates these days?
    • The selection rates currently are better (easier) for planetary science than astronomy, Earth Science division, etc. (e.g., Last year (2022), Earth Science Division funded 53/369 proposals)



Marshall Foundation Dissertation Fellowship

Official website is here: Marshall Foundation

At a glance:

  • Offered by the grad college
  • Application Deadline: November

  • Who can apply: Grad students who will graduate within a year

  • What you get (may change yearly): $10,788 and tuition waiver for two semesters.

  • Note: You need to have AZ residency status with UofA to qualify, the deadline for petitioning for this is about one week into the semester, so if you are not already a resident (ie if you see out of state tuition on your bursar) you should plan ahead.

Grads to contact who are willing to share their application materials (add to email addresses):

General Fellowship tips and links
NASA's Learner Opportunities page lists programs and fellowships for grad students.

NASA ROSES Proposals

While it is uncommon for grad students (and often even Postdocs) to PI their own ROSES grants, it has been done, and it is never too early to start getting experience with proposals. Ask your advisors if you can see their previously submitted grants, or offer to rip apart any grant proposals they are currently writing. See more information on the Workshops page for advice from a Program Manager (Dr. Christina Richey) about the ROSES application and peer review process.