APPLICATION TIPS FOR STUDENTS
A competitive application requires planning, attention to detail, and sufficient time to work with campus individuals who can support the student’s application. All applicants need to plan appropriately.
As materials are prepared, students should keep in mind that the Goldwater Scholarship is awarded to those who show the greatest potential for becoming the United States’ next generation of research leaders in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. All elements of an application – from answers to the online questionnaire to the individuals whom students select to write letters of recommendation – should help the Foundation understand how the applicant intends to be one of these leaders.
An Important Change in the Review Process for 2020
• There is an important change in how applications will be reviewed for 2020. In the past, student applications were read by state of residence. This meant that a student’s application in biology might be competing with student applications in biology, chemistry, mathematics – whatever applications happened to be submitted in that state. In 2020, student applications will be reviewed by discipline, not by state of residence. In 2020, student applications will be reviewed with other applications in the discipline.
General guidance when preparing an application:
• Carefully read and review all of the application materials.
• Know and stay on top of all deadlines (including those established by the Goldwater Program and those set by the institution’s Campus Representative).
• Work with individuals who can assist and provide feedback throughout the application process (i.e., Goldwater CR, mentors and references).
• Make certain the information provided is accurate and reported in a way that is asked for in the application.
• Proofread, proofread, proofread all application materials! Enlist others to review the application for science, grammar, format, etc.
• Well in advance of deadlines, make certain all application materials are in order (i.e., check with the CR).
Writing career goals
• In the online student application, one of the sections is titled Career Goals/Professional Aspirations. The section contains questions about a student’s goals and background for which the student must write narrative responses. A student should draft answers to these questions, refine the drafts and then refine the drafts again. During this process, the applicant should talk with faculty – both research mentors and non-mentors, other professionals in the field, and, if available, post-doctoral research associates and graduate students, about their research and career experiences. This will help one better understand what a research career entails and will help write stronger statements.
• As part of the Career Goal responses, students should provide their specific plans for graduate school, post-doctoral research (if-possible). Research experiences that support one’s career goals should also be presented.
Writing the Research Essay
• While disciplinary reviewers will be broadly familiar with work in the discipline, it is unlikely the reviewers will be experts in the student’s sub-field. Furthermore, if an application needs to undergo a secondary review, the review may be done by an individual from another discipline. Students should write their research essays and other materials for individuals who are broadly trained in the sciences, engineering and mathematics, not for subject matter experts.
• The Research Essay should not simply be a “slightly expanded” abstract that was used for another purpose. While the Research Essay might start out as an abstract, it needs to be much more. In addition to describing a research question, methodology, analysis and results, the Essay should clearly describe how the student was involved in the work and what specific contributions was made to the work. Future directions for the work or a new research initiative built on skills learned should be included.
• Students should work with their faculty and research mentor(s) to ensure the Research Essay is scientifically accurate, uses appropriate scientific format, and provides an appropriate balance among the various elements that make up the Research Essay.
Selecting letter writers and materials letters writers need:
• Students should carefully reflect upon whom they want to ask to write their Goldwater Letters of Recommendation. Give the highest priority to faculty and mentors who understand the applicant’s desire and passion to pursue a research career. While these individuals will certainly include research project mentors, the list may include others who can comment on the student’s potential for becoming a research scientist, mathematician or engineer. After research mentors, a student might consider asking individuals who 1) know the applicant well and who might be able to compare him/her with previous Goldwater Scholars or with other students who have gone on to successful research careers, 2) might have observed the applicant at times when he/she demonstrated particular intellectual daring, insight, creativity, originality, integrity, or perseverance, or 3) have had the student in a class where his/her performance stood out from peers, particularly in a class that may be important to an applicant’s career aspirations. The key to any good letter is for the Recommender to be able to cite specific examples about an applicant. Again, students should give careful thought as to who these individuals might be and should be certain to discuss their list with their Goldwater CR before approaching any potential reference.
• Students should volunteer to provide references with an “information packet”. The materials in this packet should be tailored to the particular letter writer. If the letter writer is a research mentor, information should be included like 1) when the student started working with the mentor and for how long, 2) contributions made to the project, 3) who the student worked with on the project, and 4) skills learned by working in the project. If the letter writer is a faulty member whose class the student had, include 1) the name of the course, 2) course grade, 3) how what the student learned in the class might help the student’s research career, and 4) a description of any significant contributions the student made to the class. All letter writers should, if available at the time you ask for letters, be given the student’s resume, Goldwater narrative statements, research essay, and list of publications/presentations. It is generally not a good strategy to give the same information packet to all three letter writers. Doing so may result in letters of recommendation that look the same.
• Goldwater letters of recommendation should not be recycled graduate school recommendation letters. Graduate school letters will probably not have the level of emphasis on research that one would expect to see in a Goldwater letter.
• With regard to course grades, are there any – particularly STEM courses – that need explanation? If so, address them.