Can a student who intends to pursue a Medical Degree receive a Goldwater Scholarship?

The Goldwater Foundation has supported students who intend to go into medicine IF there is clear evidence that they intend to conduct medical RESEARCH. This is clearer when the students indicate that they intend to pursue an MD/PhD, DO/PhD, or DVM/PhD and can explain why obtaining the medical or veterinary degree will be an asset. Given that 99% of students who obtain just the medical or veterinary degree plan to become practicing physicians or veterinarians with no intention of doing research, it is fair to say that this nomination will be reviewed with more skepticism than other nominations. The burden of proof of intent to conduct research as a medical doctor rests with the student and nominators. There is little doubt that the “bar” will be set higher for this nominee than for others. A survey of the “intended” degrees of students who have won Goldwater awards would likely reveal few who stated that they intended to pursue just the medical or veterinary degree.

I am in a 5-year BS/MS degree program in engineering? Am I eligible for Goldwater support in my 5th year?

The Goldwater Foundation Scholarships support undergraduate study. As the fifth year in a 5-year BS/MS program is made up entirely of graduate level courses, you would not be eligible for scholarship support in the fifth year of the program. If you are in a 5-year BS/MS program, you should treat your 4th year as your undergraduate senior year, the year in which you would “normally” receive your bachelor’s degree. Students in a 5-year BS/MS program should consider being nominated for a Goldwater in their sophomore year (year 2) or junior year (year 3) of college. If selected for a scholarship, a sophomore would receive two years of financial support (junior and senior year, no support in the 5th year) and juniors would receive one year of financial support (senior year, no support in the 5th year). The fact that the bachelor’s degree is not actually awarded at the end of the fourth year is not an issue for the Goldwater Foundation.

I am in a 3/2 bachelor’s degree program. I am spending three years at my current college and will transfer in my fourth year to finish my bachelor’s degree at the university that is participating in the 3/2 program. When can I apply for a Goldwater Scholarship?

The Goldwater Foundation supports undergraduates in the last two years of their bachelor’s degree program. You, therefore, can be nominated in year 3 of your five-year bachelor’s program (for Goldwater purposes, this would be your sophomore year) and in year 4 of your five-year program (your junior year according to the Goldwater definition). The college you are attending can nominate you in year 3. The university you will be attending after you transfer can also nomination you for a Goldwater scholarship. In both cases, you will receive funding when you are at the university so the amount you will receive from the Goldwater Foundation will be determined by the costs and financial support you have while attending the university. Finally, there is an important point to be made. The Goldwater Scholarship is an honor that is bestowed once. You cannot, for example, be nominated by your college and win a two-year award and then be nominated by the university for an additional year of support.

What’s the best strategy for writing the research essay?

The Foundation routinely receives questions about the research essay. Students often phrase the question in this way, “What are the elements of a strong research essay” while Campus Representatives will ask “How should I advise my students on writing their research essay?”

To answer this question, it is important to have a basic understanding of what the reviewers are trying to do when they read students’ nomination materials. Quite frankly, there is nothing mysterious about the answer. The Goldwater reviewers are simply attempting to determine who among the nominees are the most likely to pursue a research career in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics and trying to identify the best from among this group. In short, the reviewers are trying to identify individuals who demonstrate a passion for doing research and the creative spark that will make them leaders in their fields in the years to come.

Everything in the nomination packet should help the reviewers understand that the nominee they are reading about is this individual. Is there one way to achieve this in the essay? Unfortunately, there is no single or magic formula. The research essays will be as varied as the students who are submitting them. There are, nonetheless, some characteristics among competitive essays that are worth noting.

One of the best ways students demonstrate their passion for research is by doing research. Can students really “know” they have a passion for doing research if they haven’t had to stand next to a lab bench for 16 hours, spent days working through a difficult set of mathematical equations, faced the research failures that will routinely occur, or had to deal with the mundane side of science (yes, someone has to order the supplies)? Telling the students’ research stories, specifically relating to the reader what the students contributed and what they got out of the experience, helps the reviewer evaluate student interest in and passion for doing research.

Doing research, from which I would exclude routine laboratory or lecture experiments that are part of a structured course, can take on many different forms. Experimentalists will often engage students in larger, ongoing projects. Theoretically inclined students may work more independently. In some instances, prior research experiences in more theoretically slanted projects may primarily involve reading the literature, possibly talking with a faculty member, and developing an idea. Our reviewers report excellent examples of this kind of work in mathematics, for example. In all cases, however, it is important that students demonstrate ownership of the project, or some part of the project. Another important point particularly applies to experimental work. Students do not have to be involved in research that occurs on the world’s largest particle accelerator. Students who demonstrate sophisticated or elegant thinking and analysis of the ecosystem of the pond behind their dorm can be just as competitive.

It is helpful to the reviewers if they can also see that the students “think and behave like scientists.” One way for a research essay to help demonstrate this is for students to put forward ideas for new research based on what has just been done. Alternatively, students may want to suggest entirely new lines of study explaining, at least in part, how the skills they have developed are useful to this new line of research. Showing correlation between what’s been done (skills that have been acquired) and what is to be done (new line of work) will strengthen the overall essay.

There are, of course, students who have never been involved in research. For their research essay, these students should develop a research proposal in an area of research that is of interest to them. As with any research proposal, the essay should put forward a question, present the relevant literature, present a hypothesis, outline the research methodology and discuss anticipated results. Just as with those students who are presenting and building upon prior research experience, those putting forward proposals for which they have no prior experience should work to convey their interest and ability to carry out the project.

Finally, space in the research essay should be used judiciously. Balance the various elements of the essay so that no one section dominates the essay. Include a bibliography that includes up-to-date, refereed journal articles. Use diagrams and figures, as appropriate, but not at the expense of quality narrative. And always, anticipate the need to write multiple drafts, each reviewed by the student’s faculty mentor. Write, rewrite, and then rewrite again the research essay. Your readers have a limited amount of time to read the essay so you want to make certain your essay makes your points as clearly and as concisely as possible.

Once I enter my three recommenders (references) into my Goldwater Pre-application, can I later select a different individual?

The three individuals you list as references in your Goldwater Pre-application are intended to “start” a conversation between you and your Campus Representative (CR) to determine who your strongest references might be. Please start this conversation as early in the process as possible with your CR. After discussing your references, if the two of you agree that a recommender should be replaced, your CR will reject the reference and you will then have the opportunity to add a new reference on line. Your CR will have to accept the other two references and the new reference.

Before your CR sends emails to your three Recommenders to ask for a letter on your behalf, you should talk with each of your Recommenders to determine whether or not they are willing to write a strong letter for you. If they are willing to write letters, let them know that they will receive an email from the Goldwater CR with instructions on how to write the letter. If one of your references does not feel he/she knows you well enough or is simply too busy to write a letter for you, immediately convey this information to your CR so that you can identify another letter writer.

If a Recommender declines to write a letter on your behalf (and this does happen), do not be disappointed or discouraged. It is much better that the individual decline to write a letter for you rather than write you a weak letter.


I have an opportunity to work for an internationally renowned laboratory for a year and will be taking a year sabbatical from school. Am I still eligible for my Goldwater Award when I return to my campus?

All extensions, whether for opportunities such as sabbaticals or medical issues, are reviewed by the Foundation and granted on an individual basis. Requests must be made in writing and include relevant supporting documentation.