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Spotlight on Greg Chism - NSF GRFP

Submitted on March 3, 2021

Hi! My name is Greg Chism, and I am a fourth year PhD candidate in the Entomology and Insect Science graduate interdisciplinary program. My research concerns how ant nest shapes influence how the ants behave. Just as buildings influence human behavior, the built shapes that ants create affects theirs. My research uses an interdisciplinary approach; my graduate committee reflects the fields of animal behavior and human architecture. My hope is to begin building a bridge between these fields towards a cohesive exchange of knowledge. 


My fellowship success story actually began with a lack of success in 2016 when I applied for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP). I had applied with a prospective graduate school advisor just before an extensive field season in South Africa where we studied the behavior of social spiders. I applied for the NSF GRFP with the idea of researching how metabolism influences the behavior of these spiders; however, my application was ultimately unsuccessful. I was devastated, but, after analyzing the feedback I received, I knew there was still hope. One of the two main review criteria used for NSF is broader impacts. The reviews clearly showed that my broader impacts were weak, meaning NSF was not convinced I would help the surrounding community in the manner I proposed. 


I successfully reapplied for the NSF GRFP in 2018, where I proposed the bridge between animal behavior and human architecture mentioned above. I chose to wait until the second year of my Ph.D. progress to better prepare a compelling application. Luckily, I had help from the University of Arizona Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement (OFCE) Fellowship Application Development Program both the Summer and Fall of 2018. 


My scientific writing wasn't exactly stellar. When I submitted an application to present at a workshop that required a condensed manuscript, I used a hastily put together piece of my writing that led to my Ph.D. advisor being asked by a colleague whether English was my second language (both my parents are native English speakers). You can imagine my desire to improve. I used my past application as a template, and from there, with the help of my OFCE Graduate Editor, I developed a strong application that was completely in my more refined voice. The OFCE GRFP Development Program gave me the stability and confidence I needed to complete a coherent, confident, and ultimately successful GRFP application that met the expectations of the NSF. 


Writing any fellowship application can be daunting. For me, having a diverse group of people who read and edited my application, while also not suppressing my voice, was key. I also benefited from previous awardees who shared their successful applications. Examples of previous applications can make a daunting task manageable, especially with a support system.


After being awarded the NSF GRFP, I became a Graduate Editor for the OFCE Fellowship Application Development Program, which allowed me to be a part of the support system of over fifty applicants. I have deeply enjoyed giving feedback on applications and mentoring applicants. This ability to support other applicants was just as rewarding to me as receiving the NSF GRFP.


In helping other applicants, I have learned a lot about writing and fellowships. Improving your writing skills and learning how to write a fellowship application are extremely important, regardless of whether you are successful in getting the funding. If you start early and utilize all of the resources at your disposal at UArizona, then you will survive the application process unscathed!