Joshua Woods will soon begin his doctoral studies at Cornell University in the Robert Fredrick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. A recent graduate with a degree in chemical engineering and a minor in chemistry, Josh is the recipient of a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The fellowship supports outstanding students pursuing research-based graduate degrees in STEM fields.

While at SU, Josh conducted research under Karin Ruhlandt, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the principal investigator for Ruhlandt Research Group. He also conducted research in Austria while studying abroad at the Technische Universität Graz. Outside of the laboratory, Josh plays bassoon with the Syracuse University Marching Band and several other area orchestras. For his excellent work in the classroom and as a student researcher, he was named a 2016 SU Scholar — Syracuse University’s highest academic honor for undergraduates.

CFSA asked Josh about his experience applying for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Tell me about the application process.

For the application, you had to write a personal statement and a research proposal. In the personal statement, we had to discuss how we have contributed to our field intellectually and how we plan to increase awareness of our field outside of academia. For my statement, I proposed to build a program similar to the “Excellerators” at Syracuse University, where undergraduate students help with outreach activities and recruiting events.

I learned how to write clearly and concisely. Sometimes in science, you write lengthy and wordy sentences to completely explain complex ideas. In this application, where space is limited, you need to write what you need to say and move on. This is where concise, clear and effective writing comes in.

What advice do you have for future NSF Graduate Research Fellowship applicants and other competitive scholarship applicants?

START EARLY! I waited until the beginning of October until I started working on my application and did not get very much sleep those four weeks and I rushed to get my application completed. I wish that I had been more prepared and had more time to fully complete the application.

Try your hardest to get your name on a published paper. One of my reviewers commented that he/she was concerned that I had a lack of publications despite the amount of research I have completed. The truth was that we were currently in the process of publishing the papers and they were not submitted in time for the application reviewers.

When writing a personal statement, keep it interesting and take the reviewers on a journey. They read hundreds upon hundreds of these applications and you want to be the one that sticks out. Additionally, you want the reviewers to enjoy your application. Most of them are reading these over the holidays in their free time. One professor told me to “write something you’d want to read on Christmas Eve after a big meal”.

What did you do when you learned that you won?

I found out that I had won the award at 4:30 am through an email. I immediately called my parents and woke them up to tell them!


Are you interested in applying to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP)? CFSA will host an interest session on September 15 from 3-5PM in 107 Hall of Languages. All are welcome!