Remove priority research areas from NSF GRFP

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The National Science Foundation recently released the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Program solicitation for the Fiscal Year 2021 competition. The solicitation included a revision which stated:

"Although NSF will continue to fund outstanding Graduate Research Fellowships in all areas of science and engineering supported by NSF, in FY2021, GRFP will emphasize three high priority research areas in alignment with NSF goals. These areas are Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Information Science, and Computationally Intensive Research. Applications are encouraged in all disciplines supported by NSF that incorporate these high priority research areas."

This statement is concerning. The NSF GFRP is supposed to fund people, not projects. It goes directly against the written synopsis of the program, which states: "The purpose of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is to help ensure the quality, vitality, and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States."

We urge the National Science Foundation to remove the emphasized priority research areas. Creating preferred research areas limits efforts to diversify science and will ultimately hamper scientific discovery and student development. This should be–and historically has been, an opportunity for intellectual freedom for young, emerging scientists, which would allow them to contribute to a field of their choosing.

If "Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Information Science and Computationally Intensive Research" is a priority area for the US government, it can be encouraged by funding grants not fellowships for incoming/new graduate students. Keep national priorities out of the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program and award outstanding graduate students based on their intellectual merit and their potential to contribute to society as a scientist in their field of choice.


As a female and former NSF GFRP recipient, I would not be in the position that I am today without that award (currently a MIT postdoc, in the NSF I-Corps program, and about to start a company). I received the GFRP as an outgoing undergraduate from the University of Florida/incoming graduate student. My proposal wasn't written about the research I ended up pursuing for my PhD thesis, since I didn't know what (or where) that would be at the time when I applied. Beginning graduate school with my own funding allowed me to work in a group that didn't have funding for new students and on a project that I wanted to pursue– as opposed to one my PhD advisor had grant funding for.  Fund people, not projects!