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Andrea Carlini

Q&A with an NSF Graduate Research Fellowships Program (GRFP) Fellowship Recipient

What was the application process like?

I found out about the NSF GRFP through my graduate institution. When I first applied, I received an Honorable Mention. I spent approximately three weeks heavily researching background literature and one week writing my research and personal statements. When I reapplied the next year, I had significantly improved the quality of my application, referencing my new publication and improving the quality of my research proposal. In my application, I proposed the design of structurally dynamic biomaterials for use as tissue engineering approaches in the heart post-myocardial infarction (post-MI). I outlined significant limitations with current inert materials, provided specific objectives with expected outcomes, and highlighted key instrumentation and technical skills I already possessed, or would need to learn, to achieve these goals.

What set your application apart from others?

I think that several factors gave my application a competitive edge. With my research essay, I specified alternative approaches in the event that my initial synthetic adducts failed to perform as intended. Thus, I demonstrated the ability to anticipate problems and design appropriate experiments to overcome hurdles. In my personal statement, I had the opportunity to lay out ideas I had been developing since high school for a future in academia. My personal experience with underfunded grade schools in a small farm town had a profound impact on my desire to incorporate free and interactive educational outreach programs into my mentoring curriculum.

How has this fellowship affected your graduate school career?

Without this fellowship, I believe my research endeavors would have been more stringent, reducing flexibility for independent, creative thought and design. My PI has been very supportive of additional research projects that delve beyond the scope of my primary thesis, in pursuit of unique solutions to emergent questions.

Any advice for future UC San Diego applicants?

The NSF puts great emphasis on bright minds that can critically assess the greater impacts of their proposed research and personal diversity. I would advise future applicants to critically assess how they plan to improve the future face of science, both in their field of research and to the general nonscientific population.


Learn more about the NSF GRFP Program.