On the NSF GRF Program

— Yesica Mercado-Ayon

From our first NSF-GRFP writing seminar, to the day the application was due, I can wholeheartedly say that the most significant part of the experience was the constant support from Dan, Carole, my PI — Dr. Anna La Torre, the two graduate student volunteers — Sharon Lee and George Bell, and the other PREP scholars. I know undoubtedly that without their helpful comments and feedback, I would have not submitted a competitive application and I would not have the privilege to say I am an NSF GRFP Fellow. THANK YOU!

Looking back at the day I started preparing my first draft for the Personal Statement… that was one of the most stressful days/nights ever (because I was up all night working on my draft). For some reason, I thought our drafts had to be near perfect when we submitted them for group review, but when I realized it was almost 5 in the morning I gave in and accepted I had to submit my draft as it was. To my surprise, the day we met to discuss our drafts, I was relieved to know that we were all in the same boat and that getting feedback mattered more than having a “finalized” essay.

While getting personalized feedback on my drafts helped me improve my writing, I believe getting to revise the other Scholars’ drafts was equally beneficial. I think this aspect of the of the seminar was crucial for me because taking a step away from my work and trying to understand other’s thought process helped me clarify some points I was trying to get across and allowed me to spot errors in my application that I previously ignored. Also, I think it is safe to say that we all benefited from the advice that was given at any particular time even if we felt that it did not apply to our drafts at that moment it would come in handy at some point or another.

It now seems like an eternity when emailed Dan and Carole to let them know I submitted my application. I remember Dan told us during our celebration meeting that we all did an excellent job and that we should all be very proud of our work. At that moment, I felt at ease mainly because to me it meant that part of the work for my grad school applications was done having finished the NSF essays, but also because I felt like I had learned so much that I could use when I applied again for the NSF GRF as a graduate student.

But little did I know, come April 8, a little surprise was waiting for me in my spam folder.

At first when, Elijah mentioned the “decisions” were sent out and Anna gave us the amazing news that she received Honorable Mention, we were all super excited and proud to know that one of us got Honorable mention!! Since I didn’t get an email, I figured the people who did not get award did not get an email. Despite that I had the urge to check my spam folder.

Initially, I thought I was dreaming and that if I moved the email from spam to inbox it would disappear. But when I moved it was still there!! The first thing I did was tell my parents and my family, then I emailed Carole and Dan with the good news. My PI and my references were the next to get my good news email. At this point I was still doubtful this was actually happening…It all seemed so unreal but I went with it!

In case it’s not clear… anxiety and self-doubt constantly nagged at the back of my head throughout this entire process. Even now, I frequently wonder if I the NSF made a mistake and that they will send me an email apologizing for the confusion. However, when I talk to my parents and I see how proud they are of what I have accomplished, the doubts disappear, and I realize that you can do anything as long as you have the commitment, focus, drive and the support.

Now that my youngest sister will start her undergraduate career in STEM, I am filled with joy to think that the steps I take influence her in a positive way.  I hope that in the near future, I can serve as role model to more girls like us and to prove that we belong in places like this >>>