Institutional Distribution of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Jun 10 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

As a follow-up to my previous post on the institutional distribution of NIH training funds, I have analyzed 1 year's worth (FY2013) of data from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program available through NSF FastLane. This data set lists those who were offered awards (but did not necessarily accept them if they got a "better offer" although this is likely rare) as well of their baccalaureate institution, their field of study, and their current institution.

The distributions of current institutions and baccalaureate institutions are shown below:

2013 NSF Fellow Institutions-2

As might has been anticipated, the distribution of current institutions is relatively narrow with 25 institutions accounting for 50% of the 1842 fellows but with a total of 271 institutions represented by at least one fellow. The distribution of baccalaureate institutions is somewhat broader with 58 institutions accounting for 50% of the fellows and 462 institutions contributing at least one fellow.

Of the 1842 fellows, 511 listed their field's of study as Life Sciences in some form. The distribution of the current institutions for the Life Science fellows correlates reasonably well with the overall pool with an correlation coefficient of 0.82. However, some life science-focused institutions such as UCSF represented at a higher level than in the fellow pool overall.

Further inspection revealed that the distribution of Life Science NSF fellows correlates reasonably well with the distribution of NIH F32 post-doctoral fellowship as shown below:

2013-NSF-F32 graph

The correlation coefficient here is 0.80.

These distributions have implications with regard to what would happen if more graduate students were supported by individual fellowships rather than research grants or institutional training grants. In addition, these distributions suggest those institutions that are most attractive to trainees who are likely to have the most options, depending on how one interprets the relationships between award probability and other factors.

(Updated with revised first figure)

7 responses so far

  • SEL says:

    Yeah, I had a new graduate student this past year who applied for one of the NSF graduate research fellowships. He's an excellent student, but as I was writing the letter of recommendation I had to wonder if it was worth the trouble of applying. I was tempted to start the letter with

    "BERKELEY. Now that I have your attention...."

    If you're at a state school at the lower end of the US News rankings, the reviewers are not going to take you quite as seriously, let's face it.

    (And ironically, it's research groups at such schools who are more strapped for cash and would really benefit from having a student supported by one of these fellowships....compared to the research groups at MIT, Berkeley etc who are often swimming in grant dollars already.)

  • The Y-axes of your first graph are mislabeled: they represent number of fellows. The X-axis is number of institutions.

  • Two points to note:
    1) The number of baccalaureate institutes is likely to be broader simply because there are more places where one can obtain a bac. degree, no?
    2) I don't know that "likelihood of obtaining an NSF pre-doc fellowship" factors in to the attractiveness of a given institution. In my (somewhat limited) experience, the majority of applicants don't even know about said fellowships ahead of time. I suspect that the likelihood of success follows the level of grant-writing support an institution has put in place for its graduate students (i.e. workshops, faculty writing coaches, etc.).

    • datahound says:


      (1) Yes, this is certainly a factor.

      (2) A substantial percentage of the NSF graduate fellowships are awarded prior to selection into a graduate program, that is, the students apply from their undergraduate institution. I am trying to find the actual percentage. You are only eligible to apply if you have less than 12 months of graduate study. Certainly, some institutions encourage their first year students to apply more than others.

  • FSGrad says:

    When you apply for a GRF right out of undergrad, you have to enter one-and-only-one graduate program, even though you probably haven't even applied anywhere yet, given the GRF deadline relative to most program deadlines. For those students, therefore, there may be a skew in the data -- you may put down Stanford, but wind up going elsewhere.

    It would be interesting to break the data down by those applying in years 1, 2, and 3 of eligibility, which might show the strength of that effect. Too bad the data aren't available in that sheet to test it.

Leave a Reply