Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement

This statement introduces you to the reviewers. In a compelling fashion, you will share your motivation and readiness to pursue advanced studies; steps you have taken to gain professional knowledge and skills; your experience working independently and on teams; and your career goals. Reviewers will be seeking strong evidence of your past intellectual merit and broader impacts.

Component Instructions

Precisely follow the instructions for this statement, found here:

  • standard 8.5″ x 11″ page size
  • 12-point, Times New Roman font
  • 10-point font may be used for references, footnotes, figure captions and text within figures
  • 1″ margins on all sides
  • Single-spaced (approximately 5 lines per inch) or greater line spacing. Do not use line spacing options such as “exactly 12 point,” that are less than single spaced.
  • This statement is limited to three pages.

Statement prompt:

Describe your personal, educational and/or professional experiences that motivate your decision to pursue advanced study in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). Include specific examples of any research and/or professional activities in which you have participated. Present a concise description of the activities, highlight the results and discuss how these activities have prepared you to seek a graduate degree. Specify your role in the activity including the extent to which you worked independently and/or as part of a team. Describe the contributions of your activity to advancing knowledge in STEM fields as well as the potential for broader societal impacts (See Solicitation, Section VI, for more information about Broader Impacts).

The Writing Process

  1. Create an outline to organize your thoughts.
  2. Select experiences that best illustrate your knowledge, skills and abilities. When ready, begin writing freely and you can edit later.
  3. Review your work for the following: You may need to rearrange the order of your paragraphs for better flow, add transition language to connect the paragraphs, or edit for clarity and length.
  4. Submit this draft to the MU Fellowships Office for feedback
  5. Revise based on conversation and edits until you reach a final draft. Plan on several drafts.

Highlight Your Publications, Presentations and Posters!

Firstmake sure to list your all of your publications/presentations/posters in the Education and Work Experience section under “Other Experience.” List scholarly work first, then add public outreach (lay audience) presentations. Second, summarize your productivity in your narrative. For example, after explaining an independent research project, add “As a result of this undergraduate research experience, I coauthored a refereed journal article and presented an outreach poster for state legislators. See citations listed in the ‘Other Experience’ section.”

Check your Intellectual Merit examples:
Questions a reviewer might pose about this statement

  • What motivated this applicant to pursue advanced studies?
  • How prepared is this student to commence with graduate studies?
  • How does the chosen degree program fit with the student’s career goals?
  • Does this person learn from mistakes? Seek advice? Collaborate with others?
  • How does this applicant face adversity, solve problems and move past barriers?
  • What is the scope of this applicant’s previous research experience? What was the intellectual merit of his/her previous research projects?
  • Has this student explored creative, original or transformative concepts independently or as part of a team?
  • How did this student share scientific knowledge through scholarly articles, conference presentations and scientific posters?
  • Does this student’s academic or career goals include an aim to advance scientific knowledge?
  • Might this student become a scientific leader within or across disciplines?

Check your Broader Impact examples:
Questions a reviewer might pose
 about this statement

  • What are the broader impacts (societal benefit) of this applicant’s previous research topics and research activities?
  • To what extent did this student engage in BI activities? For example, did this applicant engage people from diverse backgrounds in research activities? Conduct educational outreach aimed at improving public scientific literacy?
  • Did this student teach or mentor younger STEM researchers from diverse backgrounds? Is she/he likely to continue mentoring and teaching?
  • In what ways has this student been a leader in various settings (on/off campus)?
  • In what other ways did this student demonstrate a commitment to broadly benefit society and/or advance societal outcomes?


Submission Instructions
The maximum length of the Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement is three pages. The maximum length of the Graduate Research Plan Statement is two pages. These page limits include all references, citations, charts, figures, images, and lists of publications and presentations. Applicants must certify that the two statements (Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement, and Graduate Research Plan Statement) in the application are their own original work. As explained in the NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG Chapter I.D.3): “NSF expects strict adherence to the rules of proper scholarship and attribution. The responsibility for proper scholarship and attribution rests with the authors of a proposal; all parts of the proposal should be prepared with equal care for this concern. Authors other than the PI (or any co-PI) should be named and acknowledged. Serious failure to adhere to such standards can result in findings of research misconduct. NSF policies and rules on research misconduct are discussed in the PAPPG Chapter XII.C, as well as 45 CFR Part 689.”

Both statements must address NSF’s review criteria of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. In each statement, applicants should address Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts under separate headings, to provide reviewers with the information necessary to evaluate the application with respect to both Criteria.