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Ingrid J. Paredes is a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering at New York University. You can find her on Twitter @ingridjoylyn.


When I started grad school, I had little idea of what research at a national lab looked like. I pictured the labs as exclusive hubs for experienced scientists to explore top-secret, cutting-edge projects. When Stranger Things came out, I only had more questions. But as I’ve learned through my own experience, national labs are research centers that offer state-of-the-art user facilities to academic researchers, including PhD students. The Department of Energy even provides funding for PhD students that are U.S. citizens to perform thesis research at a national laboratory through their Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program. With my research focused on materials for energy applications like catalysis, I applied to the program last fall, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have awarded funding since June of this year. 

The goal of the SCGSR is to prepare graduate students for STEM careers aligned with the DOE Office of Science mission, which is to, “deliver the scientific discoveries, capabilities, and major scientific tools to transform the understanding of nature and to advance U.S. energy, economic, and national security.” Twice a year, the DOE solicits applications for the program, with priority research areas for topics they want to fund for each award solicitation listed online.  

The next deadline is on November 14, 2019, with start dates varying from June through October 2020. The application requires a research proposal and two letters of support - one from your adviser and one from a collaborating scientist at the national lab. Here are my tips for writing a successful proposal!

A successful SCGSR proposal relies on the fact that your thesis research requires use of national lab equipment and the expertise of their staff.

With this in mind, the first step is to connect with your potential collaborating scientist early. A successful application requires that an established relationship with a DOE scientist. If you’ve already got an ongoing collaboration, that’s a great place to start! If not, reach out early to discuss the scope of your project. The program requires your full-time attendance at the lab, and so, you are essentially joining your collaborating scientists’s group over the course of the award. Before writing a proposal, sit down with your potential collaborator to discuss the feasibility of your work and their group’s capabilities to assist you in your goals. 

What will the challenges be? 
What expertise can both you and your collaborating scientist bring to solve them?
Are the facilities available appropriate for your proposed experiments?
What new skills do I need to learn to succeed during my award period?

When writing my background section, I also read other DOE reports about these topics to bridge gaps between my thesis research with the DOE’s goals.

What is the novelty of my research?
How does it align or advance DOE research goals?

Once you’ve established your goals, draft a plan with a specific timeframe. Review the feasibility of your time frame with your collaborating scientist. The SCGSR program funds projects for three months up to one year, and they require you to select how long your project will take  for completion. When writing my proposal, I wrote my plan backwards, starting with my end goal. Then, I made a checklist of things that must be done prior and during my time at Brookhaven.

What experiments do I need to do before arrival at the lab?
What logistic measures do I need to consider, such as equipment access?

Asking myself these questions allowed me to determine an appropriate length of time for my project. Justifying your need for support by creating a tentative calendar for your experiments shows that you’ve thought through the details that would make your time at the lab a success.

Overall, a successful SCGSR application asks that you and your host scientist are dedicated to an active collaboration during your time at the lab. If your research requires national lab facilities to start, and you are eligible, the fellowship is a great way to build your network of collaborators and learn from a new setting outside of your university!

Applying for other sources of funding? Check out GradHacker’s posts on grant writing, the NSF GRFP, and our roundup of posts on writing.


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