From the science student council

Reviewing Early Graduate Student Researcher Award applications

An opportunity to experience the other side of the process.

By Patty X. Kuo

One of my first tasks as a new representative of the American Psychological Association (APA) Science Student Council was to review applications for the Early Graduate Student Researcher Award (EGSRA), which provides $1000 for research expenses to students within the first three years of doctoral study. This was my first experience reviewing graduate student award applications — on a national level no less. It was a fabulous opportunity to learn about the great research and accomplishments of psychology graduate students across the United States and Canada . This year's round of applications and applicants were inspiring in terms of both innovative research and productivity. Some CVs even caused social comparison anxiety among us reviewers. Most of the applicants demonstrated such excellence that it was difficult to choose the recipients, and at times, the review process was agonizing. To give you a glimpse into our process for reviewing the EGSRA applications, I'll walk you through my experience.

First round: From your submission to us

In late September, using applicants' self-designated content area (of which there were over 25), each Science Student Council member signed up to review applications that were closest to our own areas of expertise (i.e., clinical, industrial/organizational, cognitive, behavioral neuroscience, biopsychology, methodology, developmental, social/personality and health psychology). However, some of us had to review applications from areas outside of our expertise (e.g., aging) because there were too few applications in our area. This experience reviewing applications outside my field gave me a lot of insight for writing my own award applications. It is paramount to write for a broad audience and to connect the dots for people who are outside of one's own field when writing grant and award applications.

During the first round of reviews, we rated each of our assigned applications on the basis of the EGSRA evaluative criteria on a scale of one to five. The scores across evaluative criteria were then averaged to create a mean score for each application. The purpose of giving number ratings was to narrow down the group of top applicants.

Rest assured that if you applied for an award, your effort putting together your application was matched by our efforts reading and reviewing them. To ensure that each application was reviewed fairly and with our full attention, we took our time and spaced out our reviews. The whole process took several weeks for nine of us to read 80 applications.

Second round: Re-reviewing the best

Despite our ranking using scored criteria, nearly 50 percent of total applicants had top scores. I think this truly speaks to how impressive our candidates were this application cycle.

During the second round of reviewing, which took most of a full day meeting, we divided the group of top applications equally among ourselves. Again we each took on a subset of applications to review as either a primary or secondary reviewer. This time, instead of using the quantitative ranking scale, the primary reviewer of each application prepared a 3-minute presentation highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the application. At our review meeting, secondary reviewers supplemented the primary reviewer's presentation with additional commentary and both reviewers were expected to answer any questions from other reviewers. At this point, both the primary and secondary reviewers knew their assigned applications very well.

To ensure the diversity of fields being represented by the award, we could only administer one award within a content area, such that the three chosen winners had to each represent different fields (e.g., clinical, developmental, biopsychology). After hearing the presentations, we decided as a group which applications were among the best from each area and whether we thought they were contenders for one of the three awards given. While there were top applicants within each area, we had to decide who was most competitive in comparison with the entire group to determine the award finalists. At this point, we had to get down to the nitty-gritty, scrutinizing publication records, recommendation letters and writing style.

Third round: Final decisions

Things got really tough when we narrowed the entire group of applications down to the top five . These applicants were truly spectacular. Recommendation letters from faculty frequently described these individuals as colleagues, rather than students. The accolades that these individuals received were more than I thought possible for a second or third year graduate student. Quite frankly, I was blown away. For about an hour, we went back and forth on the novelty of each person's research and how much independence they have shown during their short time in graduate school. We took multiple votes to determine which applicants should receive the award. It was neck and neck and we each fought for who we thought to be the best candidates. It seemed like a stalemate, and we all wished we could just give out five awards instead of three.

In the final round of voting, we considered the overall impact of the research on the field, the novelty of the research questions, the applicant's year in the program and the representation of programs and specialty areas in current and previous EGSRA awards.

Congratulations to our winners! You really deserved the award.

Finally, we hope that the second year students who did not win this year reapply next year so we can fight for you once more.


Patty KuoPatty Kuo is the developmental representative on the APA Student Science Council. She is a doctoral student at the University of Michigan.