Prefacing this, I am currently a rising undergraduate senior who plans to attend graduate school after I finish this last year. I want to work toward a PhD in neuroscience. Over the past year, I have been writing a grant proposal to submit the the NSF GRFP (https://www.nsfgrfp.org/). Throughout this time, I have been working with professors/past graduate students who have had their work supported by NSF GRFP/etc. and my work is based on Alzheimer's disease (aim 1 discusses a pathological mechanism that needs to be better understood and aim 2 addresses understanding a linkage between two mechanisms, 1 of which was discussed in aim 1, while also providing details on future treatment options in regard to antagonist drugs). Throughout my time writing, nobody told me the NSF GRFP does not want disease research...unfortunately.

After reading the NSF GRFP guidelines for this year, I was disappointed to see that they specifically stated that "disease research" is something they do not support. I find this extremely ridiculous, especially for undergraduate seniors rising into graduate school. Do you know if this is strictly enforced, or know if there is an easy work-around (e.g. taking out the word "Alzheimer's Disease" and subbing in more basic terms, such as memory deficit/etc.). Thank you!

Also, if you know of an NIH one that I can apply to instead for disease research, I'd be happy to hear. After I searched, the NIH didn't seem to have a good one for someone who is "white" and is still an undergraduate (soon to be in grad school).

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    From what I've heard, it's a pretty thin line to walk. Yo u may want to take a look at fellowships offered by the NIH. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 20:11
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    I have checked out the NIH ones and I don't see anything really for me (as a non "underrepresented person of science" aka white. Also, I'm an undergraduate, so most NIH ones are for people in grad school or after. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 20:12
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    NSF will not fund disease research because NIH does that. If you want NSF funding to study people you must have a very good explanation of why it's not disease research. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 22:37

1 Answer 1


In the US in neuroscience, most people apply for grad school without their own funding.

Funding for your research is provided by your research advisor; in your area of interest this will likely come from the NIH and possibly other private organizations specific for AD. You may also be funded for between a semester and a year to rotate with different potential advisors, such as via a T32 training grant from NIH (training programs apply to these grants, not students; students are funded by applying to graduate programs that possess such a grant).

NSF grants for students in neuroscience are very rare (looks like about 60 GRFPs were awarded this year in neuroscience; only 4 don't have an institution listed so I presume applied before being admitted); it's a good goal to shoot for, but not something to rely on. The requirements for the specific fellowship you are looking at specifically exclude disease research because such research is already substantially funded via other means; NSF is trying to fill the other underfunded gaps in very basic work. I would not suggest trying to bypass this by tweaking the language of your application.

NRSA grants (the NIH equivalent) are also somewhat rare, but more achievable. You apply after you are already part of a PhD program, sometime before the end of your second year most often.

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    Indeed, so far as I know (having worried a bit for some decades about funding for interdisciplinary math grad students, etc.) the idea is that NIH probably funds more senior PI's, and you'd join their projects. Similarly, to varying degrees, engineering grad students are part of their advisor/PI's project. Things change a little in Chem and Physics, and perhaps the extremal is Math, where there are very few Big Projects with a PI, etc. So NSF is (among other things) trying to compensate. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 22:21

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