How do NSF Graduate Fellowship panelists feel about images in the personal statement?

I'm applying to the NSF Graduate Fellowship for the first time. None of the successful personal statements I have seen so far have included images. I can't tell if this is because few applicants choose to include images or if it is because the applicants who do choose to include images are unsuccessful.

I know visuals would take away word space, but I feel they would add to my statement (and maybe break up the overwhelming monotony of type). Specifically, I would like to discuss how I use visuals and technology to engage non-scientists with science and to get scientists from other fields interested in my own. I'd like to show an interactive, laser-cut display I did for my university's Arts Festival as well as 3d models I printed for a conference. I kind of also want to include an old picture of me as a child in my mother's graduation cap because it is adorable and relevant to my personal statement but perhaps that is too irrelevant.

If I was a panelist, I think I would be bored out of my mind looking at endless text regardless of how interesting it was. But then again, I'm a very visual person.

1 Answer 1


First of all, I am assuming that you checked and figures are allowed.

If this is the case, I don't see any reason why having a figure would globally be received negatively. I think it very much depends on the content of the figure, and whether it is justified (given that you are losing some text space). Personally, if I would review this and see a figure, I would not be biased against it in any way (if anything it might show creative/out-of-the-box thinking).

So the main thing is to use the figures wisely. To me, this means that it contributes something significant that would be difficult, or too long, to convey with text. I do not know the details of your entire application, so I cannot say whether what you propose is relevant, but it sounds to me like the first figure (the technological one) might be ok, while the other one (photo of yourself as a child) seems irrelevant and that may hurt your application.

This also means that you should probably consult with someone who knows all the details to get a second opinion with regards to what is a relevant figure and what is not.

Finally, just a technical tip: I would try no to make the figures not too large, since if you can convey the same information with a smaller figure then you are effectively wasting space, and that looks bad.

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