Choosing Primary Field

Choosing an appropriate field of study is a very important consideration for your GRFP application because it determines which panel will evaluate your application, and also the deadline by which your application must be submitted.

On the GRFP application, the field of study options contain a higher-level primary field (Engineering, Life Sciences, etc.) and a specialty field (Mechanical Engineering, Evolutionary Biology, etc.). The application must be submitted by the deadline corresponding with the higher-level field you select.

Each primary field is associated with a specific panel, and all applications with that primary field designation are assigned to the panel for that field. You should therefore select the primary field that corresponds most closely to the content of your application.

About GRFP Panels and Primary Fields

All GRFP applications are reviewed independently by reviewers in disciplinary panels. The panels are groupings of related fields of study and are made up of knowledge experts in those fields, many of whom have interdisciplinary expertise.

Where do I select my primary field?

You can select your primary field in the Proposed Field of Study section of the GRFP application.

What if I'm not sure which primary field to select?

Because your primary field will determine your panel, you should select the field of study that most closely matches the content of your application.

If you are unsure which field to select, you should consult with your academic advisor or another faculty member who is familiar with your research and could advise you about the most appropriate choice. A list of all NSF-supported fields is available in the appendix of the Program Solicitation, and a list of the primary fields and their corresponding speciality fields is available on this page, as well as the Proposed Field of Study section of the GRFP application module.

What if my field is interdisciplinary?

Please note that you should only identify as an interdisciplinary applicant if your studies comprise more than one higher-level primary field (i.e. Social Sciences and Life Sciences). You are not considered an interdisciplinary applicant if your studies comprise more than one specialty field (i.e. Sustainable Chemistry and Chemistry of Life Processes).

Your application will be assigned to the panel corresponding to the field of study you listed in the Field of Study field of the application, and your deadline will be the deadline for the that field of study listed on the application.  Your inputs into the Field of Study 1, Field of Study 2, and Field of Study 3 questions are collected for informational purposes only and will not factor into your panel assignment.

Many panelists have interdisciplinary expertise and are capable of evaluating interdisciplinary applications. Additionally, if necessary, the panel can seek additional commentary and review from other panels if the content of the application warrants it.

What if I have an "other" field of study?

The field of study describes the general field of your proposed graduate study, not necessarily the specific topic. If possible, applicants are encouraged to pick one of the fields of study listed in the application, rather than an "other" field. "Other" fields should be reserved for cases where none of the listed fields of study generally covers your proposed graduate study.

Below is a list of Primary Fields of study for the GRFP:


  • Chemical Catalysis
  • Chemical Measurement and Imaging
  • Chemical Structure, Dynamics, and Mechanism
  • Chemical Theory, Models and Computational Methods
  • Chemistry of Life Processes
  • Environmental Chemical Systems
  • Macromolecular, Supramolecular, and Nanochemistry
  • Sustainable Chemistry
  • Chemistry, other (specify)

Fellow Melissa Garren from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California - San Diego

Fellow Melissa Garren from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California - San Diego collects sediment samples beneath coastal milkfish (Chanos chanos) farms in Bolinao, Republic of the Philippines. Melissa studies how the microbes and nutrients added to the ocean by certain farming practices influence the neighboring coral reefs. Through understanding the mechanisms by which fish farms negatively impact coral reefs, farming practices can be reformed so that mariculture and coral reefs can sustainably co-exist.