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Crafting a Stand-out Broader Impacts Statement

 

Dr. Danny M. D’Amore, Publications and Marketing Specialist

May 2021

If you are thinking about applying to a large-scale grant, you may have come across the request for a broader impacts statement. Before writing this portion of your proposal, it is important to identify exactly what it is.

What is a broader impacts statement?

A broader impacts statement is a description of how your scientific research will impact both the scientific and non-scientific communities beyond the immediate results you expect to collect. A strong impact statement will not rescue an otherwise undesirable grant, but a poor impact statement in an otherwise strong application could be the tipping point that ultimately gets a proposal rejected.

Understandably, this portion of a grant causes some stress during the writing process. The description within the call for proposals can feel a bit vague and leave writers floundering; consider it instead an invitation to be creative! Reviewers are not interested in canned statements, so reflect on exactly what it is your research brings to the table.

Take what you are already doing and build upon it. Reviewers are more likely to believe in your follow-through if you have a proven track record. If you are currently at an academic institution, look for ways to engage with groups underrepresented in your department. Foster working relationships with student volunteers or engage in community outreach days to interact with communities outside of your norm.
Work with existing outreach or action groups. If you are not in the position to support outreach all on your own, join an existing group. Again, reviewers will not have to worry about follow-through if an organization has a history of outreach or providing support to communities outside of the scientific community. Some examples could include local Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, 4H groups, or afterschool programs at local elementary schools.
Participate in someone else’s outreach. Joining a public forum or judging a science fair might not seem like much, but small actions can add up. Not only are you demonstrating your commitment to broadening impacts, but you are also building up a social network. By supporting other scientists or the general public, you strengthen the overall network; these are people you could invite if you choose to start up your own outreach idea, or they might be great team players when it comes to channeling your science into an outreach event.

Remember, broader impacts and science education are not the same thing—STEM education is absolutely something that reviewers consider, especially if that education is being offered to groups underrepresented in the STEM fields. However, educational outreach should not be the only thing you incorporate into your statement, so make sure you highlight other impacts as well. Quality is more important than quantity; projects with time and thought dedicated to them will stand out.

Once you have your ideas ironed out, it is time to write your broader impacts statement.
Give an actionable plan. If reviewers can follow what you plan to do and how you plan to do it, they are much more likely to approve than if they are given vague ideas of what ‘could be’.
Link your research goals to your broader impacts. It should go without saying, but make sure you tie your proposal to your impacts, and make it clear why it is your research that needs to support the specific activities you have highlighted.
Be detailed. Saying that you will “train three undergraduates” sounds nice, but that could mean anything. Do not give the reviewers room to wonder. Explain exactly how these three undergraduates will be trained, what skills they are expected to gain through this experience, and how this will help them in their own careers.
If your broader impacts will require funding, make sure you include it in your budget. If you do not, reviewers will wonder how you will be able to perform the actions you have described without the necessary funds.
Provide an evaluation for yourself and your plan. Reviewers will want to know the projects they fund are successful; give yourself a leg up by describing what your success looks like, and how you will measure it. By setting goals ahead of time, you are much less likely to be subjected to moving targets later.

Once you are done, consider having a colleague outside of your field read your broader impacts statement. You want your points to be clear, concise, and actionable—a second opinion could be the feedback you need to turn your grant from ‘good’ into something ‘great’.

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