Journal of Undergraduate Research


National Science Foundation, future academic and career outcomes, independent federal agency


Family, Home, and Social Sciences




The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 with the stated mission “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare.” This institution supports scientific research in various scientific fields primarily by funding promising research and researchers. Our investigation focused on the NSF grant for prospective graduate students in the field of economics. Specifically, we examine those who won the award and those who received an ‘honorable mention’. The applicants who only received an ‘honorable mention’, have very similar qualifications to those who were offered the grant. The applications are reviewed by two panelists, and the best applications are sent to a third reviewer who then decides who receives the grant and who receives an ‘honorable mention’. This means that those who won the grant and those who receive an ‘honorable mention’ were grouped into the same elite category, meaning that both grant recipients and ‘honorable mention’ recipients are similarly qualified. Since these two groups have extremely comparable qualifications, we are provided with an interesting ‘natural experiment’ from which we can draw causality between winning the grant and future success by comparing the two groups. Using this strategy to identify the effect of winning the grant, we examine the ranking of each applicants’ graduate program, their likelihood of completing a PhD, and their likelihood of becoming a professor.

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