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Rice students win National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

Genesis Hahn / Thresher

By Hope Yang     4/16/24 10:11pm

The National Science Foundation awarded 25 Rice students the Graduate Research Fellowship April 4. The fellowship provides three years of support over a five-year period in graduate studies in a STEM field, which amount to $37,000 in stipends and $16,000 to the institution that the awarded will attend for their graduate degree.

“The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is probably the largest fellowship competition for students of science in the United States,” Seiichi Matsuda, dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies, said.

Students are awarded for their potential to impact their respective fields, according to Matsuda.

“The committee really is assessing the individual and the promise of contribution to society,” Matsuda said. “It’s not so much assessing the specific research plans … it’s ‘Here’s some of the things I think about. Let me show you how I think,’ rather than ‘I will do these experiments,’ so it’s a very holistic view.”

Maria Telesforo, a McMurtry College senior, said that the fellowship will allow her greater freedom in future research.

“At least in the chemistry department, when it comes to choosing labs, [your advisor doesn’t] have to pay you because you’re already getting funded externally,” Telesforo said. “So [the fellowship] gives you that freedom to get a spot in a lab that you really want, especially in a competitive field.”

LeGrand Dudley, a Sid Richardson College senior, said he felt that the fellowship further legitimized his research in human factors psychology.

“This fellowship means a lot to me, mostly because it is a little validating to see that my work is considered meritorious by experts in the field,” Dudley wrote in an email to the Thresher. “This is especially the case because, as far as I’m aware, not many in my field of human factors psychology receive the award … this fellowship provides direct financial support that I will use to pursue my research interests in human-automation interaction.”

Kai Hung, a Brown College senior and NSF fellowship recipient, said the fellowship allows him to take greater risks in future products and carefully consider his research.

“This fellowship means that I can … make educated, big bets about my Ph.D. research projects [and it] shields me somewhat from the fast progress of modern machine learning research, allowing me to think carefully and deeply about the most relevant problems at the intersection of mathematics and machine learning towards making positive social impact,” Hung wrote in an email to the Thresher.

Ivana Hsyung, a Will Rice College senior, said that it was difficult for her to balance writing a research proposal for the fellowship applications with her other commitments, but that she was successful because of the support she received.

“The learning curve of how to write a proposal as well as dealing with general senior classes [was difficult],” Hsyung said. “It might be a little cheesy, but I seriously couldn’t have done it without the support of my lab mentor, the graduate students in my lab, my [principal investigator] and all the alumni that helped me. I think everyone wants you to succeed, and it’s really great to be able to find your community.”

Hung said that he had applied for the fellowship without a background in research, and he would encourage other students to consider applying.

“​As a first-gen, low-income student, I didn’t have anyone outside of Rice who considered pursuing a research career, let alone won the NSF,” Hung said. “In fact, I didn’t really get involved with my current research topic until the spring of my junior year … I want to let other students know that it is never too late to try getting involved.”

Editor’s Note: Ivana Hsyung is the Arts and Entertainment designer for the Thresher. 

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