Two F&ES students have been honored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported disciplines.
Ella Schmidt, an incoming MEM5 student, was awarded a 2019 Graduate Research Fellowship, while Nathalie Sommer ’19 M.E.Sc., a second-year master’s student who will begin pursuing her Ph.D. next year, received an honorable mention.
Schmidt, who graduated from Yale College in 2018, is working with Prof. David Skelly’s lab, where she studies amphibian adaptation to their environments. In her work, she is transplanting wood frog larvae between ponds with different canopy covers (some ponds are bright and have lots of light, others are heavily shaded and dark). After rearing the larvae in the new ponds, Schmidt and her colleagues will determine if their growth and development have changed as a result of the new environment.
The critical aspect of this project, she said, is the scale: it draws from a 20-year database of 59 ponds at Yale-Myers Forest, which is rare in ecology. To have a dataset spanning a long time scale and a large geographic area is invaluable and will allow Schmidt and her colleagues to evaluate long-term changes in amphibian populations.
Sommer, who is part of Prof. Oswald Schmitz’s lab, is focusing her research on “animal personality” and how variation of individual personalities within a population can mediate ecological processes. Animal personality is the concept that individuals can be consistent in their behavior, even across changing environmental contexts. The primary goal, she says, is to understand how variation in key functional traits could scale to influence both ecology and evolution.
Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees (paid to the institution), opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.
NSF Fellows are anticipated to become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering. These individuals are crucial to maintaining and advancing the nation's technological infrastructure and national security as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large.