Academic funding may pose increasing challenges as state budgets dwindle, but four students in the Texas A&M University College of Science have an edge: They have already written successful grant proposals to the National Science Foundation.

Pablo Delclos and Sarah Flanagan (Department of Biology), Simcha Felder (Department of Chemistry) and Jennifer Bryson (Department of Mathematics) each have been selected to receive 2013 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships to support continued study in science and engineering.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. The program's overall goal is to ensure the vitality of the nation's human resource base in science and engineering while also reinforcing its diversity.

Flanagan and Delclos were in the same course, Biology 698, co-taught by Ginger Carney and Gil Rosenthal. The two professors decided last year to require their students to write a grant proposal to the NSF so they could gain experience with the process.

"It's absolutely indispensable that students learn how to write a grant," Rosenthal said. "Now more than ever, everyone who does basic research has to learn how to be competitive for funding. The funding climate is certainly the worst it's been since I've been a researcher."

The NSF received more than 13,000 applications and made around 2,000 offers, according to the agency's website.

In addition to helping the recipients, the awards will save Texas A&M money, given that they cover the costs the university otherwise would have paid to fund the students. The grants also provide focus by giving the students the funds they need to support themselves without having to teach or do work not related to their research. In addition to the $32,000 stipend the students will receive each of three years, Texas A&M also will receive a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance each of those years.

Brief segments on each of the students are included below:

Jennifer Bryson

Bryson received her bachelor's degree with honors in May from Texas A&M, where she also served as captain of the women's water polo team. She conducted research in number theory last summer at Emory University and also interned with the Department of Defense. Last fall she was honored with the prestigious John B. Beckham Award in Science. It's the painstaking rigor that attracts Bryson to mathematics. The electrical engineering minor would be asked to use formulas in her engineering classes. "They worked, but I never fully understood or comprehended them until I saw completely why it was working the way it worked," she said. "That's why I like math: Everything is explained in excruciating detail."

Pablo Delclos

Delclos was considering studying math and engineering at Rice University when he took an animal behavior class and realized he was pursuing the wrong field. He now works in Rosenthal's laboratory, where he researches how the make-up of an ecological community influences mate choice. He studies two types of swordtail fish as well as a hybrid zone where the two species overlap. He examines how the nutrient environment in that zone affects population structure and the factors related to sexual selection. "The BP oil spill got me interested in looking at how the environment affects population structure," he said. "But I think it's equally important to study behavior because it could have just as drastic an effect on the population."

Simcha Felder

For Felder, chemistry has always been her favorite subject. Now, she researches polymers in chemist Karen Wooley's laboratory. "The wide range of challenges we could solve is why I wanted to do polymer research," Felder said. "The possibilities are limitless." She combines polymeric nanoparticles so they can be used for therapy and as diagnostic tools for certain diseases. Her goal also is to make the substances -- called HATs, or hierarchically assembled theranostic nanoparticles -- biodegradable and biocompatible. She works in collaborations with other universities, including respective projects involving the treatment of acute lung injury and brain cancer.

Sarah Flanagan

Flanagan had always been fascinated by animal behavior, and now she researches the evolution of mating systems in biologist Adam Jones' laboratory. She studies pipefish, a seahorse-like fish species in which the males get pregnant. "It's important to understand how evolution is driving these species because that's really the only way to get a comprehensive look at why these animals do what they do," she said. Flanagan plans to use the grant to develop a simulation model that could be used by other researchers studying other species, further study the selective pressures in pipefish, and compare variances among populations in the Gulf of Mexico.

To learn more about the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, visit http://www.nsfgrfp.org.

For more information on graduate programs and related degree options in the College of Science, go to http://www.science.tamu.edu/graduates/.


Contact: Vimal Patel, (979) 845-7246 or vpatel@science.tamu.edu or or Dr. Mark Zoran, (979) 862-6299 or zoran@bio.tamu.edu

Patel Vimal

  • Jennifer Bryson

  • Pablo Delclos

  • Simcha Felder

  • Sarah Flanagan

© Texas A&M University. To request use of any of our photographs for educational use or to view additional options from our archive, please contact the College of Science Communications Office.

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