Brandeis campus in autumn

April 24, 2023

Abigail Arnold | Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Applying for external grants, fellowships, and awards is an increasingly important skill across fields–and this year, GSAS students truly showed it! Over twenty GSAS students, who came from all four divisions, received external grants and awards this year. Our student grant recipients range from first-year students to those who are hard at work on their dissertations, proving that it is never too early to start applying to grants or too late to benefit from them. The GSAS staff is very proud of these students’ accomplishments, research, and hard work. Below are profiles of students who submitted their achievements to GSAS.

Medha Asthana is a third-year PhD student in Anthropology. Their dissertation research examines everyday relational dynamics among queer daughters (which includes cisgender women, nonbinary people, and transgender men) and their older female kin (mothers, grandmothers, and aunts) in domestic spaces as they negotiate gendered expectations and narratives of care, exclusion, and belonging. Examining the queer daughter set in the domestic spaces of a non-metropolitan city pushes forth the disciplines of queer studies, kinship studies, and gender and sexuality in North India to illuminate the daily lived realities of sexual and gender minorities in the intimate context of family and home. They received a Fulbright Research Grant, which will support their independent research abroad for their dissertation fieldwork.

Natasha Baas-Thomas is a third-year PhD student in Neuroscience. She researches how the gustatory system determines whether a taste stimulus should be consumed or expelled from the mouth. Using electrophysiology, computation, and optogenetics, she investigates how the taste cortex drives the selection and initiation of feeding-related behaviors. She received an HHMI Gilliam Fellowship; these fellowships support students from groups historically underrepresented in science to become leaders in their fields.

Jared Berkowitz is a sixth-year PhD candidate in History. His research analyzes how the law of corporate personhood—the legal idea that enables corporations to buy, sell, and sue—transformed in the nineteenth century from a vulnerability to a source of power. He received a William Nelson Cromwell Early Career Scholar Fellowship for 2022 to 2023; this fellowship supports research and writing in American legal history.

Alexandra Burkot is a third-year PhD student in Musicology. She received a Schwarz Fellowship for Research on Music at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens for 2023 to 2024; this fellowship supports research on the cultural history of music in the Mediterranean world. Through the grant, she will research the life and works of twentieth-century composer Dimitrios Levidis. Specifically, she will examine his oratorio L'Iliade, based on Homer's epic, in the cultural contexts of both the Metaxás dictatorship and the Axis occupation of Greece.

Emily Duden is a second-year PhD student in Physics. Her research involves helping to build the new ATLAS inner tracker (ITk) for the high luminosity run at the LHC and working on an analysis that searches for signatures of Higgs Decay into long-lived particles. She received a DOE Office of Science Graduate Research Fellowship; this fellowship supports graduate student research at DOE laboratories and will allow her to spend a year at Brookhaven National Laboratory working on the ITk.

Jenny Factor is a fifth-year PhD candidate in English. Her research focuses on a story of Phillis Wheatley Peters’s poems as examples of games and word games, a narrative that unfolds mainly in relation to the live and locally circulated versions of her poetry. Jenny’s fellowships center around how the material culture of gaming and word play moved along diverse alternative and expansive domestic literary networks in New England; she plans to use archival sources, and the materiality of New England leisure, to show how Wheatley Peters, as enslaved teenage poet, grew from a virtuosic game player to an innovative game maker. Jenny received three grants: a Lewis Walpole Library/ASECS Fellowship at Yale University for 2023 to 2024 (which supports research in the Walpole Library’s collection of eighteenth-century materials), a John Carter Brown Fellowship at Brown University for 2023 to 2024 (which supports research on the colonial Americas in the Brown Library’s collections), and a Publication Scholarship with BBIP/AFRO Publishing Without Walls from the Black Books Interactive Project and the University of Kansas for 2023 to 2024 (which supports digital humanities training in conjunction with work on Black literature).

Rima Farah graduated with a PhD in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies in February 2023. She researches manifestations of ethnic and national identities of minorities in the Middle East, with a focus on the state of Israel. She received an Israeli Teaching Exchange Fellowship from the Israel Institute; this award supports multi-year academic exchange of Israeli scholars at American colleges and universities.

Becca Frankel is a second-year master's student in Ancient Greek and Roman Studies, graduating in May. In her current research, she primarily focuses on the reception of various mythologies and folklore in works of speculative fiction. She received a Fulbright Research Grant, which will support her in studying creative writing at UC Cork in Ireland, focusing on the folk figure of the Banshee and also writing through the voices of other death messenger women and wailing women across mythologies and folkloric traditions.

Andrea Guerrero is a fifth-year PhD candidate in Neuroscience. Her research focuses on a homeostatic plasticity mechanism called synaptic scaling, which is one way to maintain neuron activity within biological range. Specifically, her project centers on the changes in phosphorylation of Shank3, an autism spectrum disorders (ASD)-linked protein that is involved in regulating synaptic scaling. She is in the final year of an HHMI Gilliam Fellowship; these fellowships support students from groups historically underrepresented in science to become leaders in their fields.

James Heazlewood-Dale is a fifth-year PhD student in Musicology. His research explores the relationship between jazz cultures and video game soundworlds by examining how composers integrate the jazz idiom into video game sound design and how the popularity of video game music influences contemporary jazz performance practice. He received the Best Graduate Research Paper Award from the North-East Chapter of the College Music Society Conference. He also received nominations for the Carol Mitchell and Amos St. Germain Prizes, which honor outstanding graduate student presentations at the Northeast Popular & American Culture Association’s conference, for his presentation “Scott Joplin in the Overworld: Super Mario’s Rag-Inflected Score.”

Tyler Lecours is a first-year master’s student in Ancient Greek and Roman Studies. He researches Greek colonization and cross-cultural relationships in ancient Thrace (Bulgaria) and investigates how cross-cultural relationships influenced the development of Greek colonies and Greek culture with the goal of better representing the importance of native societies in ancient antiquity. He received a Fulbright Research Grant, which supports independent research abroad.

Peizhao Li is a fourth-year PhD student in Computer Science. He researches Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Mainly, he works on Machine Learning Fairness, teaching models not to discriminate against any groups of users or individuals. He was a Meta PhD Research Fellowship finalist; for those who receive them, these fellowships support research in a range of computer science and technology fields. He also received a CVPR Travel Grant Award and a CVPR Virtual Registration Waiver Award to attend the IEEE/CVF Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Conference; these awards support students from communities that do not traditionally attend CVPR.

Savita Maharaj is a first-year PhD student in English. She is invested in exploring the entanglements between past and present perceptions of women’s resistance in contemporary Caribbean texts. Her research interests also focus on contemporary and eighteenth-century Caribbean history and literature, archival theory, critical histories of race and gender, and postcolonial theory. She received two fellowships: a Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC) Fellowship for 2022 to 2024 (which supports a cohort of students in working at the intersection of technology and the humanities, arts, and sciences) and a RaceB4Race Social Media Fellowship from Arizona State University for 2023 (which supports fellows in developing digital safety strategies).

Elizabeth Mahon is a fourth-year PhD candidate in Psychology. She researches risk factors for cognitive aging, with a focus on identifying modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer's disease in midlife in order to facilitate methods of preventing the disease entirely. She received a Behavioral and Social Sciences Travel Award from the Gerontological Society of America, which offers a stipend towards attending the Gerontological Society’s annual meeting.

Kathleen Maigler is a fifth-year PhD student in Neuroscience. She researches how two brain regions that are important for taste and feeding interact to produce a proper taste response; although the gustatory system is large and dispersed, it seems the communication between these two regions is vital for deciding how good something tastes. She received an NIH F31 National Research Service Award Fellowship; this award supports predoctoral students in the sciences with research training and doctoral research.

Ali Can Puskulcu is a second-year PhD student in Music Composition and Theory. His research is focused on the perspectives of composers as performers and electroacoustic music. He received two awards: the Charles Ives Scholarship Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (which supports composers in their work) and second prize in the ASCAP/SEAMUS Student Competition (which is awarded to student composers of electroacoustic music).

Diane Rohrer is a third-year PhD student in Psychology. She researches whether sexually sadistic individuals differ from nonsexual sadistic individuals in how they experience and express disgust, using a multimethod approach. She received the Association for the Treatment and Prevention of Sexual Abuse (ATSA) Pre-Doctoral Research Award; this award supports students who are researching the causes and treatment of sexual offenses and helps with their research expenses.

Daniel Ruggles is a fourth-year PhD student in Politics. He researches conservative student-oriented movement groups and their role in the American political process; at this stage in his dissertation project, he is looking specifically at the campus group Young Americans for Freedom in the 1960s and 1970s.He received a Spencer Library Travel Award from the University of Kansas; this award supports researchers traveling to use the collections at the Spencer Library.

Daniel Schwartz is a third-year PhD student in English. His research examines the breakdown of mimesis in modernist literature. He received an honorable mention in the 2021 to 2022 North American Dostoevsky Society Graduate Essay Contest; this award goes to an outstanding graduate student essay on a topic related to Dostoevsky. His essay will also be appearing as an article in The Slavonic & East European Review.

Katherine Seavey is a third-year PhD student in Psychology. Her research examines friendships with women and empathy and predictors of rape myth acceptance and sexual aggression perpetration. She received two grants: the Larry J. Siegel Graduate Fellowship for the Study of Gender and Crime (which supports original graduate research related to gender and crime) and the Association for the Treatment and Prevention of Sexual Abuse (ATSA) Pre-Doctoral Research Award (which supports students who are researching the causes and treatment of sexual offenses and helps with their research expenses).

Alex Senderowitsch is a first-year MA/MBA student in the Hornstein Program. He studies topics related to organizational development, with a focus on Jewish organizations in the United States, Europe and Latin America. He received the Harry Fein, Samuel Pinanski, and Louis Kahn Memorial Fellowship; this fellowship is administered by Combined Jewish Philanthropies and supports students in the Judaic Studies, Jewish Communal Service, and Jewish Education fields.

Caleb Smith is a fifth-year PhD student in History. His research focuses on U.S. political history, Chicago, and neoliberalism in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement from the late 1960s through the early 1990s and seeks to understand how Black politicians, elites, and activists conceptualized and practiced multiracial democracy in the midst of white backlash, economic deprivation, and austerity politics that defined much of the late twentieth century. He received the Huggins-Quarles Dissertation Award from the Organization of American Historians; this award supports graduate students of color with travel expenses for dissertation research.

Víkko Suárez Casanova is a fourth-year PhD student in Neuroscience. He researches how stimulus parameters, such as the perceived speed of an object, change visual processing parameters such as direction selectivity in the primary visual cortex; to explore this question, he uses in-vivo electrophysiological recordings and 2-photon microscopy in the ferret animal model. They are a Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Neuroscience Scholars Program Fellow for 2022 to 2024; this program supports Neuroscience students from underrepresented backgrounds with research, career, and mentoring resources.

Alexandra Szabo is a third-year PhD student in History. She researches the victim experiences of mass castration and sterilization experiments in National Socialist death and concentration camps and their postwar repercussions. Her dissertation will be a case study of Hungarian Jews and Roma in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Lackenbach, and Ravensbrück between the years of 1942 and 1945. She received a Margee and Douglas Greenberg Research Fellowship from the USC Dornsife Center for Advanced Genocide Research for 2023 to 2024; this award supports graduate students and allows them to spend up to a month at the Center conducting research.

David Tresner-Kirsch is an eighth-year PhD student in Computer Science. He received an Equitable AI Challenge Grant from USAID for his work with Nivi and the University of Lagos; these grants supported projects to address gender bias in AI.

Emily Ziperman is a third-year PhD student in Chemistry. Her research focuses on creating new methods of directed evolution that can be applied to vaccine design. The current application she has been pursuing is towards the development of HIV vaccine candidates. She received an NSF Graduate Programs Research Program Fellowship; these awards are three-year fellowships that support science research, particularly for members of underrepresented groups.

Advice from Students, for Students

Students who received grants had a range of advice for their peers who want to do the same. Common themes in their advice were the importance of getting feedback from advisors, the need to articulate your project's importance and find the grant that best fits it, and the big one: getting over the fear of applying and throwing your hat in the ring! In their own words:

“I think it is important to remember your reviewer will be reading your application among a stack of many others. As such, it's important that your writing is very clear and directly addresses the prompt. Getting lots of feedback from others is a crucial step in this.”--Natasha Baas-Thomas

“Apply early, often, and seek out help. Take advantage of all available resources both inside and outside of your program. Working on fellowship applications is never wasted time. Writing letters, project descriptions, and abstracts will help refine your arguments while preparing you for the job market. “--Jared Berkowitz

“My advice would be to start early! And ask people outside of your discipline to review your work, if you can. Fellowship committees are often made up of both academics and laypeople, so you want to make sure that you are able to speak to multiple audiences without compromising your scholarship.”--Alexandra Burkot

“My loudest chorus of advice is mainly to do it. Applying for fellowships, even if I hadn’t gotten any of them, helped me focus on the possible wider ramifications of my scholarship and made me feel like an extrovert again…In terms of the nitty-gritty advice, the key pieces I relied on were: Build a big list of desirable fellowships and a calendar for applying… Find out if you know anyone who has applied for and gotten the grant you are working on, and see if they’re willing to share their work… Seek advice about where to apply from the faculty you are working closely with and be sure they see an example of your proposal and know your timeline and plans.”--Jenny Factor

“My main piece of advice to those applying for fellowships is to be in close communication with your mentors about what you are trying to convey and accomplish with your research plan. This way, they can be a resource to brainstorm ideas and provide constructive criticism on your writing. To do this, it is important to be organized and create a schedule of important dates in order to have time to get as much feedback as possible.”--Andrea Guerrero

“Apply, apply, and apply! I treat applications like a game. You can't beat a Mario platformer if you give up every time you die attempting to clear a level--you learn, improve, and try again. As graduate students, we need to embrace how rejection is a central part of our academic journey. Sometimes, though, you win!”--James Heazlewood-Dale

“Find something you are really interested in and dive deep.”--Peizhao Li

“Spend the time searching for awards that are uniquely specific to your work; this will not only raise your chance of receiving it, it will also give your work an even greater purpose when awarded by an organization that shares the same goals as you and wants to support you on your journey.”--Elizabeth Mahon

“For collections-related grants make sure that you understand the requirements of the grant and what the library or archive you wish to visit has in its holdings…Remember that when these archives and libraries have funding for outside researchers it is because they want their holdings to advance and inform an important scholarly and public-facing conversation. Use that knowledge to your advantage and convince them that your work will help to explain something about the world that we don't already know.”--Daniel Ruggles

“I would suggest that people look for funding opportunities in their really specific area of research. Both of my grants were directly in the field of sexual aggression prevention and how crime affects women. This made it feel like less work to frame my proposal to be relevant to the funding organization. I also found it very helpful that I had preliminary data that I had analyzed to support my proposal!”--Katherine Seavey

“I encourage other students to never be hesitant to apply for any fellowship they believe could help their work contribute to their field of study, even if it seems like a reach.”--Caleb Smith

“My suggestion is to just apply without questioning yourself; even if the research plan isn't entirely polished or finalized yet, just send it in after formatting the required documents adequately. I also think that the best practice includes being rejected. So I suggest to everyone to embrace rejection because it helps in perfecting proposals and also in understanding that rejection in academia is not personal, it's just a part of the process.”--Alexandra Szabo

“Some of the best advice I got when applying to fellowships was to find a way to make my research and service goals unique. At first I thought that doing so was just a way to stand out from other applications, but in reality it became a way for me to pursue the projects I cared about the most. Don’t be afraid to set yourself apart.”--Emily Ziperman