May 9, 2019
Emily Smith was born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas. She attended the University of Kansas and earned a BS in physics and computer science. She’s currently in her second year of pursuing a PhD in physics at the University of Chicago. Emily recently earned the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Research Fellowship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. We interviewed her via email about her experiences at UChicago and the award application process.
What have you been studying or researching as part of your program?
I am a high energy particle physicist. Specifically, I study the most fundamental constituents of the universe by smashing protons together and using the ATLAS detector to look at what comes out of that collision.
Why did you choose the University of Chicago?
A big part of it was the people. When I visited, the physics department really seemed like a community that worked together well and enjoyed working together. It was different than the departments (and cities) I had been in before so it was definitely the option that made me the most nervous as well.
What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?
I love doing outreach events! I’ve co-led workshops for the last two Expanding Your Horizons events, and in general, I really like working with kids. On a more personal note, I love reading. Usually I read a lot of fiction/fantasy, but I’ve been on a biography kick lately, which has been enjoyable.
What are your plans post-UChicago?
There are so many options! Either a postdoc position of some kind, or maybe just a job. I’m leaning more towards a postdoc right now, but there’s a lot of time between now and then.
What support have you received at the UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?
My advisor has been great. He explains not only the science but also helps me navigate working in a collaboration with thousands of people and how to deal with important but mundane issues like funding. I’ve also been able to travel to three conferences, which I’ve really enjoyed. The graduate resources here have been really useful as well--things like grad council and the fellowship office, etc.
If you were speaking to someone who wants to learn about UChicago, what would you tell them?
The University of Chicago has a wide depth and breadth of research and resources. With such a large department, you can find interesting research being done in almost every area. There’s also a lot being done collaboratively between departments and institutes, so anything you want to learn about or do research in, you can find here. It may be difficult, but it’s usually fun too!
How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?
As a woman in physics, I’m sometimes the only woman in the room. This makes me particularly interested in events like Expanding Your Horizons, which help show girls how fun science can be!
How did you approach applying for the fellowship awards? What was the process like?
For NSF, I spent a good portion of the summer before the application was due working on my research and personal statements. I put a lot of thought and effort into those, which I think came across in the application. For NDSEG, I started with my NSF statements and made edits starting about a month before the application was due.
What advice do you have for students who might apply for the award in the future?
Apply for things other than the NSF GRFP. It’s an important and wonderful fellowship, but apply to as many fellowships as you can find. It certainly can’t hurt. Also, don’t apply halfheartedly. Everyone has a chance, so put as much effort into it as you can; the time you spend really does make a difference.