Annika Nelson '15 Receives NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

May 19, 2015
Rosalind Black
Photo credit: Jennifer Manna

Annika Nelson ’15 has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship in life sciences, specifically ecology, along with seven other recent Oberlin grads whose studies fall under various disciplines. In the fall, Nelson will attend the University of California, Irvine, to study plant and insect ecology. She will conduct field research during the summer at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Crested Butte, Colorado.

This will not be Nelson’s first time working at the lab, however, having spent last summer at the RMBL working with Kailen Mooney, associate professor of biology at UC Irvine. As part of an undergraduate research program, Nelson investigated why ant-aphid interactions are context-dependent. Now, as a PhD candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology, Nelson will continue her work at the RMBL with Mooney as her advisor.

Nelson says Mooney proved a great mentor last summer, supporting her applications to doctoral programs and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), and teaching her how to design experiments and communicate the findings effectively. She says she is excited to work with him again, and return to RMBL, which “is a very stimulating, exciting, and beautiful place to conduct research,” she says. “Every year in the summer about 150 researchers go to RMBL to conduct cutting-edge ecological studies, particularly about pollination, climate change, and high-alpine ecosystems. I look forward to learning very much from the RMBL community in the years to come!”

A native of Denton, Texas, Nelson majored in biology, serving as a teaching assistant in Organismal Biology, an introductory biology course. She also worked as a tutor at the Quantitative Center and ran an Experimental College class about the role of poop in society, science, and the environment. “These three experiences have been fun ways for me to gain skills with teaching and tutoring,” Nelson says. She was also a member of the badminton club and ran recreationally.

After earning her PhD, Nelson says she would like to work as a university researcher and educator. She says she wants to “conduct innovative research in ecology and to encourage others, especially minority students and women, to become engaged in scientific inquiry and discovery.”

The NSF fellowship recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students of disciplines in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that are supported by the NSF. Students must also be pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited institutions in the United States. Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $32,000 and a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees.

This year, 2,000 NSF Graduate Research Fellows—including eight Oberlin alumni—were selected from 16,500 applicants. Oberlin’s recipients include:

  • Rachel Eaton ’13, chemistry: chemical measurement and imaging;
  • Kiefer Forsch ’12, geosciences: chemical oceanography;
  • Kathryn Hasz ’14, materials research: physics of materials
  • Margaret Jacobson ’11, economics;
  • Annika Nelson ’15, life sciences: ecology;
  • Darrin Schultz ’13, life sciences: bioinformatics and computational biology;
  • Gail Schwieterman ’12, life sciences: marine science; and
  • Michael Siniscalchi ’07, life sciences: neuroscience.

Honorable mention was given to:

  • Sage Aronson ’12, life sciences: neuroscience;
  • Kira Goldner ’14, comp/IS/Eng: algorithms and theoretical foundations;
  • Michael Jacobs ’14, chemistry: chemical structure, dynamics, and mechanism;
  • Juliet Lu ’08, social sciences: political ecology;
  • Thomas Tullius ’15, life sciences: biochemistry; and
  • Aaron Wolf ’16, life sciences: genomics.

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