The Columns

Two W&L Alumni Win NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

— by on April 17th, 2013

Two Washington and Lee alumni — Cailin Slattery, of the Class of 2011, and Robert Wilson, of the Class of 2008, have won National Science Foundation Fellowships to support their graduate research.

Cailin, a mathematics and economics major, has been working as a research assistant at the Federal Reserve Board. She received one of only 24 awards given in economics and will enter the Ph.D. program in economics at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.

“The main thing about the NSF fellowship is that it supports you when you are in graduate school, by giving you a stipend and access to research tools such as their supercomputer,” wrote Cailin.

As an undergraduate at W&L, Cailin spent a summer researching patent issues and then did her honors thesis on the topic; that is what she is proposing to examine with her fellowship. Specifically, she wants to understand why immigrant scientists and engineers patent more than their native peers.

“I hypothesize that one mechanism through which immigration may speed innovation is the intensity of ethnic networks within the U.S.,” she writes. “The shared experience of being an immigrant, especially within a particular ethnic group, may motivate greater levels of science collaboration than would exist between two natives.”

Meanwhile, Robert’s NSF Fellowship is in psychology. He was a history major at W&L and is in his second year of Ph.D. work in psychology at Washington University, in St. Louis.

“Broadly speaking, my research attempts to expand our understanding of personality and self-knowledge. It turns out that personality characteristics such as conscientiousness, grit and diligence are as predictive as intelligence for many important life outcomes such as occupational attainment,” Robert writes. “In other words, the values of honor, hard work and civility instilled by our W&L experience may be more than mere niceties; they may help explain why W&L graduates tend to achieve such success above and beyond other similar institutions.”

In his future research, he will begin to examine patterns in how people fluctuate around their stable individual differences. “The ways in which we vary in our daily lives can be a result of idiosyncratic responses to situations and other external forces, and I will use a multi-method approach (self-reports, informant-reports and objective behavioral measures) to examine how our personalities vary across situations,” he writes. “Further, I will also examine how much self-awareness people generally have about their personality and behavioral patterns.”

Last fall, Robert and two co-authors published a paper that reviewed the way social scientists are conducting research about Facebook.

The purpose of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is to help ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering work force in the United States. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in fields within NSF’s mission. The GRFP provides three years of support for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant achievements in science and engineering research.