Last year, Cathy James Paglia ’74 and her husband Louis Paglia introduced a program to fund research fellowships for Carleton STEM graduates at top-tier research universities across the country. The couple’s pilot program will fund three students in STEM from each of the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022. This year’s recipients are April Reisenfeld (Physics and Philosophy ’21), Anna Li (Psychology ’21) and Jessalyn Ayars (Biology ’21).
The Paglia Post-Baccalaureate Research Fellowship is geared toward Carleton students interested in research careers. Cathy Paglia, a long-time member of Carleton’s Board of Trustees, said in a College News article that she and her husband “are excited to be able to help these graduating seniors gain valuable research experience and reach their career goals in the sciences.”
Applicants propose to join a research program under the mentorship of a distinguished scientist, and the fellowship funds one year of full-time paid work for international students or two years for U.S. citizens or permanent residents. During that time, fellows not only work in a research group, but are able to engage in academics at the university, as well as access other sources of university support for research endeavors.
“I’m hoping to take this experience as an opportunity to just learn a ton,” said Reisenfeld, who will be working at an ion storage lab at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
The NIST lab conducts quantum information research and precision measurements involving trapping ions. “They are coming up with fundamental constants and building atomic clocks and that kind of stuff,” Reisenfeld explained. She will be working with the research group of Dr. James Chin-Wen Chou to start a new experiment, which will likely involve building a light source used to track molecules that the lab wants to probe.
“I’m most excited to be surrounded by experts in the field of quantum information,” she said. “I think I’m going to be very challenged and it is certainly going to get me out of my comfort zone in having to be shameless about asking people to help me learn.”
Li echoed a similar sentiment. “Of course I’ve got to learn a lot of new things, but that’s the point of the fellowship,” she said.
Li will be joining professor Margo Monteith’s Intergroup Relations and Inclusion Lab at Purdue University in Indiana. In her first year, she will assume the role of lab manager, handling the logistics of the lab and helping graduate students conduct studies about prejudice and prejudice reduction by setting up lab spaces, doing pilot studies and running data analysis. In her second year, Li will have the opportunity to design and conduct an independent project.
“The most exciting part for me is that I’m going to experience the life of a graduate student and get a real taste of academic life in the field of social psychology,” she said. While transitioning to a new stage in your life and moving to a new place is always a lot to take in, she said, she is grateful for the kindness of graduate students in the lab who have already offered her a lot of advice.
Ayars is likewise looking forward to learning from and collaborating with other scientists. She will be working with Dr. Gavin Jones, a professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque who is also a researcher in the U.S. Forest Service.
“The thing I’m really excited for is that Gavin is really excited to have me and enthusiastic about working with me and hearing my thoughts. Even just talking to him in interviews and in our first meeting, he was super supportive and encouraging, and I think it’s going to be a really good environment for me to grow in,” she said.
Ayars will be doing quantitative ecology research. One project she might engage in is gathering a variety of variable data in order to make an interactive map of spotted owl habitat, which would involve field work in the dry coniferous forests of the southwest as well as a data analysis: “The goal is to publish a paper on something,” she said.
There is no doubt that their two-year fellowships will propel these women forward in their trajectory toward research careers. As of now, all three plan to pursue a Ph.D. after their initial foray into the research environment.