By Renee Li
Three Stanford students are among 10 Hertz Scholars nationwide: Sarah Hooper, a first-year Ph.D. student, William Kuszmaul ‘18 and Ethan Sussman ‘18.
Of 750 annual applicants, only 10 to 15 receive the fellowship to pursue five years of research at one of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation’s partner institutions. Each winner receives funding to pursue research in the fields of applied physical and biological sciences, mathematics and engineering. The Hertz award is considered one of the most prestigious and selective fellowship programs in the world.
“I actually almost didn’t apply to the scholarship in the beginning,” Sussman said. “I definitely wasn’t expecting a first interview, let alone a second interview. And of course, winning in the end was a huge surprise.”
The other two Stanford Hertz fellows felt similarly and expressed their gratitude for the award.
“This is one of the only fellowships that will fund you for five years instead of three,” Kuszmaul said.“It opens up the door for you to work with anyone you want to work with because you don’t have to worry about funding.”
Hooper said she was grateful not only for the committee’s appreciation of her ideas, but also for the academic opportunities the fellowship has brought her. She plans to intern this summer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an opportunity she attributed to the Hertz award.
Moreover, Sussman said he values the Hertz Fellow community, which allows him to talk to people he would not know otherwise.
“It’s easy to have a tunnel vision when you’re doing research,” he said.
The scholars also expressed their gratitude toward professors that they have worked with at Stanford and elsewhere. All the scholars have significant accomplishments in research.
Hooper has worked on developing new medical imaging devices and computational tools for better and more accessible diagnosis in domestic and global health contexts, including a seizure prediction algorithm that helps patients with epilepsy. Kuszmaul has authored and co-authored 12 papers in mathematics and computer science; his work has won numerous research awards, including the Goldwater Scholarship and third place in the Intel Science Talent Search, a well-known competition for high school students. Sussman has been involved in both experimental and theoretical physics research at Stanford, working on topics such as quantum corrals, string similarities and black holes.
All three applicants say they will use the Hertz Fellowship to continue pursuing cutting-edge research in the coming years. Hooper “plan[s] to look into innovating technical solutions to reduce the global burden of non-communicable disease,” while Kuszmaul looks forward to collaborating with other scholars to solve algorithmic problems, using his background in mathematics and computer science. Sussman, who will pursue a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is excited to “pivot a little bit from his focus on the physics side and string theory … to a more analytical side of the spectrum.”
According to the fellows, others interested in pursuing this fellowship should start researching early on.
“If you know you want to do research already, the most important thing is trying to get research experience during the summer instead of internships,” Kuszmaul said.
Hooper said one should not be afraid to enter new fields. This realization helped her pursue her research successfully.
“New minds entering different fields can raise interesting questions and impressive answers,” Kuszmaul said. “It will feel uncomfortable initially to enter a completely new field, but you need to learn to be comfortable and confident with not necessarily knowing the answer and keep working at it.”
Beyond experience and courage, Sussman stressed the importance of persistence in pursuing research.
“It’s easy to be discouraged at research sometimes, especially when you’re always scratching the surface,” Sussman said. “However, I believe that as long as you persist long enough, you’ll at least learn something. And who knows, more good things might happen.”