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Hertz Fellowship: Insights from a recipient, Dr. Kyle Gustafson

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An image of the world centered on the US with dots connected across the sky. Hertz Fellowship: Insights from a recipient, Dr. Kyle Gustafson

The Hertz Fellowship – what is it?

If you are a citizen or permanent resident of the United States planning to pursue a PhD in the applied physical and biological sciences, mathematics, or engineering, this is one of the most prestigious financial awards you could receive. The Hertz Foundation offers substantial funding facilitating academic freedom for the duration of your PhD studies. The 2023 application period for the Hertz Fellowship opened this week, and if you tick the requirement boxes – you should absolutely apply!

We spoke with Dr. Anne Kornahrens from the Hertz Foundation this week, and she shared this important piece of advice from a recent Hertz Fellow:

“To be a successful applicant, and really to be successful in science more broadly, it’s not sufficient to have a first statement of what you want the process to look like and then not have anything to back it up with. You need to be able to back up your reasoning with multiple levels of detail and multiple lines of thought.”

– 2021 Hertz Fellow Nathanael Kazmierczak (B.S., Calvin University, 2020), who succeeded on his second application

Good luck to this year’s applicants. For information about this year’s application, feel free to grab details from The Hertz Foundation’s website here. The application process is quite clear on their site and you can even attend an informational session on the application process on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.

We would like to share with you a retrospective from a 2005 Hertz Fellow, Dr. Kyle Gustafson, which we hope is a source of inspiration for this year’s applicants!

Dr. Kyle Gustafson, 2005 Hertz Fellow

Why apply for the Hertz Fellowship?

For US Citizens (or permanent residents) in STEM fields, the Hertz Fellowship is widely known as a valuable pathway towards research independence and a fulfilling career. As a Fellow (University of Maryland, Physics, 2005) I am happy to share with scientifyRESEARCH part of my story and encourage other PhD aspirants to invest their time in applying for the Hertz and other fellowships. The process of creating the Hertz application and possibly receiving an opportunity for an interview is a powerful activity for thinking deeply about your scientific ambitions and focusing your enthusiasm into a proposal for solving societal problems through research.

Try, try again and seek feedback

As an undergraduate at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO, I remember using the library desktop computers to edit and email my Hertz application at the end of my senior year. I wasn’t called for an interview on this first attempt. When I reapplied after starting my PhD at the University of Maryland, College Park, I sought the help of an advisor in the grants office who helped me to refine my writing. The second time, I was more fortunate, receiving two interviews and ultimately the award. Besides the benefits of speaking frankly with the grants office, I shared my proposal writing with trusted friends and asked previous awardees for advice.

The Hertz Fellowship supports academic connections

As all Fellows will tell you, the award is a major boost to one’s ability to pursue creativity and devote oneself to research activities. My advisor also happened to be very supportive of my academic freedom, supporting my zeal to study both plasma physics and biophysics simultaneously. I also used the support of the fellowship to travel for several conferences, which built connections that led to my NSF International Research Fellowship at EPFL in Switzerland. Now that my career has led me into an international program officer position as Science Director with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global, I find this multidisciplinary experience to be extremely useful. As Science Director, I aim to invest ONR basic science funds internationally, with a focus on Brazil and Argentina. I seek the most innovative and high-risk research, traits that should also guide your proposals to fellowship funding opportunities.

You can only receive funding if you apply

I have been very privileged in my academic career. One hope that I have for those reading this post while looking for grants at scientifyRESAERCH is for you to apply for prestigious awards, especially if it seems they are hard to reach. Our community needs a higher level of diversity. I am confident that the Hertz Foundation, as well as the NSF and the NSDEG fellowship programs, are judging applications based on ambition, merit, and the ability to communicate effectively. There should also be an urgency to encourage success for under-represented groups, starting with advertising such opportunities as widely as possible. I encourage you to seek advice from your advisors and peers and to invest significant time and energy in applying for fellowships at the PhD and postdoc levels. Each application will become easier to write. Regardless of your success amidst the strong competition and inherent stochasticity, this process will lead you to a better understanding of your scientific goals and passions, which will guide you towards a fulfilling career.


We thank Dr. Anne Kornahrens from the Hertz Foundation for taking the time to speak with us and for approving the content of this blog post.

Many thanks to Dr. Kyle Gustafson for sharing his perspective on the Hertz fellowship.


Dr. Kyle Gustafson is married to our co-founder, Kate Gardner.

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