Isaac Valdiviezo '20, a biology graduate and BHC Scholar, was recently awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. He will be entering UCF's conservation and integrative biology Ph.D. program, with plans to become a biology researcher at a university.

How did you achieve the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship? What are some of the things you've been involved in that you think have helped get you to this point?

I am certain that I would have never even gotten to the point of applying for the GRFP had it not been for my involvement in undergraduate research, and certainly could not have earned this award without the full support of my faculty advisors, Dr. Chase Mason and Dr. Eric Goolsby. Additionally, my involvement with Burnett Honors College (i.e. working for several semesters on an undergraduate thesis), presenting my research at science conferences, and my current position as a grant writer at a non-profit organization are all experiences that I am sure did much to prepare me for the daunting task of applying for such a prestigious award.

What is your long-term goal and how will this help you get there?

My long-term goal is to become a competent scientist whose work both significantly expands knowledge in the field of biology and inspires young minds to discover the allure of science which once captivated me and led me to where I am today. I have been admitted into UCF's conservation and integrative biology Ph.D. program (with Dr. Goolsby as my faculty advisor), and once I obtain my Ph.D., I intend to do a year of post-doctorate work. I ultimately aim to secure a tenured position at a university as the principal investigator of my own lab where I'd oversee biological research, and teach as a professor whenever I am not conducting or overseeing research. Dr. Goolsby explained that the GRFP enabled him to branch out and explore other topics of interest, which ultimately made him something of a polymath who is now capable of contributing more significantly to the field. I believe the GRFP will allow me to follow in his footsteps, as I have no intention of wasting any extra time that this award adds to my learning experience.

What advice do you have for others interested in receiving the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship?

My advice for anyone interested in applying for this fellowship is brief, and may even sound somewhat cliché, but I truly mean every word. My advice is simply this: do not allow yourself to be intimidated by competition, circumstances, or even your track record, and write from a place of passion. Genuine passion is easily perceptible and is what makes any writing captivating to its audience. In other words, I encourage applicants to turn the application process into a valuable learning experience about a topic they find so fascinating that it causes them to forget they are writing a competitive proposal in the first place. The opportunity to formulate a viable experiment and recount one’s own story in a sincere light should feel like a reward in and of itself. If they can do this, I firmly believe their proposal will stand a serious chance. Lastly, it’s of key importance to find an enthusiastic faculty advisor to overlook the writing process. Again, I could not have achieved anything that I’ve achieved in my career in science thus far without the support of my advisors.

What are some of your favorite hobbies?

Outside of academia, I am heavily involved in urban arts—particularly the outlets provided by hip-hop culture. I enjoy dancing and producing music. I find that expressive outlets that allow me to pour out emotions and immediate thoughts with little regard for order help keep me balanced. For instance, I once found myself working on a creative project that captured my love for botany and dance as an opportunity to communicate my work in science (hoping to spark curiosity) to my dancing peers, while simultaneously hoping to convince my colleagues in the field that is possible for a scientist (or any professional for that matter) to be more than just an embodiment of your profession.