Interview With Sydney Morris - National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Winner

Sydney Morris in the lab
May 19, 2015
Sydney Morris has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
As a recent graduate of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences with a major in Chemistry, Sydney is one of two winners this year from GW - the other is Jane Olmstead-Rumsey, a Distinguished Scholar in the Elliott School of International Affairs. Read more about Jane here
The purpose of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is to help ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science and engineering.  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.
At GW, Sydney conducted research with the laboratory team of Dr. Peter Nemes, where she helped to develop and apply analytical technologies to probe biological processes at the single-cell level. She was also a member of GW’s NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Team. This Fall, Sydney will enter the PhD program in Chemical and Biological Sciences at the prestigious Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, with three years of full funding from NSF.
Outside of the Nemes lab, Sydney dedicated herself to educational outreach and civic engagement in DC communities, participating with DC Science Fests, the USA Science and Engineering Festival, and the Grassroots Project. The latter recruits NCAA Division I athletes to teach a health education program devoted to informing DC youth about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
In the Summer of 2014, Sydney joined the research team of Dr. Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy at the Scripps Research Institute as a summer undergraduate research fellow. In the Krishnamurthy lab, she synthesized modified ribulose sugars to study ribulose nucleic acids as potential prebiotic informational systems and for drug development.
Ultimately, Sydney plans to become a professor and research scientist, and one day, to head her own research team.
We talked with Sydney to learn her thoughts on applying for this prestigious award.
How did you hear about NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and what inspired you to apply to this award?
I heard about the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship through the CUFR [Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Research]. During the summer, I was applying for a Fulbright [Research/Study Award]. Then, I was working with [Assistant Director] Dr. Steve Wright and he mentioned that I was a perfect candidate for the NSF. After learning more about the fellowship and the opportunities that become available to fellows once they are selected (opportunities for international research and professional development), I became really excited about the fellowship. Ultimately, Steve’s encouragement and the opportunities for growth inspired me to apply.
What was the application process like for NSF Graduate Research Fellowship? How did you use our office?
Initially, I was overwhelmed with the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship application process because there are several parts to the application to include an original research proposal, personal statement, and three references. However, with the help of the CUFR office I learned exactly what the NSF Application Review Committee looks for in applications and this knowledge helped me to draft each document accordingly and select appropriate references.
I worked very closely with Steve Wright. We met at least once a week until the NSF Fellowship application deadline to discuss and review my progress. His help was instrumental in helping me communicate why I was most qualified for the award. I also worked with my research advisor here at GW (Dr. Peter Nemes) to come up with an idea for my research proposal. 
What advice would you have for students interested in applying for a fellowship?
My advice for students interested in applying for a fellowship is to get in contact with the CUFR!  Most likely there is someone in the office that worked with another student that applied to the fellowship you are interested in. Moreover, the individuals that work in the office are very helpful. They are willing to meet with students regularly to help them submit the best application possible.