Biology student wins fellowship from National Science Foundation

Allyson Evans ‘19 was recently awarded a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) from the National Science Foundation to fund her graduate work.

The program “recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions.”

The fellowship provides a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 with a $12,000 allowance for tuition and fees, as well as opportunities for international research. Fellows are free to conduct their own research at any U.S. institution of graduate education.

“As a first generation college student, I believe I have a responsibility to my family to be a role model for academic success,” Evans said. “Writing the proposal was one of the most challenging things I have pushed myself to achieve during undergrad, and I will always be grateful for this experience.”

Evans, a biological sciences major, is currently working on an honors thesis in ecology and evolution under the supervision of Casey Dillman, curator of fishes and herps at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Upon graduation, she is heading to George Washington University to pursue a Ph.D.

As part of her senior thesis, Evans is investigating patterns of sexual dimorphism in the skulls and teeth of knifefish. Her research focuses on species in which sexually mature males exhibit weaponized snout morphologies that are used in antagonistic interactions with other males as part of their courting behavior.

In the fall, she will continue to expand her research on the knifefish to questions regarding the developmental mechanisms that produce these structures. She is planning to use the money from the fellowship to fund research expeditions to South America to observe and collect the fish.

“Not only will this award allow me to pursue my childhood passion of studying vertebrate morphology, but it will serve as a reminder to myself that I am capable of more than I allow myself to believe,” Evans said “I hope to share this experience with my younger cousins who will be applying to colleges in a few years, and I look forward to encouraging other students to pursue their own ambitions throughout my academic career.”

Since 1952, the NSF has funded more than 50,000 fellowships from more than 500,000 applications. More than 450 fellows have become members of the National Academy of Sciences and 42 have become Nobel Laureates. Passt fellows include the U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Google founder Sergey Brin. The full list of recipients of 2019 fellowships can be found here.

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 Allyson Evans