Newsletter Article

International Fellowship Recipient Scores Big

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) pre-doctoral fellowship is one of the few funding opportunities for international doctoral students who conduct research in biomedical-related fields. With so few fellowship or funding opportunities for international students who study in the United States, the HHMI is highly coveted. Just this past year, the UW participated in the HHMI's inaugural award process and three out of the 10 UW students nominated received HHMI awards.  Our own Jeff Lin won one of these awards and will receive three years of support (stipend, tuition waivers, health insurance, plus educational allowance). Jeff is a graduate student in our Cognition and Perception program working with Geoffrey Boynton in the Vision and Cognition Group.

Let's start with the basics, where are you from and where did you complete undergraduate and masters degrees?

I am from British Columbia, Canada, and received my Masters in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Washington in 2009.

Jeremy Luk
Photo:  Jeff Lin

How did you wind up at UW--why did you apply here? What do you think about living in Seattle?

As an undergraduate at a conference, I was once asked why I was doing PhD level work without getting any credit for it. After that, associate professors Geoffrey Boynton and Scott Murray gave me a chance to work with them at the UW towards a PhD degree. 

What is your research interest and how did you get into it (what inspires/motivates you)?

My research interests vary every few years but are often related to visual attention; in terms of inspiration, there are rare scientists you meet sometimes who can make a big impact not only in their field, but across multiple fields. I want to one day do the same. 

How did you learn about your funding opportunity and tell us about the application and waiting process?

Funding opportunities are very rare for international students, so I was quite surprised when I received an e-mail from Jeanny Mai and the Psychology Department about the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship. My supervisors Drs. Geoffrey Boynton and Scott Murray supported my decision to apply but we first had to be nominated by the Graduate School at the University of Washington before we were able to submit official materials to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Like all fellowships and scholarships, you do not hear a decision until many months later, so the waiting process flew by.

How did you feel when you learned that your application was accepted and that you will receive two to three years of funding?

Simply put, being a student fellow of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is an honor. The financial stability is a perk, but the biggest reward to me was the confirmation and reassurance that my research was a valuable and worthwhile contribution to the academic community. One of the most exciting aspects of this fellowship is that it also funds me to visit the headquarters of the institute and network with the members--this is not a trivial ordeal as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute consists of over a dozen Nobel Prize Laureates!

Do you have any advice/tips/suggestions for others who may apply to this opportunity? About graduate study in general?

Follow every little instruction! In the feedback following the applications, it turns out a majority of applicants were disqualified for not following basic instructions. Regarding advice for graduate study in general, you could probably write a book series and not touched upon all the tips. I have often said that I was lucky in graduate study and academia in general; however, people misinterpret this as "Jeff does not work hard." My point is that you can have great ideas in science but they may not pan out; however, if you keep working harder than the next scientist, you will give yourself more opportunities where you will get lucky and you will get a big result. Everyone in academia is intelligent, but hard work and persistence is what separates the great scientists from the pack. A senior scientist once told me that the success stories in academia are not about the smartest scientists, but the most persistent ones.

What do you hope to accomplish with the funding and/or while in the UW Psychology graduate program?

I will be using the funding to wrap up my projects at the University of Washington and transition to the next phase of my career. I recently received some industry offers to work for video game developers, so I may pursue that as a career; alternatively, I have received some post-doc offers to remain in academia. I hope that in my time remaining at the University of Washington, I can collaborate with as many people as possible and build some lasting relationships regardless of where I am in the future.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I enjoy basketball, volleyball, and play a loooooottttt of video games. There's a secret room in Guthrie where graduate students can take a break from the grind and play some video games. That's where you can find me and Bjorn! (Bjorn was featured in a separate article for receiving a National Science Fellowship.)

The last book and/or movie you saw and enjoyed?

The movie "Up." Made me cry in the first 10 minutes.

What you plan to do once you complete your PhD?

Right now it's up in the air. I have been working at a video game developer called Valve Software for the last half of my PhD, and I may pursue a career in the video game industry; or, I may continue the academic path.

Supplemental Reading: