Fellow Spotlight: Megan Bedell


astro-2013-04-01-megan (1)_1.jpg

Megan Bedell

PhD Candidate in the 
Department of 
Astronomy & Astophysics

2016-2017 Josephine De Karman Dissertation Fellowship Recipient

What drew you to the Josephine de Karman program? What about it seemed like a good fit for you and your work at the time that you were applying?

I found out about the de Karman fellowship from a list of fellowship opportunities compiled by the PSD. Although the fellowship chiefly supports students in the humanities, it was founded by a physicist who made major research breakthroughs in aerospace engineering, which I liked! I also noticed that an astronomy graduate student had received it the previous year. I was looking for a grant that could provide some funding for my dissertation year after my NSF ended, so it seemed like a good fit.

At this point in the fellowship year, is there a particular experience that stands out to you? Or, something the fellowship has enabled that has proven important for you or your research? 

Through the combination of the de Karman fellowship and funding from my advisor's grants, I've been able to focus all of my time on research with no teaching required, which is invaluable when trying to finish up a dissertation. The biggest benefit of the fellowship will come after I submit my thesis in July - I plan to travel to summer conferences and present my work using funding from the de Karman.

(For students who may want to apply for the de Karman in the future, it's worth noting that it cannot be used in place of a university-guaranteed stipend - I didn't fully realize that when applying!)

The Josephine de Karman fellowship is unique in that it's open to students from all academic disciplines. How did you go about the process of preparing an application and presenting your dissertation in way that would stand out from such a broad pool of applicants?

Researchers in my field (astronomy, and exoplanets specifically) have a bit of a strategic advantage here because anything with a connection to aliens will stand out from the crowd! In all seriousness though, in my research I'm trying to answer questions that many people have wondered about throughout history: is the Earth unique? What makes our solar system look the way it does, and are the planetary systems of other Sun-like stars similar or very different? I think the key to writing a strong application is to pique peoples' interest with questions like these and then follow through with a good plan to answer them. At the time of preparing the application I had already worked a great deal on this research project (including traveling many times to Chile to gather astronomical data and discovering three new planets with those observations!), so I think I was able to make a strong case for the viability of my dissertation research... but I really feel that the most important part of making your application stand out is convincing people that they want to find out the answers to your research questions just as much as you do!

More about Megan's Research

Megan's research focuses on the connection between stars and the planets they host. For her dissertation, she is searching for new exoplanets orbiting "solar twin" stars and making detailed measurements of the stars themselves to search for links between stellar composition and planet formation.

More about the Josephine de Karman Fellowship

The Josephine de Karman Fellowship Trust was established in 1954 by the late Dr. Theodore von Karman, world renowned aeronautics expert and teacher and first director of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, in memory of his sister, Josephine, who died in 1951. The purpose of this fellowship program is to recognize and assist students whose scholastic achievements reflect professor von Karmans high standards. The program awards $22,000 dissertation write-up awards to students across all disciplines. More information here.