Recent UC Berkeley doctoral graduates Christine Wilkinson and Kara Fong were named 2022 Schmidt Science Fellows, which enables them to pursue a postdoctoral interdisciplinary research project.
The Schmidt Science Fellows program announced its 2022 cohort Thursday and, according to its website, will provide a stipend of $100,000 a year for up to two years for scientists to conduct research in a different field than their doctoral discipline. Wilkinson added that beyond the stipend, fellows attend monthly meetings with a nominated member of the Schmidt Science Fellows Academic Council, the program’s three global meetings and continue to network as Senior Fellow alumni once their program is completed.
“Schmidt Science Fellows believes in the power of interdisciplinary science to advance discovery and accelerate positive impact in the world,” said Matt Goode, director of strategy and fellowship affairs for Schmidt Science Fellows, in an email. “The great challenges that face us – climate destruction, infectious disease, food insecurity, degenerative disease and more – do not recognize disciplinary boundaries and neither should scientists.”
Fong emphasized the program’s community with the other fellows. She said in an email the opportunity to connect with the other fellows as peers, mentors and collaborators is “one of the biggest assets” of the fellowship program.
During her doctoral studies in chemical engineering, Fong examined the mechanisms of electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries to work toward creating batteries that charge faster and store more energy. Fong added that with the fellowship, she plans to build the skills she will need to start an independent research group and is “excited” to dive into a different research area.
Fong will spend two years in the department of chemistry at the University of Cambridge during her fellowship.
“Kara is an exceptionally talented scientist with a deep desire to make impactful contributions to the scientific community,” said Bryan McCloskey, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and Fong’s doctoral co-advisor, in an email. “She is conscientious in the way she approaches science, leadership, education, and daily interactions, and makes everyone that she works with better.”
Wilkinson has focused much of her work on carnivore movement ecology and conservation efforts in Kenya. She said she chose to pivot to an interdisciplinary computer science focus using machine learning methods to further understand patterns of human-wildlife interaction.
Her disciplinary pivot and stipend wage, Wilkinson said, will give her the “freedom” to further explore areas of research she has wanted to pursue and to take “risks.”
“Being able to be surrounded by all sorts of different folks that I can learn from, while also contributing to the community is something that I’m most excited about,” Wilkinson said. “It will help me become a better scientist and also help me to become a better person.”
Vani Suresh and Ayah Ali-Ahmad contributed to this story.