Ryann Wakefield, a Ph.D. student in the School of Meteorology, was accepted into the NASA Future Investigators program. Her NASA journey started last year.
“I was not selected last year but was eligible one more time, so we learned from last year’s feedback and tried again,” Wakefield said.
She then got a push from a school faculty member to apply again.
“My advisor, Dr. Jeff Basara, was a recipient himself during graduate school and encourages his students to apply if they stick around for a Ph.D.,” she said. “Even if we don’t receive the award, it’s great practice for proposal writing and gave me an outline for my Ph.D. project.”
In order to be eligible for this opportunity, the applicant must be enrolled in a graduate degree program within a related field to the essay topic. The essay is a 6-page proposal on their field of study and interest and how the topic promotes NASA’s mission. Each school must also nominate a principal investigator to oversee the essay and project.
Every prestigious program does come with its own challenges though.
“The most difficult part was creating a coherent proposal and sticking to the page limit,” Wakefield said. “It turns out that putting background information, a research plan, and timeline into 6 single-spaced pages is actually really hard. I wasn’t sure they’d actually pick my project and had already been turned down once.”
Wakefield was accepted into the program this year! While she is only in the first year of the three-year program, Wakefield already sees its positive impacts.
“Just applying [to the opportunity] has allowed me to seek out unique opportunities and make connections in the field,” she said.
Personal impacts were not the only win in this situation. Wakefield also proudly represents a minority in her program and field: women in STEM.
“I’ll start by saying that I have been very fortunate to have felt supported as a woman in STEM throughout my time here at OU,” she said. “Even so, it’s been a tremendous confidence boost as a woman in the field to receive this award and has helped me to feel more confident about what I can do both now and in the future. Having this opportunity will help me to end up in a position where I can make a difference. Hopefully, at some point, I can pay it forward, as was done with me, and inspire anyone down the road to go after similar future awards.”
Wakefield hopes that her experience with NASA doesn’t end with the Future Investigators Program.
“I’m going to have to show them through successful completion of my proposed project, that I have the ability to contribute to their mission, and maybe they will consider choosing me again in the future,” she said.