Hertz Can't Hurt

How a UH Hilo student was selected as a finalist for the Hertz award

Staff Writer Holly S. Trowbridge
Photographer Elizabeth Lough

Rebekah Loving

Are you a biology major or a science geek? Do you have innovative ideas about the future of science and engineering? You may want to look into the Hertz award.

“The Hertz award is a fellowship that is for Science and Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics students across the nation. Basically, they want to pull students who are going to have really innovative ideas for the future of science and engineering. There was over 840 applicants this year, and then they interviewed 101 of us for the first round of the selection process after going through our applications,” said Rebekah Loving, current undergraduate student majoring in computer science and mathematics, and a finalist for the Hertz award.

For a student serious about the possibility of working in a lab and getting a fellowship to do it, the Hertz award is an honorable way to fulfill those dreams. The award will only go out to 10 students total. “Just making it to the finalist position is a huge honor. It’s a five year fellowship of $30,000 a year for the student stipend, and then it covers your tuition as well. It’s a really big thing,” said Loving.

The Hertz award is sponsored by the Hertz foundation and has a unique goal and vision for students and researchers. “It’s a charitable foundation to try to bring along innovative ideas and to allow people to really think outside of the box, while giving them the freedom of funds that they need in order to do the research they really want to do, so that they’re not depending on their institute or lab to fund them,” continued Loving. “That’s a lot of the drive behind it: to really give a sort of autonomy to these young researchers to do new work that will really drive science and engineering forward.”

The Hertz foundation looks for students with a science and technology background, as well as prior research opportunities a student may have gotten to experience. As Loving said, “My research has been kind of all over the place. I started in physics here with Dr. Philippe Binder, looking at the magnetic field in the plane of a physical dipole. After that project, I ended up going to Harvard to do the summer program in biostatistics and computational biology. There I worked with Dr. Donna Neuberg on analyzing the health-related quality of life data of patients who underwent bone marrow transplantation.”

Loving continued, “I didn’t particularly like statistics prior to that, and it’s still not my favorite field of study as far as how pretty I think the subject is. But when I did the research program, I really got to see the power of applying for it.” As a student with many different opportunities to work in a lab, Loving is a prized candidate. In order to be selected from the application, and to be put through as a finalist, the applicant needs to go through a series of interviews with scientists.

“I went for an in-person interview in San Francisco. The interview process itself is very interesting because they are basically trying to see the way you think and not necessarily how accurately you are answering. They ask questions that you’ve never encountered in any course, about how the world works. After the first round of interviews, they selected 41 of us to interview a second time for the finalist round. I went back up for that, and there were two other scientists who interviewed me and now I’m still waiting to hear on the final decision,” Loving shared.

The interview questions were often posed like a puzzle or a fun game. “They liked to ask questions where you were playing a game and about the probability of the different players winning. There were different coin flipping problems and questions about what would happen if you moved planetary bodies, how would the gravitational fields change, and the climate changes that would occur,” said Loving.

In order to determine whether a student applicant is an appropriate candidate for the Hertz award or not, the scientists doing the interviewing need to ask a variety of questions. Because the award is so varied in the number of large scientifically-based fields, the chosen one needs to be fairly knowledgeable in many of the fields.

“They ask questions across chemistry, biology, mathematics, physics, and computer science. They also asked different chemistry questions about the process of sequencing and questions about the research that I’ve done. As I told them about the research I’d done, they would ask questions about the biology related research or the algorithms I used. They also asked about statistical models that I developed,” said Loving.

Seeing as the Hertz award is prestigious and tough to come by, Loving said, “I think if I am chosen to be one of the 10, I will really be excited. All along the way, I think it really just testifies to how much other people have supported me, and I’ll be so grateful for all of that.”