ARLINGTON, Va.—During the closing presentation of a week-long conference focused on America’s best and brightest Ph.D. students, whose research is focused on U.S. national security, Dr. Bindu Nair — director of Basic Research for the Office of the Secretary of Defense — stared at the crowd of hundreds of young people.
Boldly and without hesitation, Nair reflected on her interactions with the doctoral students at the conference and said, “It is refreshing to see the country in great hands.”
Indeed, the 2022 Department of Defense (DoD) National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellows Conference — hosted in Boston, Massachusetts, July 24-28 — proved the U.S. Department of Defense is on the right course for developing its next generation of scientific researchers.
The NDSEG Fellowship program was established in 1989 by Congress as an approach to increasing the number of U.S. citizens receiving doctoral degrees in science and engineering disciplines of military importance.
The highly competitive fellowship program is sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Army Research Office and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), under the direction of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. Since its inception, NDSEG has awarded nearly 4,400 fellowships from over 65,000 applications to U.S. citizens and nationals. Selected fellows can choose the U.S. institution to attend for pursuit of their doctoral degree.
Some of the benefits of being an NDSEG Fellow include full tuition and fees being covered, a $38,400 annual stipend and a $5,000 travel budget for professional development. Additionally, the fellowship provides academic flexibility that enables recipients to pursue the research that truly sparks their passion.
NDSEG Fellow Annie Leal is thankful that ONR selected her: “They have given me the opportunity to step outside the box that I would have been put into during graduate school. By having my own funding come in, I am able to have the freedom to follow an interesting research path and do more interesting and cross-disciplinary research.”
The week-long July conference included speakers from the DoD, a career fair and a poster and technical competition.
Of the approximately 143 current fellows, ONR sponsors about a third of those whose research is focused on enhancing the Navy and Marine Corps. The areas of research are incredibly varied, including climate change, neural networks, lasers, cognitive sciences and much more.
During the conference, the fellows had the chance to network and meet with representatives from ONR, the Naval Research Laboratory, Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific and Naval Air Systems Command to learn more about potential career opportunities after graduation, and how to potentially leverage their future Ph.D.s to support national security.
The conference was a rare opportunity for fellows scattered throughout the U.S. to meet with their government mentors face-to-face and to connect with other fellows from different universities. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the previous NDSEG conference, the 2019 and 2020 classes had a joint conference.
Dr. Jason Stack, director for ONR's Ocean, Atmosphere and Space Division, gave a keynote address at the NDSEG Conference.
Stack spoke about how to develop and map out a career. He said he loved his career path after completing his Ph.D. because working at ONR gives him the opportunity to collaborate with the smartest people in the country and be on the receiving end of many innovative proposals.
Stack said there are three items every fellow needs to consider about their career decisions:
• What are your personal core values? Stack said his personal core values are learning something every day and leaving the world better off.
• What is the contribution you want to make in your career? Stack encouraged the fellows to think about their goals and then create a plan on how to achieve them.
• Know one, plan three. Stack said it is important to think about the next step in one’s career. Also, think a few steps ahead and have a big goal in mind. Even if that big dream goal is not achieved, setting the course in that direction will help lead a person to their next decision. Do not simply accept a job offer because it might be the best opportunity or highest-paying one at that immediate time. Think more deeply about whether that job will ultimately lead to a satisfying career.
Learn more about the NDSEG Fellowship at https://ndseg.org/. More information about the 2022 NDSEG Conference can be found at https://ndseg.sysplus.com/NDSEG/Conference/.