Jessica van Loben Sels had a fascination with microbiology when she first started college at the University of Kansas. Like many students, however, she was unsure what role research could play in her aspirations. The Goldwater application was Jessica’s first significant exposure to a personal research project, and she credits the process for where she is today.

When applying for the Goldwater, Jessica’s project focused on the intersection between immunology and virology which helped her develop her course of study in her PhD where she’s working to improve vaccine design and antiviral therapies to treat persistent norovirus infections. Jessica currently holds a position in the National Institutes of Health Oxford-Cambridge scholarship program, through which she also attends graduate school at the University of Cambridge. Additionally, Jessica travels to different parts of the world, including Vietnam and Uganda, where the pathogen she studies is particularly endemic to the human population.

“I feel the experience of coming up with an independent research project for Goldwater in undergrad has allowed me to accept the challenge of this accelerated graduate study,” says Jessica. “[The Goldwater application] requires thinking beyond the facts you memorize for class and beyond the small, discontinuous experiments you carry out in laboratory classes. It challenges you to use your knowledge in an innovative context to address a novel question that interests you and would inevitably have an impact on others, both within and outside of the science realm.”