Samuel Saarinen | 2014 Goldwater Scholar
Research isn’t for everybody, but for me it’s both a calling and a passion. What started as insatiable curiosity turned into a career choice by the time I finished my undergraduate education at the University of Kentucky, and I knew I wanted to answer questions that could improve the lives of many people. The Goldwater Scholarship stands out to me as a milestone that catalyzed my view of research as a profession, and it certainly helped a lot with my applications to PhD programs.
At the time, research was a hobby that I did primarily because I enjoyed the challenge, the learning opportunities, and getting answers to hard questions. As I got exposed to new problems, I was excited by the number of questions that could be answered rigorously with mathematics, and it felt like every problem was a new puzzle made just to tantalize me until I solved it. But when I was encouraged to apply for the Goldwater Scholarship, I started to see the potential to be deliberate about research. I started to see that rather than researching because an interesting problem was handed to me, I could go after the problems that I wanted to research, and I could plan my life around research.
This perspective shift has led to more clearly defined interests – I now work on applications of Artificial Intelligence to education data and processes – and a greater sense of fulfillment as a researcher. As a PhD student at Brown University, I’ve enjoyed a very collaborative environment and the opportunity to lead projects with other researchers. I believe applying for the Goldwater Scholarship was a significant factor in giving me these opportunities, due to the clarity it gave me about why I was researching.