Hola! My name is Laura Zambrano-Vazquez and I am a graduate student in the Psychology Department at the University of Arizona. I was fortunate enough to be awarded the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) in 2011.
My current research and interests involve using event related brain potentials (ERPs) and other physiological phenomena, such as heart rate variability, to investigate psychological variables such as differences in response monitoring systems across different emotional states. More specifically, I am using the error-related negativity (ERN; averaged brain electrical activity in response to mistakes) to examine the integration of emotions and cognitions while individuals monitor their performance, detect errors, and make adjustments to improve performance in the future. In an ongoing project, we are investigating the effect of induced emotional states such as disgust, sadness, fear, anger, and happiness on response monitoring as measured by the ERN. Additionally, I am interested in how these same neural mechanisms may be altered not only by the normal range of emotion, but by pathological levels of emotion.
One challenge I encountered when applying for the NSF GRF was narrowing down my ideas as an incoming graduate students to a concrete project. As I started in my lab, I was familiarizing myself with the research and had different ideas of potential projects. Once I realized that picking one of these ideas would not mean giving up on other projects, I was able to verbalize a project that I felt passionate and strongly about; one that will advance my own career and research interests but also contribute to basic science in the field.
My suggestion for applicants is to persevere and integrate as much feedback as you can when you apply again. Think of it as an opportunity to improve. My interests were too broad and undefined during my first year of graduate school, making it challenging to channel them into a feasible project. After completion of my first year, I felt more comfortable and focused in my research, which was reflected on my research proposal. It is ok to keep things simple. Remember they are investing in you because you are a promising scientist with the capacity to contribute greatly to the field. You do not have to propose all your ideas at once in your essay. Also, take a chance and take a risk. Do not feel like you are not competent enough to apply because, the truth is that a lot of us feel that way but we have all made it this far. To get somewhere you have to start at some point.
Please don’t hesitate in contacting me if you have any questions, are looking for advice or support in this process. I will happy to help by answering your questions by email!