FSU Press Release:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -
One is an aspiring cancer researcher; the other seeks to parlay his love of mathematics into a career in academia. But although their goals may differ, the two Florida State University students have at least one thing in common: Both are new recipients of Goldwater Scholarships, awarded each year to some of the nation’s most talented college undergraduates.
Vivek Pal, a junior majoring in mathematics and statistics, and Kristen Ramsey, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry, just learned that they have been selected for the highly competitive scholarship — the nation’s premier award for college sophomores and juniors who are passionate about research careers in the math, science and engineering fields.
Both students are from Tallahassee; Pal graduated from James S. Rickards High School, while Ramsey is a graduate of Leon High.
The Goldwater, given to 300 students nationwide each year, covers expenses including tuition, fees, books, and room and board, up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. Pal will receive the award for one year, Ramsey for two.
“Since candidates must be nominated by their institutions, the entire applicant pool is quite elite,” said D. Craig Filar, director of Florida State’s Office of National Fellowships, which works to match top students with nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships. “The fact that we have two Goldwater Scholars is just further proof that our students are among the very best undergraduates in the nation.
“Despite the fact that he’s just a junior, Vivek is conducting research at a graduate level, which is exemplary in terms of the type of scholarship he’s producing,” Filar said. “And Kristen’s win is all the more impressive when you consider that only about one-third of the coveted awards go to sophomores each year.”
Ramsey said that upon hearing she had been selected, she was “incredibly overwhelmed by the honor of receiving such a prestigious award, and at the same time I was extremely humbled by the ramifications of being a Goldwater Scholar.” Pal, meanwhile, described himself as “excited and honored” to be chosen.
Ramsey has set some ambitious goals for herself. She hopes to earned a combined
M.D./Ph.D. in cancer biology and biochemistry, with the ultimate goal of conducting clinical and laboratory research into the biological and biochemical mechanisms behind cancer.
“I think I was 4 years old when I realized I wanted to become a doctor,” she said. “Though through the years the specialty has changed, I never wavered in my fascination with medicine. It wasn’t until I was 11 that I knew I wanted to go into pediatric oncology. It was at that time that my best friend’s 7-year-old brother was diagnosed with leukemia, and that experience really affected me.
“However, when I started my work in the laboratory of Dr. (Brian) Miller, it soon became apparent that a career in research was much more amenable to my personality, and my history and obsession with cancer led me to the decision that I wanted to become a cancer researcher,” Ramsey said. “But I am interested in the intersection between laboratory and clinical research. I want to live in the sector of research where the bench meets the bedside.”
For his part, Pal looks forward to continuing his studies in mathematics and ultimately earning his Ph.D. With it, he looks forward to conducting research to advance pure mathematics while sharing his passion for the subject as a university professor.
“I was drawn to math in high school by competition-style problem solving,” he said of his chosen field. “These problems have quite a flavor to them and are not the typical problems one finds in a textbook. They require some creativity and finesse, and are loads of fun to work on.”
Pal isn’t the only member of his family to receive a Goldwater Scholarship while attending Florida State; his older sister Priya also was named a Goldwater Scholar, in 2007. Priya Pal also received a Howard Hughes Fellowship in Mathematical and Computational Biology, as well as several chemistry scholarships, while at FSU. Another sister, Pankaj Pal, earned a Howard Hughes Fellowship at Florida State, as well as a Charles A. Brautlecht Chemistry Scholarship and a Bess Ward Honors Thesis Grant. And a brother, Suchandan Pal, currently a senior at FSU, won an Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Award.
“FSU has been a great place for my family and me; the faculty are all very friendly and encouraging,” Vivek Pal said. “I have had many opportunities at Florida State that I probably wouldn’t have had elsewhere. For example, faculty here are both knowledgeable and approachable, a combination I don’t think is common.”
Ramsey agreed with that assessment.
“I have received an incredible education at FSU from professors who are truly enthusiastic about what they teach,” she said. “And though the knowledge I have obtained is substantial, I have also been struck by their passion, and in turn am impassioned in my own field.”