Awardee Profiles

In order to help the UGS maintain accurate records of FIU graduate students on external fellowships, please email when you are notified that you have won an award. When emailing, please indicate the name of the award (e.g., NSF GRF) and whether or not you would like your profile listed below.

Robert Nowicki , FIU PhD student in Biology, NSF Graduate Research Fellow Awardee, 2011

As a new student, I am broadly interested in how the risk of predation by predators influences prey behavior in ecosystems, and how those behavior changes can influence the ecosystem on a larger scale. Prey often can afford to hold off on feeding or reproduction for short periods of time, knowing that later opportunities to fulfill these obligations may arise. Predation, however, is rather more unforgiving; an animal needs only to make one mistake to be predated upon and thus killed. As a result, many activities that prey undertake are done with the trade off of risk vs. reward in mind- from feeding, to searching for mates, to forming groups with other members of the same species. One interest of mine lies within how prey calculate risk of predation, and what steps they take to minimize it. This is an example of one specific interest in an evolving and growing body of ideas and questions I have, and illustrate the wide-reaching and sometimes hidden effect predators have on our ecosystems.

Applying for the NSF GRF was an intense learning experience- as I applied before being accepted into a laboratory (or a university), I did not have an existing project with which to build a grant upon. I took the opportunity to identify gaps in my field and thus had the liberty to tailor an application (and project) to address one of those gaps. I went through several iterations of projects, each with unrelated goals to the one before it, before I wrote one that I was satisfied with. This gave me an excellent introduction to the process of writing proposals, and gave me an appreciation for the level of constant dedication that was necessary to make it work. I consider application for the NSF GRF to be one of my most valuable single learning experiences since starting as an undergraduate years ago.

I have not yet gone on active tenure, so I am not currently receiving stipend support- however, I know that my progress on my project and towards my degree will be significantly accelerated by the fact that this support will allow me to devote almost undivided attention to my work, as opposed to spending a significant portion of my time teaching (or worse, having to work an outside job!). The payback I will receive from having the fellowship will far outweigh the time and effort I originally invested in the application- this would even be true if I had not received the fellowship, because the feedback I would have received from reviewers would have been invaluable in making my proposals more robust in the future.