Brian Hornbuckle: Experiences


It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do. The experiences listed below helped me decide. If you would like to ask me more about these programs, please contact me.

Student Conservation Association
During the summer of 1989, after my junior year of high school, I spent a month working at Isle Royale National Park with six other high school students and an adult leader. We repaired campsites and trails at the Feldtmann Lake campground for three weeks and then traveled around the island by canoe. They also have programs for college students and college graduates. This is a great way to get into the National Park Service and other state park services. You are not paid in the high school programs (although room and board is provided, as well as the "vacation" at the end of the program), but there are modest stipends for the college and post-college programs. My concern for the environment and desire to work out-of-doors resulted from my time in Isle Royale.

University of Minnesota Biomedical Engineering Institute
I participated in the undergraduate summer research program in the summer of 1992 after my sophomore year of college. It was there that I figured out that I didn't want to be a biomedical engineer or work in a hospital!! This discovery had nothing to do with the program itself, but simply verified what I already suspected: I'm uncomfortable in hospitals. I designed a relational database for Dr. Stan Finkelstein's and Dr. Jay Cohn's research on human blood vessel compliance (elasticity) and its relation to hypertension (which can contribute to high blood pressure). The Minneapolis/St.Paul area is a nice place to live. Our group did a lot fun things together. This program pays a competitive stipend.

NSF REU Program at ISU Microelectronics Research Center
This was a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU). It was not well advertised, and I found out about it only after mailing several letters and resumes to professors in the electrical engineering department at ISU asking for a job for summer of 1993, the summer before my senior year of college. There are many REU at schools all over the country each summer. I'm not sure how you would find out about them, other than contacting professors directly like I did. This particular program at Iowa State consisted of both coursework and research. I took a class with lab on designing and fabricating semiconductor devices and also did some research on using amorphous silicon to make electrical contact to shallow emitters typical in microwave devices. A competitive stipend is paid. From a faculty member's point of view, this is a great way to attract good students to their research. Keep that in mind if you are accepted into one of these programs. Your advisors would like you to come to graduate school and work with them if you do well in the program.

Mississippi Teacher Corps
After learning from many great teachers during my high school and college careers, I decided to pay back the time my teachers had spent with me by becoming a teacher myself. In June of 1994, just after graduating from college, I joined the MTC and began taking education classes at the University of Mississippi that summer. During the next two academic years I taught five classes of chemistry and one class of physics at Clarksdale High School in Clarksdale, MS, and attended Ole Miss every-other-weekend to take classes. Before the end of my first year I was a certified high school teacher, and by winter break of the second year I had my M.A. in secondary education. I earned regular first-year teacher pay and benefits, a stipend during the summers, and a free M.A. degree. Well, the M.A. wasn't really free: teaching was very hard, but enjoyable, work. If you're interested in the teaching profession, this is the best non-traditional certification program of which I am aware. The twenty-or-so teachers in my class became a great support group. I worked harder teaching than I have at anything else, but it's probably the best thing I've ever done (other than marrying my wife Jalene!). Here are some things I created while teaching.

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship
I was very fortunate to receive a three year graduate study fellowship from the NSF in 1996, after I had been teaching for two years. As an undergraduate, it was my impression that I had to know exactly what type of research I wanted to do before attending graduate school. I had heard about the NSF but also thought it was a fellowship specifically for students who knew exactly what they wanted to study. I have found that this is not true. Although I was required to write an essay entitled "Plan of Study" detailing my graduate school plans, this did not mean that the reviewers at NSF expected that I had finalized my plans, but only that I had put significant thought towards them. In my application, I wrote about my plan to study communication systems. When I got to Michigan in the fall, I immediately changed my plans and decided to pursue coursework in electromagnetics. I submitted another plan of study near the end of my fellowship at the request of one of the program directors, who commented that the NSF is not supporting my research but my graduate study. The NSF gave me time to carefully choose what I wanted to study and who I wanted to work with after arriving at Michigan. This is a luxury: many incoming graduate students are "attached" to a faculty member at the start in order to receive support (tuition and stipend). In some cases, although definitely not all, it is hard to move from that faculty member if the research does not appeal to you. For some students, this is fine because they know beforehand the type of research they want to do. Some students can secure TA positions, which also give you independence, and fewer still acquire departmental fellowships of some kind. Having an NSF fellowship also makes you extremely attractive to faculty members: who wouldn't take a free student? I believe excellent grades, excellent recommendations, good GRE scores, and a well-thought-out plan will get you an NSF.

EPA STAR Graduate Fellowship Program
I was also very fortunate to receive a three year graduate study fellowship from the EPA in 1999, after I had been in graduate school for three years. Although my area of research was certainly on the fringes, if not outside the scope, of traditional EPA research, I carefully read through EPA documents that identified science goals and priorities and figured out how my research could help accomplish those goals. I then wrote a plan of study that emphasized how my work would help accomplish a specific goal, and elaborated on this topic. I believe identifying and clearly stating this link between my research and the EPA in my plan of study, along with good grades and recommendation letters, got me this fellowship. One benefit of this fellowship is a spending account, part of which is used to pay your benefits. But a significant amount is left over that can be used for travel, equipment, books, and other supplies. It's nice to have your own account when you're a graduate student!

NSF International Research Fellowship Program
Marshall Sherfield Fellowship
I was awarded, but then declined, an NSF International Research Fellowship just after accepting my present position here at ISU. To apply for this program, the applicant basically writes a short grant proposal. I proposed to do research at the Earth Systems Science Centre at the University of Reading, England. Before applying, I had spent a week in the UK meeting with people at the ESSC, and had thought carefully about what I wanted to accomplish. This meeting also allowed the director of the ESSC to write a specific letter inviting me to come. In my proposal, I was very careful to explain why the ESSC was the perfect place to do my research. Through the application process, I was also able to establish some international contacts, with whom I hope to collaborate in the future. I also made the final round of the Marshall Sherfield Fellowship program. I interviewed at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., but was not offered a fellowship. Again, I believe the key to my success in this program was a specific research program, and the relationship I had already established with the ESSC. If you're interested in these two opportunities, the Marshall may be a bit more prestigious, but the NSF IRFP is much more lucrative and flexible. This was important for me because I had a spouse and three children to support.


Brian Hornbuckle