Three Penn professors have been honored as 2020 Sloan Research Fellows, each receiving $75,000 in research funding.
Erica Korb of the Perelman School of Medicine, Liang Feng of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Weijie Su of the Wharton School are Penn’s awardees this year, joining the 120 Penn faculty members who have been recognized since the fellowship's inception in 1955.
The Sloan Research Fellowship honors researchers early in their careers with a grant to use for their research. This year, 126 young scholars across the United States and Canada who have been recognized for their "unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field."
Korb, an assistant professor in the Department of Genetics, researches chromatin biology and neuroscience, specifically epigenetic regulation in the brain. She said she plans to use funding from the fellowship to study mechanisms of regulation in the brain, such as regulatory systems that are disrupted in various neurodevelopmental disorders. She also hopes to develop tools that would allow researchers to improve existing models that conduct analysis on the brain.
“It’s both humbling and really thrilling to be considered a part of this group, given all the really amazing research that all of the other fellows are doing,” Korb said.
Feng, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, works on using light particles to improve communication technology. He said his current research is focused on the application of quantum and topological perspectives to this manipulation of photonic materials. He said he hopes to use funding from the fellowship to further his current research.
“I think that now, we are trying to make a good use of money towards the quantum leap,” Feng said.
Su is an assistant professor in the Department of Statistics whose research interests include high-dimensional statistics, privacy-preserving data analysis, and optimization methods. He said he plans to use funding from the fellowship to support his privacy protection and machine learning research. He said, however, receiving the fellowship was more about the honor than the money.
The fellows offered advice for Penn students interested in pursuing careers in academia.
Korb urged students to get involved in research early and added that failure is inevitable in scientific work.
“I would try to avoid shying away from situations in which you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing," Korb said. "In science, most of the time, we don’t know what we’re doing. And most of the times our experiments do fail. That’s part of the job and something you have to deal with and be comfortable with. You eventually get used to it and figure out that that’s part of the process."
Feng stressed the worth of a strong educational foundation. He said that his Ph.D. program and post-doctoral experiences provided him with the skills he needed to become a successful scientist and researcher.
Su encouraged students to consider a career in academia.
“I think you should follow your heart and ask yourself whether you are interested in exploring some fundamental problems through research," Su said. "If you’re interested in understanding the fundamental ideas of some province, maybe you’re the kind of person who is good at doing research."