By: Jessica Martin, SDSU Chapter Member
Recently I got the opportunity to talk to Taylor Azizeh, a WSS Alumni and founding President of the University of Idaho Chapter. Taylor graduated in Spring 2019 with a BS in Environmental Science as well as a BS in Wildlife Resources. She is currently in Denmark working on a Fulbright grant, and after she completes the grant she plans on getting a doctorate in Wildlife Biology or Marine Biology.
In the last year of her undergraduate career, Taylor took on the task of starting a new WSS chapter because she “yearned for other women to share [her] passion for science with”. Her area of study was male-dominated, but she knew that there was a need for an organization that would unite the driven, ambitious and hard-working women across the sciences. Watching the University of Idaho Chapter grow and flourish both under her lead and from afar is an ever-present reminder of the huge impact that the organization has had on her and so many other women.
As her undergraduate career was coming to an end, Taylor knew that she wanted to travel while also furthering her career. She decided to embark on the challenge of applying for a Fulbright grant, an extremely prestigious program in which students go to universities abroad and work with professors on research. Choosing a program was an overwhelming process as there are Fulbright Programs in over 140 countries, but when she found a program based in Denmark called Denmark and The Arctic Semester Greenland, she had a gut instinct that was where she wanted to apply. The program offered a semester at Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark, and then a semester in Nuuk, Greenland, at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and would allow Taylor to pursue her primary research interest, the effect of humans on wildlife, in extreme arctic ecosystems. Typically when applying to a Fulbright Program, the applicant must submit a proposal for a research project and have a letter of affirmation from a professor abroad who endorses the project. This program was perfect for Taylor because it did not require her to write a specific proposal, as she “was interested in too many things and couldn’t settle for one project.”
While completing her application for a Fulbright grant, she was also finishing a research project, finishing her one of the last semesters of her undergraduate career and ensuring that WSS was a functional and successful chapter. Despite this crazy workload, Taylor managed to do the impossible and succeed in all four. She stayed organized by using two organization systems: a paper planner and Google Calendar. She also found endless support and inspiration from her science sisters in WSS, especially her Vice President Alyssa Gomez. WSS also assisted Taylor through her application process because she was able to talk to other women who had written and received grants. She could also boost her application by mentioning that she has succeeded in founding a chapter of an organization on campus that united minorities in STEM, which is an extremely impressive and valuable accomplishment to employers.
Once she had reached the finish line and submitted her applications, Taylor found that the best way to cope with waiting for responses was to just forget about it. She had a long wait ahead of her, as she submitted in October and was told that she would hear back anytime between March and June. She filled her time with her many other passions and responsibilities and made sure to take the time to talk out how she was feeling with those who she knew would support her and lift her spirits. She found that upon telling many people that she was applying, they would be surprised and doubtful of her ability to get accepted, but she advises all women who apply to “forget about those people” and “ignore the imposter syndrome.” Don’t give your time to those who don’t believe in you, instead focus on the ones who will support you in whatever your endeavors may be.
When Taylor received news that her grant was accepted, she was actually working on a research project working with kangaroo rats in the Mojave desert. While in the desert, she didn’t have any signal so she got the email when they went into town. She immediately called her grandmother, who had applied for a Fulbright grant in her youth but had been rejected, to share the good news. But then, it was back off into the desert. Although she said it was a strange experience to get such big news and then leave cell signal far behind, it allowed her to really value the moment and the accomplishment that she had just achieved.
Even though applying for a Fulbright grant is an extremely competitive process, Taylor believes that everyone who is interested should apply. She thought that her chances of getting accepted were slim as she had no experience working in the arctic, but she started the application process early and got as much feedback as she could, and look where she is now. As she said, “you truly don’t know what might happen or what you might be able to accomplish unless you throw your hat in the ring,” and know there will always be women in STEM to support your on your journey.
Taylor is proof that it is always worth trying, from successfully starting a WSS chapter to receiving a Fulbright grant, she has put herself out there and come back smarter and stronger for it every time. Hopefully that inspires you, her fellow WSS members across the states, to take on new challenges and try new things even if you don’t think you have the best chance of succeeding. You don’t need to worry about having a strong enough support system, because your science sisters will always have your back.