Gene Katsevich ’14 is one of 15 students nationwide to be awarded a Hertz Fellowship this year. Katsevich, a math concentrator, will use the fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in statistics at Stanford University.
According to its website, the Hertz Fellowship is awarded to “exceptionally talented individuals studying in the applied physical, biological, and engineering sciences.”
Katsevich said he found out he was chosen as a fellow in Firestone Library at the end of March. He then proceeded to call his relatives in the US and in Russia.
“I was going to work on my thesis, and when I sat down at my computer, I saw the email, and when I saw it, I was in complete shock and disbelief,” he said, adding that “The money is one thing, but what is more exciting is the prestige. I can’t believe that only 15 people get this fellowship, and I got it.”
Katsevich said that he chose to pursue a Ph.D. in statistics because he would like to learn more about machine learning and its various applications, including natural language processing and analysis of genomic data.
Nearly 800 students applied this year for the Hertz Fellowship, and only 150 were selected to move on to a first-round interview. 50 finalists were then chosen from these applicants to move on to the second-round interview.
The interview process, which tests the applicant’s knowledge of broad scientific principles, is a defining feature of the Hertz Foundation’s program.
“Universally, everyone thinks that they failed,” Katsevich said. “I definitely felt like I failed both of my interviews.”
Katsevich has been conducting research over the past two years on the heterogeneity problem with math professor Amit Singer. The heterogeneity problem deals with combining the 2D images of a molecule back into a 3D structure and determining whether the molecule can exist in different structural states. Katsevich and Singer have come up with a solution to reconstruct all the variations of a molecule and are currently working on a revision of their paper to submit to the SIAM Journal on Imaging Sciences.
“He’s a wonderful kid. He’s very motivated and dedicated,” Singer said. “”He’s very organized and ambitious in trying to get everything to work. I don’t need to sit with him all day, explaining things to him.”
Singer said that he was very happy for Katsevich when he heard the news.
“From my experience with working with other students in Princeton, Gene strikes me as a student who has extremely high potential to become a researcher in applied mathematics,” Singer added.
Mathematics professor Elias Stein, who taught Katsevich in Fourier analysis and complex analysis, said that he thinks Katsevich will go far.
“He has great aptitude and great initiative, so I’m sure he’s going to go on to do great things,” Stein said.
In addition to the research he has conducted with Singer, Katsevich conducted research under his father's supervision the summer after his freshman year. He worked in computed tomography and published a paper in the journal Inverse Problems in 2012.
Katsevich, who is from Oviedo, Fla., served on campus as the social chair of the Brown Co-op and the academic chair of the Math Club. As chair, he helped create an online guide for math majors. He also served as the head problem writer for the University's math competition.
He was elected early to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society in 2013. He received the Goldwater Scholarship in 2012, and was awarded the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence in both 2011 and 2012.