In January 2023 we sat down with Isabel Wilson, a senior majoring in international studies, who was recently selected for a 2022-2023 Mary Gates Research Scholarship, to talk about what inspired her to take a deep dive into the field of cybersecurity and plans for the future.
Mary Gates Research Scholarships are competitive scholarships intended to enhance the educational experiences of undergraduate students at the University of Washington while they are engaged in research guided by faculty. Wilson received the award for Winter and Spring 2023, which comes with $5,000.
Name: Isabel Wilson
Major/Minors: International Studies major, Human Rights and Spanish minors
Year expected to graduate: Spring 2023
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Jackson School of International Studies: How did you choose UW?
Isabel Wilson: I grew up in Seattle. UW was close and I knew it was a good school. I really liked that there was an academic spirit at the UW, that it was an in-state school and the best in-state school. I liked the sense of the academics here that I didn’t feel at other schools that I was accepted at.
Jackson School: How did you decide to major in International Studies?
I.W.: I knew I wanted to do international studies and international relations in high school because of two Spanish teachers who got me interested in travelling and finding a place in the world. I knew I wanted to do international studies after my first year at the UW.
Jackson School: Your reaction to receiving the award?
I.W.: Really exciting! I was at home on my couch with one of my roommates and received the email. It was a good moment. I called my mother right away and she was very excited.
Jackson School: Tell us how you will apply the award to further your research.
I.W.: I do research with Jackson School faculty Jessica Beyer and a group of graduate students and another undergrad. We examine how state actors communicate health behaviors over Covid-19, looking at a large pool of Tweets from Twitter, such as those asking people to stay at home or wear masks. The Mary Gates award frees me up to do more research with less burden of having to work to pay tuition and rent. It gives me more time to do “coding,” or categorizing for these health behaviors, which must be done by hand for context.
Jackson School: How does the award impact your goals and career path?
I.W.: The research I’m doing is related to data policy and the importance of policy related to the digital world. I have not really studied this in my courses as I focus on Latin America, so doing this research builds my resume in this new, upcoming policy area. Receiving the award demonstrates that I have experience outside a classroom.
Jackson School: What inspired you to enter the field of cybersecurity?
I.W.: I had never considered digital policy as an option for me. Then I received an email from the Jackson School Career Services Director Alice Kim that a faculty was looking for a student research assistant. I had just finished an internship at the World Affairs Council Global Classroom in downtown Seattle and was looking for something new. I thought it couldn’t hurt to respond to the opportunity, and I received the position with Dr. Beyer. Ever since, I’m really grateful because she also emails me opportunities and gets me involved in the digital policy area. I took a chance and am really grateful it happened! Doing research with her afforded me the ability to receive a yearlong National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates Fellowship, giving me the opportunity to connect with other academic institutions working on the grant, like Louisiana State University.
Jackson School: As a senior, what key job skills have you learned at the Jackson School?
I.W.: I think one of the big ones is flexibility, especially with digital policy where I didn’t have experience, joining a new team where you are not totally sure what you are doing and being able to learn and adapt as necessary. Also writing skills are super important, and you write so many essays at the Jackson School. They don’t feel so important while you’re writing them, but in retrospect I think it’s helped me improve a lot.
Jackson School: What advice do you have for prospective Jackson School students?
I.W.: Join one RSO (Registered Student Organization) or club or job, start it early in first or second year, and commit to it. I think it’s fun to do lots of different things, but you get spread thin. It’s better to join one thing and then being able to focus on it.