Carnegie Mellon University
May 18, 2018

Senior Josh Brakensiek Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to Fund His Studies at Stanford

By Emily Payne

Jocelyn Duffy

Soon-to-be graduate Joshua Brakensiek received a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recruits high-potential, early-career scientists and engineers and supports their graduate research training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Following a national competition, Brakensiek was one of 2,000 awardees, selected from 12,000 applicants. The fellowship will help fund his graduate studies at Stanford University as he pursues his Ph.D. in theoretical computer science.

“I chose Stanford because I want to complement my experience at CMU with a new environment for my Ph.D. CMU has given me a very strong foundation in math and computer science, and I am excited to grow even more at Stanford,” Brakensiek said.

Brakensiek, a mathematical sciences major, came to Carnegie Mellon University as part of its Knaster-McWilliams Scholars program, which is one of only a few scholarship-supported programs in the United States that pairs an honors program with increased access to faculty and early research opportunities. As part of the program, Brakensiek spent his undergraduate career immersed in research across numerous fields, including computer science, statistics and cosmology.

Early on, Brakensiek developed an interest in theoretical computer science, which seamlessly connects his interests in mathematics and computer science. He worked closely with Professor of Computer Science Venkatesan Guruswami over the last four years on several projects in coding theory, computational complexity theory, including new results in constraint satisfaction, and approximation algorithms. 

His work has resulted in several publications, manuscripts and presentations at major mathematics and computer science conferences and symposia, including the Symposium on Discrete Algorithms, APPROX and RANDOM. This summer Brakensiek will attend the Dagstuhl seminar, The Constraint Satisfaction Problem: Complexity and Approximability, in Germany, partially funded by his Computing Research Association’s Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award.

He is also a Goldwater Scholar, a two-time Gold Medalist in the International Olympiad in Informatics, and a Putnam Fellow and a member of the Carnegie Mellon Putnam Team that placed first in 2016.

Brakensiek will graduate from Carnegie Mellon this weekend with a joint bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematical sciences through the Department of Mathematical Sciences’ Honors Program. In the fall, Brakensiek will begin his studies at Stanford. For the first year, he will work with different faculty members on short-term projects, exploring topics similar to and different than his current area of research before settling on a permanent thesis advisor. His goal is to enter into a research career in academia or industry following his doctoral studies.

MCS alumnus Alex Gurvich, who is currently a graduate student in astronomy at Northwestern University, also received a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship this year. Two MCS alumni, Isaac Shamie and Michelle Moon, and MCS senior Katie Hanson received honorable mentions. 

About GRFP
GRFP is a critical program in NSF's overall strategy to develop a globally engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation's leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation. Former NSF fellows make transformative breakthroughs in STEM, are leaders in their chosen careers, and have been honored as Nobel laureates. A hallmark of GRFP is its contribution to increasing the diversity of the STEM workforce, including geographic distribution, as well as the participation of women, underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities and veterans.

GRFP provides three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period — $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution. That support is for graduate study that leads to a research-based master's or doctoral degree in a STEM field.