Hertz Fellow Anna Bershteyn was named recipient of the 2023 Raymond Sidney Volunteer Leadership Award, in honor of her personal contributions to the Hertz Community—from Interviewer and Thesis Reviewer to Community Rep and Summer Workshop Committee member.
Most recently, Bershteyn was named Co-chair of the Selection Committee, joining Co-chair and Senior Fellowship Interviewer Philip Welkhoff.
In a conversation with Director of Community Anne Kornahrens Ward, Bershteyn talked about what drives her deep commitment to the Hertz Community.
Q. WARD: Thank you for your many contributions to the Hertz Community, and congratulations on your recent award. What inspires you to volunteer so much of your valuable time and energy?
A. BERSHTEYN: The Hertz Fellowship has had a huge impact on my career and brought brilliant, wonderful people into my life. Most fellows would say the same. It’s a privilege to have a small part in making that possible.
Q. WARD: What makes the Hertz Fellowship selection process different? What are you looking for, and how do you know you’ve found it?
A. BERSHTEYN: In selection, we ask people what they see as the next frontiers of different scientific fields and how they will change what’s possible. We challenge people with problems they haven’t seen before, not to see if they get them right, but to get a sense for how they think. If young scientists have a solid foundational understanding across STEM, or in some area of STEM, they can build off that foundation in many different directions, and they can change directions and build off the innovations made by others. We look for people who can do that in ways that will have a major impact.
Q. WARD: What aspects of the Hertz Fellowship selection process do you find most challenging, and most rewarding?
A. BERSHTEYN: Interviewing is joyful. What could be better than getting to pick the brains of brilliant young scientists? Some are working in fields that barely existed when I was at their career stage, mentored by some of the world’s leading investigators, or looking to pursue science so innovative there aren’t senior investigators doing it yet. Others are still deciding their path and have this amazing “bird’s eye view” across fields they’re considering. As far as challenges, making selection decisions at the end of the day is difficult. But when I learn something profound from an interview, which often I do, that is a good sign.
Q. WARD: How are you working to mitigate bias in the Hertz Fellowship selection process, and why is that important?
A. BERSHTEYN: As someone who helps train and mentor interviewers, I encourage focusing on each applicant’s trajectory—not just their performance but the first derivative of their performance, and what they’ve done to get where they are. Understanding the headwinds people had to overcome is important in thinking about the impact they will have later in their career, and how being a part of the Hertz Community could enable that. Bias against minoritized groups is prevalent in STEM, and it can be insidiously unconscious, so those of us in decision-making roles have to educate ourselves and consciously counter bias.
Q. WARD: What is your vision for the next generation of fellows, and how will we get there?
A. BERSHTEYN: The Hertz Foundation asks fellows to commit to stepping up in times of crisis in service to our country. Most read that broadly as service to humankind. Subsequent generations of fellows have their work cut out for them. I think leaders increasingly will tap Hertz Fellows as a pre-vetted pool of scientific talent for innovating around big problems.