Reading the Terrain

NSF Graduate Research Fellow first surveyed the landscape before finding bedrock.

Amrit Bal sits in the Memorial Union lounge area at MU.
Amrit Bal, who begins a graduate degree program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall, hopes to one day work as a seismologist for the U.S. Air Force Technical Applications Center. Photo by Michael Cali

Amrit Bal’s eclectic curiosity has served her well. As an undergraduate majoring in physics, she researched seismic activity in the Pacific Northwest, interned at Missouri State Representative Kip Kendrick’s office and even took the practice LSAT during a period when she was considering law school.

Now, as one of Mizzou’s four National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellows, Bal heads confidently to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this August where she will study seismology.

“I decided to explore my interests, and it’s a lot easier to change direction at a big public institution like Mizzou,” Bal says. “I don’t believe in the trope that you should just ‘pursue your passion.’ How many 18-year-olds know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives?”

Bal, the daughter of an orthopedic surgeon and an anesthesiologist, grew up in Columbia and attended boarding school in North Carolina. She returned to Missouri with a Bright Flight Scholarship and a Mizzou Excellence Award, and immediately jumped into undergraduate research opportunities.

She worked with professors Noel Bartlow and Eric Sandvol, both in the Department of Geological Sciences, and spent a summer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California–San Diego studying computational geodynamics. She also tutored middle and high school students through Columbia Public Schools and the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, and served as president of the Mizzou Physics Club.

“I realized my interests in geoscience were concentrated in the field of seismology,” Bal says. “While in graduate school, my commitment to public service will continue by participating in local science fairs and outreach to K-12 students on earth science.”

The NSF Graduate Research Fellows Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, mathematics and social science disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. The other Mizzou NSF Graduate Research Fellows are Ashley Aguillard (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), biochemistry; Michael Dotzel (Chesterfield, Missouri), math and physics; and Sarah Gebken (Florissant, Missouri), bioengineering.

“Mizzou is a school that is going to give you the resources going forward,” says Bal, who credits Tim Parshall in the MU Fellowships Office for advising and encouraging her throughout the NSF application process. “You don’t have to be perfect coming in.”