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UNC undergraduate Elijah Watson reflects on his recent NSF GRFP award and how his time in Galapagos led him to where he is today:

I first became interested in water insecurity when I studied abroad in Cape Town during the height of the 2017 water crisis. After spending the summer in Galapagos last year, I returned to South Africa for two months supported by a UNC Frances L. Phillips Travel Scholarship. For my NSF GRFP application, I proposed studying how water insecurity impacts infant feeding in South Africa, both directly (e.g. traveling long distances to fetch water may reduce ability to breastfeed on demand) and indirectly (e.g. by interacting with co-existing stressors of food insecurity, illness, or mental distress).

I was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support my PhD in Anthropology at Northwestern University. The fellowship will support my first three years of coursework in medical anthropology, human biology, and public health. At Northwestern, I will be working with Dr. Sera Young’s research group, which focuses on water insecurity and global maternal and child nutrition.

My work in Galapagos focused on the role that food and water plays in shaping both over- and under-nutrition on the islands. In graduate school, I am interested in continuing to study the pathways by which food and water security “get under the skin” to impact human health.


My time in Galapagos taught me the value of multidisciplinary team-based research. Our research team consisted of faculty and students with backgrounds in nutrition, environmental science, biostatistics and anthropology. Our complementary backgrounds uniquely positioned us to examine issues related to food and water insecurity. Anthropologists, at least historically, have a tendency to work as solitary researchers. However, addressing global health issues requires perspectives and expertise from across the disciplines.

My experience conducting fieldwork in Galapagos last summer solidified my desire to pursue a career in research. I’m very grateful to my undergraduate advisor, Dr. Amanda Thompson, for the mentorship she provides and for her willingness to invest in growing undergraduate researchers. Her support, along with that of Dr. Peggy Bentley and graduate students Hannah Jahnke and Khristopher Nicholas, made applying to graduate school and fellowships much less daunting.

Elijah and his interdisciplinary research team collect water samples on Isabela Island in the summer of 2019



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