Orange Alert

Prestigious Grant Supports Ph.D. Student’s Whale Research

Biology graduate student Julia Zeh receives highly competitive National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship

Oct. 9, 2019, by Diana Napolitano

Julia Zeh
Julia Zeh

Julia Zeh is a Ph.D. student in the Bioacoustics and Behavioral Ecology Lab under biology Associate Professor Susan Parks, working on a project that ultimately will contribute to the conservation of endangered whales.

Her interest in ecology and animal behavior led her to this research. And now a special fellowship is helping her pursue it.

Zeh was recently awarded a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) fellowship. This fellowship is awarded to students intending to pursue a doctoral degree in one of 15 disciplines. (Find a list of disciplines here.) Since its inception in 1989, NDSEG has awarded only 3,600 fellowships from more than 58,000 applicants. NDSEG Fellowships last for three years, covering full tuition and all mandatory fees. They also provide a $3,200 monthly stipend and some medical insurance.

Zeh’s doctoral research involves developing methodologies to better determine the number of whales in an area. Where whale counts were previously estimated based on visual sightings, she is part of a team that is analyzing whale sounds instead. With this more accurate understanding of whale population size, scientists and conservationists can implement more effective measures protecting these whales and their marine ecosystem.

“We record the calls using underwater microphones and suction-cup acoustic recording tags, and then we analyze them back in the lab using specialized computer programs,” Zeh says. “I chose to study acoustic communication in animals because of the interdisciplinary nature of the field. I get to combine biology, physics, computer science and statistics for my research. For example, we are using statistical methods to determine how many individual whales are in an area, based on the number and types of calls recorded.”

“It’s really exciting to have my work recognized like this,” Zeh says. “This fellowship gives me the opportunity to fully focus on my research, while also connecting me with a wider community of fellows and professional mentors.”

“Julia is deserving of this honor,” says Parks. “Her research blends her strengths in biology and mathematics to help advance solutions to real-world marine wildlife conservation challenges.”

The NDSEG is open to senior undergraduates and first-year graduate students in designated areas of study seeking to complete their doctoral degrees.

Applications are due in early December.


To learn more about the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) fellowship, visit

For more information on the NDSEG and other fellowship opportunities, contact the Syracuse University Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising:



Susan E. Parks Professor

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Professor Susan Parks