Hertz Fellowship Acceptance Rate

The Hertz Graduate Fellowship Awarded is based on merit (not need) and consists of a cost-based education allowance and a personal-support stipend. The cost-of-education allowance is accepted by all of the participating schools in lieu of all fees and tuition. Hertz Fellows therefore have no liability for any ordinary educational costs, regardless of their choice among participating schools.

Successful applicants have the choice of two Fellowship options:

Other Fellowship Period (Up to Three Years)

The Five-Year Hertz Fellowship award (Option 1) is renewable annually (upon a showing of satisfactory progress toward receipt of the Ph.D. degree) for a total Fellowship tenure of no more than five years. Fellows with dependant children receive an additional $5,000/year stipend.

Fellows must attend one of the Foundations currently participating schools, or must petition the Foundation to include a school in the United States that he/she desires to attend. Eligible applicants for Hertz Fellowships must be students of the applied physical, biological and engineering sciences or mathematics who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States of America, and who are willing to morally commit to make their skills available to the United States in time of national emergency. College seniors wishing to pursue the PhD degree in any of the fields of particular interest to the Foundation, as well as graduate students already in the process of doing so, may apply. We generally do not award fellowships to students who are already beyond their first year of graduate study except in cases of “exceptional leverage.” Such awards are very rare—only three have been made in the past 10 years.

We screen Fellowship applicants for qualities the Foundation believes are essential ingredients of future professional accomplishment and/or reasonably reliable leading indicators of future professional success. These include:

Exceptional Intelligence and Creativity with particular emphasis on those aspects pertinent to technical endeavors.

Excellent Technical Education evidenced not only by transcripts and reference reports from senior technical professionals, but also by the results of a personal, technical interview.

Orientation and Commitment to the applications of the physical sciences as is typical of most applicants.

Extraordinary Accomplishment in technical or related professional studies which may offset slightly lower academic records, or add luster to outstanding ones.

Features of Temperament and Character conducive to high attainment as a technical professional the assessment of which is difficult, albeit important to the Foundation.

Appropriate moral and ethical values of considerable interest to the Foundation in the furthering of our basic goals.

Leverage what difference the award of the Hertz Fellowship is likely to make in the kind, quality, and/or personal creativity of the students graduate research.

We do not support students pursuing advanced professional degrees other than the PhD, such as enrollees in MD, LLD or MBA programs, although we will support the PhD portion of a joint MD/PhD study program.

Hertz Fellowship Commitment

Should an applicant be offered a Graduate Fellowship by the Hertz Foundation, she or he must formally accept it before commencing its tenure. This acceptance includes a statement that the Fellow makes a moral commitment to make his or her “skills available to the United States in times of national emergency.”

What does this mean, and why does the Foundation require it?

John Hertz felt he owed the United States more than he could repay for the opportunities he had been given when he arrived here as a very young immigrant, fleeing ongoing oppression in central Europe. Thus it is not surprising that he wanted any young person who was going to be supported by his wealth through the course of their graduate education to deliberately answer, on at least one occasion, the question “What do I owe my country?” Hence, the statement on the Foundations Fellowship acceptance form. Please note that this is not a legal or contractual obligation, but rather a freely given moral commitment. No one from the Foundation has ever approached a present or former Fellow and told him or her that the United States faces a national emergency and she or he is obligated to address it. No one ever will. The Foundation believes that each individual Fellow must decide for him/herself, at any point in time, whether the country faces a truly serious problem and, if so, whether he or she is capable of employing the technical skills they possess to help address it. The Foundation offers no definition of what constitutes a “national emergency”—these are reasonably well-recognized only in distant hindsight—but one might consider as examples the following historical events in which scientists and engineers have played a major role:

In the future, we might reasonably expect our nation to face emergencies in:

In every case, the Foundation believes that it is up to the individual Fellow to determine for herself or himself whether a serious problem exists and whether or not she or he can help. We believe that any Hertz Fellow answering the Hertz Question in the affirmative in any of these respects has a clear moral obligation to go to work accordingly.

hertz fellowship acceptance rate

Competitiveness. For the 2017-2018 academic year, nearly 800 applicants applied for 10 spots, giving it an acceptance rate of 1.5%, or about a quarter of that of top undergraduate institutions.

2021 Hertz Fellowship Finalists

Finalists are listed with their field of study and most recent university affiliation.

Gita Chu Abhiraman Stanford University Biophysics, Immunology

Anshul Adve University of California, Los Angeles Mathematics

Anna Victoria Alvarez University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Mechanical Engineering

Rahul Arun California Institute of Technology Aeronautics/Astronautics

Thiago Ross-White Bergamaschi Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science

Akhilan Boopathy Massachusetts Institute of Technology Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Nina Mary Brown Harvey Mudd College Physics

Steven Cao University of California, Berkeley Computer Science and Engineering

Milena Sri Chakraverti-Wuerthwein Princeton University Biophysical Sciences

Kartik Chandra Stanford University Computer Science

Michael Zhu Chen University of Oxford Quantitative Biology and Bioengineering

John Joseph Cherian Stanford University Statistics

Trinity Cookis University of California, Berkeley Quantitative Biology and Bioengineering

Jared Quincy Davis Stanford University Computer Science

Peter Carl DeWeirdt Hamilton College Quantitative Biology

Charles Alexander Dove University of California, Berkeley Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Jacob Florian University of Michigan Engineering

Emily Claire Geyman Princeton University Earth and Geological Sciences

John Elliott Heath California Institute of Technology Quantitative Biology and Bioengineering

Jonah Herzog-Arbeitman Cambridge University Physics

Alexander Yi-Kai Hwang Stanford University Applied Physics

Joyce Blossom Kang Harvard University Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics

Nathanael Parker Kazmierczak California Institute of Technology Chemistry

Elizabeth Ann King University of California, Berkeley Chemistry

Rohith Chandra Kuditipudi Stanford University Computer Science and Engineering

John Tianci Li Rice University Nanotechnology, Materials Science, Materials Chemistry, Materials Physics

Allen Xu Liu Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science

Daniel Dan Liu Stanford University Biology, Bioinformatics

Alec Lourenco California Institute of Technology Quantitative Biology and Bioengineering

Arjun Srikanth Mani Princeton University Computer Science and Engineering

Alex Miller Massachusetts Institute of Technology Physics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Seunghyun Park Seoul National University Physics

Isabelle Phinney Harvard University Chemical Physics

Richard Sherwood Randall Stanford University Mechanical Engineering

Pavithran T. Ravindran Princeton University Quantitative Biology and Bioengineering

Leah Tang Roe University of California, Berkeley Chemistry

Rahul Sahay University of California, Berkeley Physics

Joshua Samba Rice University Chemical Engineering

Alexis Morgan Schneider Massachusetts Institute of Technology Immunology

Aaditya K. Singh Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science

Samuel Aaron Solomon California Institute of Technology Medical Engineering

Mayuri Sridhar Massachusetts Institute of Technology Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Farita Tasnim Massachusetts Institute of Technology Physics

Katherine Ann Van Kirk Harvard University Physics

Karl Speas Westendorff University of Virginia Engineering

Turner Woody Johns Hopkins University Astrophysics

Olivia Zhou Stanford University Biophysics

Alexander Zlokapa California Institute of Technology Physics

What’s the Matter with Hertz Foundation?

Imagine you have plenty of money and dozens of volunteers. You decide to award one or two fellowships a year to the best of the best of the best in math sciences. Easy, right? Then how do you repeatedly fail at this, without anyone notice? Let me tell you how. It’s an interesting story, so bear with me.

A small warning. Although it may seem I am criticizing Hertz Foundation, my intention is to show its weakness so it can improve.

Yesterday I wrote a recommendation letter to the Hertz Foundation. Although a Fellow myself, I never particularly cared for the foundation, mostly because it changed so little in my life (I received it only for two out of five years of eligibility). But I became rather curious as to what usually happens to Hertz Fellows. I compiled the data, and found the results quite disheartening. While perhaps excellent in other fields, I came to believe that Hertz does barely a mediocre job awarding fellowships in mathematics. And now that I think about it, this was all completely predictable.

First, a bit of history. John Hertz was the Yellow Cab founder and car rental entrepreneur (thus the namesake company), and he left a lot of money dedicated for education in “applied physical sciences”, now understood to include applied mathematics. What exactly is “applied mathematics” is rather contentious, so the foundation wisely decided that “it is up to each fellowship applicant to advocate to us his or her specific field of interest as an ‘applied physical science’.”

In practice, according to the website, about 600 applicants in all areas of science and engineering apply for a fellowship. Applications are allowed only either in the senior year of college or 1st year of grad school. The fellowships are generous and include both the stipend and the tuition; between 15 and 20 students are awarded every year. Only US citizen and permanent residents are eligible, and the fellowship can be used only in one of the 47 “tenable schools” (more on this below). The Foundation sorts the applications, and volunteers interview some of them in the first round. In the second round, pretty much only one person interviews all that advanced, and the decision is made. Historically, only one or two fellowships in mathematical sciences are awarded each year (this includes pure math, applied math, and occasionally theoretical CS or statistics).

The Hertz Foundation website has a data on all past fellows. I compiled the data in Hertz-list which spanned 40 years (1971-2010), listed by the year the fellowship ended, which usually but not always coincided with graduation. There were 67 awardees in mathematics, which makes it about 1.7 fellowships a year. The Foundation states that it awarded “over 1000 fellowships” so I guess about 5-6% went into maths (perhaps, fewer in recent years). Here is who gets them.

1) Which schools are awarded? Well, only 44 US graduate programs are allowed to administer the fellowships. The reasons (other than logistical) are unclear to me. Of those programs that are “in”, you have University of Rochester (which nearly lost its graduate program), and UC Santa Cruz (where rumors say a similar move had been considered). Those which are “out” include graduate programs at Brown, UPenn, Rutgers, UNC Chapel Hill, etc. The real distribution is much more skewed, of course. Here is a complete list of awards per institution:

MIT – 14 Harvard, Princeton – 8 Caltech, NYU – 7 Berkeley, Stanford – 5 UCLA – 3 CMU, Cornell, U Chicago – 2 GA Tech, JHU, RPI, Rice – 1

In summary, only 15 universities had at least one award (34%), and just 7 universities were awarded 54 fellowships (i.e. 16% of universities received 81% of all fellowships). There is nothing wrong with this per se, just a variation on the 80-20 rule you might argue. But wait! Hertz Foundation is a non-profit institution and the fellowship itself comes with a “moral commitment“. Even if you need to interfere with “free marketplace” of acceptance decisions (see P.S. below), wouldn’t it be in the spirit of John Hertz’s original goal, to make a special effort to distribute the awards more widely? For example, Simons Foundation is not shy about awarding fellowship to institutions many of which are not even on Hertz’s list.

2) Where are they now? After two hours of googling, I located almost all former fellows and determined their current affiliations (see the Hertz-list). I found that of the 67 fellows:

University mathematicians – 27 (40%) Of these, work at Hertz eligible universities – 14, or about 21% of the total (excluding 3 overseas) At least 10 who did not receive a Ph.D. – 15% At least 13 are in non-academic research – 19% (probably more) At least 8 in Software Development and Finance – 12% (probably more)

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with directing corporate research, writing software, selling derivatives, designing museum exhibits, and even playing symphony orchestra or heading real estate company, as some of the awardees do now. Many of these are highly desirable vocations. But really, was this what Hertz had in mind when dedicating the money? In the foundation’s language, “benefit us all” they don’t.

I should mention that the list of Hertz Fellows in Mathematics does include a number of great academic success stories, but that’s not actually surprising. Every US cohort has dozens of excellent mathematicians. But the 60% drop out rate from academia is very unfortunate, only 21% working in “tenable universities” is dismaying, and the 15% drop out rate from graduate programs is simply miserable. Couldn’t they have done better?

Every year, US universities award over 1,600 Ph.D.’s in mathematical sciences, of which over a half go to US citizen (more if you include permanent residents, but stats is not easily available). So they are choosing 1.7 out of over 800 eligible students. Ok, because of their “tenable schools” restriction this is probably more like 300-400. Therefore, less than half of one percent of potential applicants are awarded! For comparison, Harvard college acceptance rate is 10 times that.

Let me repeat: in mathematics, Hertz fellows drop out from their Ph.D. programs at a rate of 15%. If you look into the raw 2006 NRC data for graduation rates, you will see that many of the top universities have over 90% graduation rate in the math programs (say, Harvard has over 91%). Does that mean that Harvard on average does a better job selecting 10-15 grad students every year, while Hertz can’t choose one?

Yes, I think it does. And the gap is further considering that Hertz has virtually no competition (NSF Fellowships are less generous in every respect). You see, people at Harvard (or Princeton, MIT, UCLA, etc.) who read graduate applications, know what they are doing. They are professionals who are looking for the most talented mathematicians from a large pool of applicants. They know which letters need to be taken seriously, and which with a grain of salt. They know which undergraduate research experience is solid and which is worthless. They just know how things are done.

Now, a vast majority of Hertz interviewers are themselves former fellows, and thus about 95% of them have no idea about the mathematics research (they just assume it’s no different from the research they are accustomed to). Nor does the one final interviewer, who is an applied physicist. As a result, they are to some extend, flipping coins and rolling dies, in hope things will work out. You can’t really blame them – they simply don’t know how to choose. I still remember my own two interviews. Both interviewers were nice, professional, highly experienced and well intentioned, but looking back I can see that neither had much experience with mathematical research.

You can also see this lack of understanding of mathematics culture is creeping up in other activities of the foundation, such as the thesis prize award (where are mathematicians?), etc. Of course a private foundation can award anyone it pleases, but it seems to me it would do much more good if only some special care is applied.

There is of course, a radical way to change the review of mathematics applicants – subcontract it to the AMS (or IMA, MSRI, IPAM – all have the required infrastructure). For a modest fee, the AMS will organize a panel of mathematicians who will review and rank the applicants without interviewing them. The panel will be taking into consideration only students’ research potential, not the university prestige, etc. The Hertz people can then interview the top ranked and make a decision at the last stage, but the first round will be by far superior to current methods. Even the NSA trusts AMS, so shouldn’t you?

Hertz might even save some money it currently spends on travel and lodging reimbursements. The 13% operating budget is about average, but there is some room for improvement. Subcontracting will probably lead to an increase in applications, as AMS really knows how to advertise to its members (I bet you currently receive only about 40 mathematics applications, out of a potential 400+ pool). To summarize: really, Hertz Foundation, think about doing that!

P.S. It is not surprising that the 7 top universities get a large number of the fellowships. One might be tempted to assume that clueless interviewers are perhaps somewhat biased towards famous school names in the hope that these schools already made a good decision accepting these applicants, but this is not the whole story. The described bias can only work for the 1st year grad applicants, but for undergraduate applicants a different process seems to hold. Once a graduate school learns that an applicant received Hertz Fellowship (or NSF for that matter), it has every incentive to accept the student, as the tuition and the stipend are paid by the outside sources now.

P.P.S. Of course, mathematicians’ review can also fail. Even the super prestigious AIM Fellowship has at least one recipient who left academia for bigger and better things.

UPDATE (April 15, 2019). Over the years since this blog post, I have been contacted by people from the Hertz Foundation board. I have also followed up on the story and the recent fellowship recipients. I am happy to say that the foundation implemented various important changes vis-à-vis math interviews, to the visible effect. At the moment, the numbers are too small to report statistics and the changes I know are not a public information. I concluded that my criticism no longer applies, a happy ending to the story. I encourage now everyone to support the foundation financially as well as recommend your best students to apply.

The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation

Application opens: August 2019

Application closes: October 2019

  • Full tuition equivalent for up to 5 years
  • $34,000 per academic year stipend for the student
  • Additional stipend if coordinated with other major fellowships, like NSF
  • $5,000 annual dependent childcare stipend
  • National/International Fellowships & Scholarships

    What does this mean, and why does the Foundation require it?

    Extraordinary Accomplishment in technical or related professional studies which may offset slightly lower academic records, or add luster to outstanding ones.

    Should an applicant be offered a Graduate Fellowship by the Hertz Foundation, she or he must formally accept it before commencing its tenure. This acceptance includes a statement that the Fellow makes a moral commitment to make his or her “skills available to the United States in times of national emergency.”

    In every case, the Foundation believes that it is up to the individual Fellow to determine for herself or himself whether a serious problem exists and whether or not she or he can help. We believe that any Hertz Fellow answering the Hertz Question in the affirmative in any of these respects has a clear moral obligation to go to work accordingly.

    Extraordinary Accomplishment in technical or related professional studies which may offset slightly lower academic records, or add luster to outstanding ones.

    Related Posts

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *