Saturday, January 25, 2014

Undergraduate Funding Opportunities

Scientist using a glovebox. (Source)
Are you an undergraduate student who loves science? Have you ever wondered what scientists DO all day in a lab? Are they constantly at the lab bench performing experiments with different colored liquids as any Google search for "scientist" would have you believe? Are you interested in understanding how the biological world works or how the process of creating a new drug begins? If so, I'm here to tell you about several opportunities that will PAY YOU to do research over the summer.

First, here are a few terms to be familiar with as you venture into applying for a research position. If you're an old hand at this and know all the terms, or if you're just impatient, you can skip down to the funding list.

REU: Research Experience for Undergraduates. This is the common catch-all term for programs that pay undergraduates to do research. Programs are usually provided over the summer.

PI: Principal Investigator. This is the head boss person of the lab. The PI usually does not work at the lab bench but instead writes grants for funding, manages lab personnel,

Fellowship: When you apply for a summer research position it is usually called a fellowship. It's not a scholarship because it doesn't pay for school fees, it pays you directly (woo-hoo! money!). But it's not exactly a job either because it's temporary. They're usually merit-based (IE based on your awesomeness) and end up under a heading like "Honors and Awards" or something on your résumé or CV (curriculum vitae, it's what we use in science instead of a résumé).

Fellow: That's you if you get a position in a lab. Fun, right? It feels more official than "student working in a lab" because, well, it is. You're PART of the lab while you're there and that's pretty cool.

Graduate student: A graduate student is someone working on either a Masters (2-3 yrs) or PhD (4-8 yrs) degree. They will likely be your go-to person in the lab when you have questions. Be nice to them and respect their time because they usually work a lot of hours and really want to graduate soon which is dependent on how their research is going. Oh, their mood is usually dependent on how their research is going as well.

Post-doc: A post-doc is a person and a position. For many graduate students, the next step after receiving their PhD is to take a postdoctoral fellowship position in another lab where they are then called a post-doc. It's weird, I know. Post-docs are temporary positions generally of 1-6 years where the scientist can continue to develop their awesome scientist skillz. Post-docs sometimes help supervise students so they may be your go-to person instead of, or in addition to, the graduate students.

Lab manager: If the lab you work in has a lab manager and they may be your go-to person instead of the graduate students or post-docs. Lab managers keep labs running smoothly by ordering supplies when things run low, doing experiments, and maybe wrangling undergraduates. ;-)


On to the fellowships!!

American Physiological Society (APS)
The American Physiological Society has five programs for funding summer undergraduate research. Each program is focused on a different set of applicants and their website provides fantastic easy-to-understand tables of the guidelines so you can choose the program which best fits YOU. Each program also provides a travel award to a national conference, Experimental Biology or the STEP-UP symposium, in order to present your summer research. Applications are due very soon, most by February 1.

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) 
ASBMB does not have a program to fund student stipends for summer research; however, they do have a program to help with supplies for undergraduate research (scroll down to the bottom of that page). The funding is open to students who are part of an ASBMB Undergraduate Affiliate Network (UAN) group. The deadline for applications is May 18.

The ASBMB website has a great list of the REU programs available in each state.

American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET)
ASPET has one program, the Zannoni Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There are institutional awards that universities apply for and individual awards for students like you. If you've been looking around at labs you'd like to do research in you can check to see if the head of the lab is an ASPET member by searching via a form on their website. Once you've found someone, contact them to see if they would be willing to sponsor your application. The sponsor then writes a letter describing the research and the applicant. All you have to do at that point is write a one page summary of your interest in the project, your future career plans, and attach your transcripts. The deadline for the SURF program is March 1.

ASPET also provides a travel award opportunity to summer fellows to attend and present their findings at the Experimental Biology meeting the year following their research experience.

ASPET also has a fantastic list of universities that have summer research programs for undergraduates.

National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates 
The National Science Foundation funds so many REU programs around the US that it's kind of mind-boggling. These fellowships are not limited to the biological sciences. They include pretty much the range of all disciplines related to science including the social sciences. You can search for an REU site program on their website. You won't apply to the NSF, you'll apply to the university program directly. The search function on the NSF website will provide you with the contact information to do so. Deadlines vary by program but are likely soon for this summer. 

Society for Neuroscience (SfN)
The Society for Neuroscience has the Neuroscience Scholar Program, which provides 3-year fellowships to undergraduate, graduate, and post-docs. It isn't a summer program but a long-term program providing opportunities for career enhancement for people from diverse backgrounds, with a disability, or who are from a disadvantaged (low income) or rural background.

Some universities have their own REU programs so check their websites! If your university has a program it's a great option for people who are unable, like I was, to travel to an REU site. Kids, you can't leave them alone all summer while you're off doing cool research.

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