Acquiring Student Funding for International Research


So, you're a student and have decided you want to experience the joys and challenges of working in a foreign lab? Here's your first step: Find some money to support yourself. Identifying a good lab that will take a free student is easy; obtaining funding is the hard part. Although the funding search for international research and training may be difficult, it's well worth the effort.

My Quest Begins

I am from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and attended the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in physics and minoring in Spanish. During my senior year of college, I applied to graduate schools but decided to take a year off and work in a lab abroad. I searched the Web pages of physics professors in Israel, Spain, Brazil, and other countries, looking for a group doing research I found interesting. I e-mailed many professors to ask about the possibility of working in their labs, and although some were interested, the problem always came down to funding.

Fortunately, I found two great sources of international research funding for students during my Web search: the Organization of American States (OAS) and AIESEC. Although neither program worked out for me, I learned a lot from the application process.

Student Fellowships for International Research

The Organization of American States (OAS) and AIESEC are two very different organizations, so let me describe them.

OAS is an international organization dedicated to strengthening cooperation and advancing the common interests of its member countries: those in North, Central, and South America. In the interest of developing ties and sharing resources between more and less developed countries, OAS provides fellowships for scientific exchange. The idea is for students from a less technologically advanced country to receive training in an advanced nation or for students from a technologically advanced country to share their expertise with students and other scholars in a less advanced country.

For this fellowship, you must identify a senior scientist with whom you will work and submit a research plan. I e-mailed some professors in the physics department at Universidade Estadual de Campinas Instituto de Física Gleb Wataghin in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, because that Web site caught my interest. I began an e-mail correspondence with one professor, who agreed to sponsor me for the fellowship. Together, we wrote up a research proposal.

Concurrently, I applied for a technical traineeship abroad through AIESEC, the world's largest student organization. This program requires much more flexibility in terms of where you will be placed and what you will actually be doing. I submitted my résumé and personal statements, in which I indicated my language abilities, preferred locations, and preferred job duration. Then I had to wait to hear which positions would be available that required my particular training.

The matching success rate was not very high, but I was lucky enough to be matched for a position at a packaging plant in Belgium. The work involved using engineering principles to design packaging. Although others may have found this prospect interesting, I didn't. Besides, the position was for only 3 months during the school year. I decided to turn the offer down, hoping that I might get another one; unfortunately, that didn't happen.

In the end, I found out that my graduate school didn't accept deferrals, and I still hadn't heard back on a decision from OAS. As a result, I decided to withdraw my application from OAS and start graduate school that fall. Even though I didn't go abroad, I learned a lot about the research going on in other parts of the world and how to go about finding funding for international science.

Other Funding Sources

Since then, I've become aware of several other programs which, depending on your nationality, discipline, and where you want to study, may work for you. Many institutions offer international funding opportunities; these include individual colleges and universities, federal and state/provincial agencies, nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, and discipline-based professional societies. Spend time searching GrantsNet and the Web, and take advantage of whatever resources might be offered at your college or university.

I've listed several specific funding opportunities to get you started. Please note that the search and application process could take up to a year, so be sure to give yourself enough time. Good luck!

FIC/Ellison Clinical Research for U.S. Graduate Students

The Fogarty International Center, with support from the Ellison Medical Foundation, offers a 1-year clinical research training experience abroad for graduate-level U.S. students in the health professions. This fellowship is for students with advanced standing who are enrolled in a medical, osteopathic, or doctoral program at a U.S. school of public health, nursing, or dentistry.

East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (EAPSI)

This National Science Foundation (NSF) grant provides a summer stipend and gives U.S. graduate students in science and engineering fields an 8-week research experience in Australia, China, Japan, Korea, or Taiwan. It also provides an introduction to the science and policy infrastructure of the host country and orientation to the culture and language. Unlike other NSF grants, the application is submitted by the individual graduate student, not an institution. Students must be enrolled at U.S. institutions in graduate programs in science and engineering, or in a medical program with an interest in biomedical research.

Graduate Schools: Postgraduate Courses Worldwide

This Web site offers both undergraduate and graduate school funding for international students to study in the United Kingdom (U.K.).

International Research Funding Sources

This site is maintained by Texas A&M University.

Funding Sources for International Collaborations

This resource was prepared by Ivan K. Schuller at the University of California, San Diego.

Grants for Individuals: International Travel and Study Abroad

This resource was prepared by Jon Harrison at Michigan State University.

Ariel Michelman Ribeiro is a graduate student in physics at Boston University.

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