April 25, 2012

Course helps grad students secure NSF fellowships

Among the first-year graduate students enrolled in a new biological and biomedical sciences graduate course, four of six students - 66 percent - who applied for National Science Foundation fellowships won them.

"This is an extremely competitive fellowship program," said Mark Roberson, chair of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) Graduate Program in the College of Veterinary Medicine and professor of physiology. "In a given funding cycle, it is reasonable to expect a one-in-10 success rate."

The fellowships are three-year awards that include a $30,000 annual stipend and $10,500 toward tuition every year. The funded students, all in the BBS program, are Wisler Charles, Kurtis Feng, Jennifer Fricke and Marcus Wilkes.

Launched this year, the course was developed and presented by three professors at the College of Veterinary Medicine who challenged students to network, constructively critique and write grants to help them conduct quality research and communicate it maturely.

"To ease students into a researcher's life, we developed and introduced [this] course that helps students develop practical skills as well as a trait every successful researcher has to have: the ability to secure funding," said David Lin, associate professor of neurobiology, who developed and teaches the course with associate professors Holger Sondermann, molecular medicine, and Jim Casey, virology.

In the team-taught course, students write grants, give public presentations, design experiments, interpret data, participate in ethics discussions and analyze literature. Students also gain practical experience with common approaches used in virology, protein biochemistry and bioinformatics.

This course complements other BBS programs, including a mentoring program that connects students in their fourth year with those in their first year and a newly launched partnership with Cornell's Center for Teaching Excellence to establish the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Graduate Research and Teaching Fellowship Program, the first subject-specific teacher training offered at Cornell.

The course, which is designed for students in the BBS program, is open to all graduate students.