Creating a Comprehensive Summer Undergraduate Research Program Despite Fiscal Challenges

ACS Citation

Shields, G. C. Creating a Comprehensive Summer Undergraduate Research Program Despite Fiscal Challenges. CUR Q. 2010, 30 (4), 18-€“21.


With the help of several administrative leaders at my university, we managed to create our campus's first comprehensive, summer undergraduate research program, using faculty “buyout” money from research grants and funds from the National Science Foundation to support faculty members and students interested in collaborative summer research projects. In Georgia, faculty members at state institutions are paid their nine-month salaries over 10 months, leaving a two-month income gap in the summer that practically forces faculty to teach in the summer-school session. Another administrative rule at our institution, established to avoid paying benefits to students working on campus, barred them from working more than 19 hours per week at any time, including during the summer session when students desire full-time employment. In August 2008, we worked with our human resources personnel to change that policy for students. In addition, we got permission to use grant buyout money from existing grants in the College of Science and Technology to pay faculty members interested in doing summer research with students for up to 10 weeks, 40 hours a week. We negotiated the use of any unspent buyout money with the vice president for academic affairs and the vice president for business and finance, who supported the idea, as that money had traditionally disappeared at the end of each fiscal year. We paid each nine-month faculty member roughly {\$}9,000 and the students {\$}3,000, resulting in more than 20 faculty members and 50 students working full-time on research in the summer of 2009. We also wrote a successful application for a grant from the National Science Foundation's STEP (Science Talent Expansion Program) initiative that was funded at {\$}1 million over five years, to support summer research for incoming students. As a condition of receiving the summer salary, the faculty members involved in the new program pledged to submit a grant proposal during academic 2009-10 to a federal funding agency to support their research with students. The vice president of academic affairs set up a new indirect-cost policy in 2008 that allows each college to receive the equivalent of 32 percent of the indirect-cost reimbursement the university receives from funded proposals, and this money will be used to sustain this program in the future. Faculty members who submit grants will continue to get summer support, even if they do not receive external funding for their grant proposals. However, we have faculty members working with a new office set up within our college to support faculty scholarship, as well as with our university's director of sponsored projects, to make sure that our grant applications are as competitive as possible.

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CUR Quarterly

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