October 20, 2010

Making research affordable

For Knox students hoping to go to graduate school, the ultimate goal is to complete an Honors project. However, other opportunities, such as Ford Fellowships and Richter grants, allow students to pursue all types of independent research throughout their college careers.

Last year, 208 students received Richter grants, and many more applied.

“I’m working to make sure there’s as much equity and fairness as possible [in awarding funds],” said Sandra Mehl, Director of the Center for Research and Advanced Study (CRAS).

Richter grants provide students with up to $750 for independent research. Students may only receive one Richter award during their time at Knox, but there are exceptions. Students wishing to attend an academic conference may apply for a separate award, and students doing Honors projects can receive up to $1,500.

Currently, Richter applications are largely awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. Mehl is working to change this.

“I don’t like how it works. Things come up…and you can’t plan like that,” she said.

Mehl hopes in the future to have application deadlines each month so that students can apply throughout the year and know that funds will still be available.

Mehl also wants to increase transparency in regards to funding for research.

“In the past, lots of people didn’t know about Richter [grants] or found out about Ford [Fellowships] too late…I want to get a webpage so that faculty and students can go to one place and find information on Honors, Richter, Ford, and restricted funds from alumni donors for student research,” she said.

Ford Fellowships

Begun through a grant from the Ford Foundation, the Ford Fellowship program gives students interested in pursuing scholarly careers the opportunity to conduct research under the mentorship of a faculty member. Although Knox no longer receives funding from the Foundation, the program remains strong, with far more applicants each year than spots.

“It’s a very competitive program, and we only have 10 slots,” Mehl said. “We’re looking for students with the greatest potential and intention to get Ph.D.s.”

Ford Fellows attend a week-long seminar over December break on graduate education and what it is like to be a professional scholar. They then carry out a research project during the winter and summer of their junior year under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Ford Fellows also have the opportunity to be a teaching assistant in an introductory course in their field.

In order to help offset the cost of their research, Ford Fellows each receive a stipend of $2,700.

“If you want to use [the money] to not have to work over the summer so you can do your research, you can,” Mehl said.

Because so few slots are available, many factors go into deciding who receives fellowships. Mehl likens applying for a Ford Fellowship to applying for graduate school.

“We look at your GPA, your essay, and your faculty recommendation,” she said. “The essay is very important. You may be the best of the best, but you have to be able to clearly articulate your ideas.”

Mehl advocates getting straight to the point, emphasizing the positives and making the essay personal.

“Beware of generalities—for example, ‘I’ve always wanted to do this since I was a little girl.’ Anybody could write that,” she said. “Make it specific to you. You want to look different.”

Any student with junior standing may be nominated for a Ford Fellowship. Students still wishing to apply should speak with their potential faculty mentor as soon as possible. Applications are due Friday, Oct. 29.

Anna Meier

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