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Empowering the Innovators: SLAS Graduate Education Fellowship Grant Program

The new SLAS Graduate Education Fellowship Grant Program is one more way SLAS lives its mission to advance the field of life sciences R&D by fostering the next generation of professional scientists.

 

Seeking to help the best and the brightest pursue a life sciences career, SLAS launched its SLAS Graduate Education Fellowship Grant Program in August. Beginning in 2016, SLAS will annually award up to $50,000 per year (for a maximum of two years) to a qualifying institution on behalf of a deserving quantitative biosciences and/or life sciences R&D student. Applications for the 2016 fellowship are due Oct. 23, 2015.

"SLAS has always done a great job of bringing graduate students and young people into the organization to assist in their development into outstanding scientists and technologists," said Susan M. Lunte, Ph.D., University of Kansas, and chair of the SLAS Education Fellowship Grant Review Panel. "With this fellowship, we're looking to provide an opportunity for the best of the best – those scientists doing exciting, state-of-the-art work who will be leaders in the field as they move forward in their careers."

Lunte adds that the dollars allocated each year through this program are enough to support not only the student stipend but allow for additional professional growth or productivity opportunities, such as attending an educational event or purchasing a laptop.

Three-Part View

When evaluating applications for the SLAS Graduate Education Fellowship Grant Program, SLAS will look not only at the student, but also at the student's mentor and institution. SLAS wants to be confident that selected students are in a position to succeed, says Lunte.

"We want to be sure there is adequate support and funding within the mentor's area," Lunte says. "If SLAS funds provide a student with a stipend, but the infrastructure is not there to support the work, it would not be effective."

When evaluating the grant applicant student candidates, SLAS will look at four areas:

• Significance of research (does it align with the SLAS mission?)
• Creativity/innovation (fresh angle, novel and interesting approach)
• Research plan (realistic, logical and well planned; anticipates challenges and articulates approaches)
• Student qualification (GPA, demonstrated accomplishments, current progress toward graduate degree, personal statement, references)

"I would envision the award being earned by an institution where the proposed student has already shown quite a bit of productivity in terms of papers and presentations, so it's clear they are doing innovative research," Lunte explains. "The best students are self-starters, have their own ideas and are highly motivated and proactive. The mentors provide guidance, but the students have ownership of their projects. We want those students with a proven track record of sustained, innovative, creative work with the potential to make a really big impact in the field in the next 10-15 years."

When evaluating the mentor, SLAS is interested in:

• Infrastructure (appropriate facilities)
• Quality (percent of students graduating, past student success, philosophy)
• Educational program (training offered)

"The panel will evaluate to what degree the mentor is truly doing state-of-the-art work that will attract attention and move the field forward," Lunte says.

Finally, when evaluating the institution, SLAS will assess:

• Alignment with SLAS educational mission (uniqueness of the institution and its program)
• Vitality (total enrollment, graduate program enrollment, number of graduates, annual life sciences program and research budgets, faculty total, student-to-faculty ratio)

"We want strong graduate programs in life sciences and quantitative biology, and will look closely at the number of students the institution graduates and funding levels in place to support innovative research," Lunte says. "We want institutions that are really committed to this field of research, and our application is structured specifically to solicit this information."

How to Apply

Student candidates are not eligible to apply for these grants directly. Instead, the candidate student's primary research investigator or mentor must start the application process. Lunte says SLAS welcomes institutions around the globe positioned for strength in quantitative biosciences and/or life sciences R&D to apply for the 2016 fellowship.

"The student's primary research investigator or mentor must begin the application process," says Lunte. "Upon completion of that portion of the application, the student will be invited into the application website. Students should include ample detail about their projects, but also should provide information about their track record to date. We'll look at publications, presentations, leadership ability, but also want to discover items about their motivation and innovation – those traits that will make them the type of person who can truly impact the field."

2016 Selection – Just the Beginning

Following the October 23 fellowship application deadline, applications will be reviewed first by the SLAS professional team for completeness and then sent to the SLAS Education Fellowship Grant Review Panel for thorough review and the SLAS Awards and Grants Advisory Committee for final approval.
 

Pictured left to right: Josh Bittker, Tyler Aldredge, Susan Lunte and Frank Fan

In addition to Lunte as chair, the panel includes:

• Tyler Aldredge, Good Start Genetics, Cambridge, MA
• Josh Bittker, Broad Institute, Cambridge, MA
• Frank Fan, Promega, Madison, WI
• Krister Wennerberg, University of Helsinki, Finland

"Care was taken when forming the SLAS Education Fellowship Grant Review Panel to include members from a variety of institutions who have diverse expertise in a range of scientific areas," Lunte notes.

Lunte explains that all applications will be reviewed individually through an extensive online review process by the SLAS Education Fellowship Grant Review Panel and narrowed down on conference calls. A final review of applications will be conducted in person at SLAS2016 in San Diego in January in preparation for announcement of the 2016 award in April.

The SLAS Graduate Education Fellowship Grant Program is ongoing, thanks to the $1 million that SLAS has dedicated to its support.
 

"Education has always been a cornerstone of SLAS's purpose, and one of the most powerful things that we do," says SLAS President Dean Ho. "Implementing this fund takes our support of scientific education, innovation and careers to the next level. As a global Society, we are committed to fostering continued scientific innovation and cultivating the next generation of professionals who will drive that innovation, which will ultimately result in better, more accurate research. This new program will serve as a catalyst for supporting the high-achievers in our community and allowing us to learn from them."

The student selected to receive this SLAS grant must submit an original research paper suitable for publication in one of SLAS's peer-reviewed journals, the Journal of Laboratory Automation or the Journal of Biomolecular Screening. The student also must submit a podium presentation abstract to the SLAS International Conference and Exhibition.

"Each year, we intend to name another SLAS Graduate Education Fellowship Grant recipient," Lunte says. "It would be fantastic to have 10 prestigious SLAS fellow grant recipients 10 years from now – each proud to have made a difference in quantitative biosciences and life sciences R&D."

More Student Support

The $1 million with which SLAS has seeded this new program is in addition to the more than $150,000 the Society allocates annually to underwrite student programs and participation in the annual SLAS International Conference and Exhibition.

Tony B. Academic Travel Award Program

For SLAS2015, 56 students from 12 countries received airfare, full conference registration and hotel accommodations.

"I learned about so many aspects of science and research that I had never even heard of before, ideas that I could use to improve my research," says The University of Texas at Austin's Armin Nourani of his SLAS2015 Tony B. Academic Travel Award experience. "From that initial interaction, I feel supported already. It is the community that I was hoping for."

Student Poster Competition

This annual competition recognizes the innovative research by students, graduate students, post-doctoral associates and junior faculty (less than four years in first academic appointment) with cash awards of $500 each to the top three student posters. Students wishing to enter the SLAS2016 competition must submit poster abstracts by Oct. 12, 2015.
 

"The poster competition is a fantastic experience!" says Samantha Grist, an SLAS2015 winner from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. "Having the opportunity to gain more exposure for your work is really valuable. During the poster session, I had the chance to meet and chat with people from research organizations and companies, while sharing my work and learning more about other fields."

Student-Focused Programming

Career-focused workshops, one-on-one resume reviews, career coaching and mock interviews are a mainstay of the SLAS International Conference and Exhibition. While workshop topics are not yet firm, SLAS plans to once again bring back career consultant Dan Eustace, University of Connecticut, and Joanne Kamens, Addgene, to SLAS2016 to address the negotiation process, work/life balance, career transitions and mentoring.

"One of the people who I have seen at the last several conferences is Dan Eustace who provides career counseling," says Tim Ruckh of Northeastern University. "Dan has made himself available at the conference and also outside of it so I correspond regularly with Dan whenever I'm looking to ask a career or professional development question and he's continued to offer really good feedback."

Deep Discounts

Student memberships, including online SLAS journal access, are just $25. Student registration rates for SLAS2016 are only $75 for SLAS members and $100 for nonmembers. Registration includes full access to all scientific presentations, keynote speakers, exhibitor tutorials, Late Night with LRIG, SLAS Career Connections, Exhibition, provided breaks, meals and evening receptions, including the SLAS fifth anniversary celebration on the USS Midway on Tuesday, Jan. 26. Students also can register for SLAS2016 Short Courses for as low as $75.

Career Services and Skills Development

A highly regarded and greatly appreciated mentoring program was solidified at SLAS2015. SLAS currently is making plans to expand upon its success for SLAS2016 and is inviting another expert lineup of mentors. Be sure to watch SLAS2016.org, and sign up to receive the weekly SLAS Point-to-Point e-news brief for the latest updates.

September 21, 2015