Write a Killer ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship Application

Oct. 30, 2019

Apply for the ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship and gain research experience for the next step in your microbial sciences career! The program is for undergraduates and your faculty mentors, with a joint application. The deadline is February 15, 2020. 

Are you preparing to submit an application for the ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship (URF)? The process can be intimidating, especially if you have not completed a similar application before. We spoke with ASM’s URF Review Committee for their best tips on writing the research project proposal and personal statement. 

Writing Your Research Project Proposal 

“Start early,” says Dr. Robert Visalli, Chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Mercer University School of Medicine, “Research takes time and planning. It is not possible to grasp an understanding of your project in a weekend. Take your time choosing a faculty mentor, too. Pick a committed mentor. You need access to your mentor to develop a sound project. It is appropriate for the student to ’interview’ mentor candidates.” 

Once you have identified a mentor, you should focus on the research you want to do. A research project proposal typically has information on the purpose of your research, specific aims for the project, hypotheses and preliminary results (if applicable).  

“When completing a proposal section, be sure to use primary sources as supportive background information and cite those sources properly. Take the time to clearly lay out the specific aims of your project, along with expected results and proposed future directions of the project,” recommends Dr. Jennifer Herzog, Associate Professor of Biology at Herkimer College and co-chair of the ASM URF Application Review Committee.

“Exude enthusiasm for your project in the proposal,” Dr. Visalli advises applicants. “Why is this research important? Don’t make the reviewer dig for why the project is important. Be sure to also discuss important controls for your study. The reviewer should feel confident that you understand positive and negative controls and that you’ve thought about what these will be for your specific project.”

Citing sources properly and writing clearly shows the reviewers that you have the writing skills necessary to communicate your research. Take the time to lay out your project and future directions, demonstrating your commitment to the work and that you have fully thought through your proposed project. 

Herzog also recommends, “For students and faculty writing their proposals, ensure that all writing is done independently.  Student proposals should not mirror the faculty research summary statements.” This is a common error in joint applications. It is important for each statement to be completed independently so reviewers fully understand both the student and mentor perspectives.

Writing Your Personal Statement 

A personal statement is typically a short description (no more than 2 pages) of your research interests and your interest in the prospective opportunity. 

Dr. Pamela Marshall, Professor in the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences at Arizona State University and co-chair for the ASM URF Application Review Committee, explained that the personal statement is the most important part of an application for her. Marshall strongly encourages you to “address the questions directly and concretely in the application. For example, what are your career goals and future plans?” Rather than giving broad answers, such as “My goal is to be a microbiologist,” be detailed: “My goal is to research Clostridioides difficile infection in order to decrease the mortality rate of this disease.” Doing this will show reviewers that you are focused and able to clearly and concisely answer questions. 

Herzog recommends, “When writing your personal statement, indicate how the opportunity will aid in meeting your career goals and your future dedication to your field of interest.” Reviewers want to know that their investment in you will be put to use after your program concludes, and they want to see your dedication in your application. 

The URF has a joint application, so faculty mentors are also required to submit a personal statement. “For the personal statement written by faculty, make it clear how you will personally help cultivate laboratory skills and professional development in your mentee,” Herzog advises. It is important for reviewers to know that the faculty mentors are committed to the student’s development and they will serve as a reliable mentor to the fellow.

The project proposal and personal statement are key components to your application. They showcase your dedication to your research and they help the reviewers get to know you! Use your personal statement and proposal to tell the reviewers how the opportunity will positively impact your career, and why the program is important to your future. Now that you have the tips to submit a killer application, are you ready to apply

Author: Contributor

The Education Board's mission is to educate individuals at all levels in the microbiological sciences. It supports both student and faculty development through fellowships, online publications, conferences, workshops, and institutes, and networking opportunities.