There are many barriers in place between low-income, first-generation, and other underrepresented minorities in STEM and the research lab. We have created the STEM Routes Uplift program with two goals: 1] To assist in changing the institutional mindset surrounding undergraduate participation in research and 2] to train students to be efficient researchers and effective scientific communicators, while providing graduate student mentorship and guidance from the same underserved populations that we wish to empower. We intend in this way to collaborate with and augment the established funded undergraduate research program community on campus that includes the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), Biological Sciences Initiative (BSI), Discovery Learning Apprenticeship (DLA), McNair Scholars Program, and others.
Shifting the Undergraduate Research Mindset
Undergraduate research opportunities can sometimes manifest as being "an extra pair of hands in the lab." This mindset can be harmful because it selects against students who lack pre-existing skills and motivates unpaid labor. Unpaid or otherwise uncompensated research is not possible for students who need to dedicate 20 hours a week to a part-time job to pay living expenses or who need to support their families financially. STEM Routes Uplift requests that professors and departments set aside guaranteed funding for students who are low-income, first-generation, or underrepresented in the field in order to evolve undergraduate research opportunities to be spaces for growth, education, and investment in a STEM career.
Uplift Program Structure
Our mission is to empower underrepresented minorities in STEM by offering them opportunities to engage in research and coupling that with the professional development offered by the greater STEM Routes program, which includes educational workshops surrounding applications to graduate school as well as graduate-student mentorship and guidance. Uplift research positions are awarded to students who are traditionally underrepresented, low-income, or first-generation. STEM Routes Uplift has no annual or semesterly deadlines; students may apply and begin research upon being accepted by a faculty advisor and faculty may submit projects at any time provided that full funding for the position is available. We also encourage students in our program to apply for established funded undergraduate research opportunities such as UROP, BSI, and DLA, and our mentors will assist them in preparing those applications.
8-week Shadowing Period
Undergraduate participants will spend their first 8 weeks in a lab studying techniques, data analysis, relevant literature, and scientific communication with the guidance of a graduate or post-graduate mentor within that lab (undergraduates may support some of the research at the discretion of their lab graduate mentor and faculty advisor). During this time, both the lab and the undergraduate participant determine if the match is productive. If so, the student may continue with the 16-week guided research program in the same lab. Students are compensated a $500 stipend for 5–10 hours of lab training per week for 8 weeks; this funding may come from the lab, the department, or both. 1st and 2nd year undergraduate students are required to participate in the 8-week Shadowing Period while 3rd year undergraduate students and above (given their rapidly approaching graduation) may skip directly to the 16-week Guided Research Period at the discretion of the lab graduate mentor and the faculty advisor.
Undergraduate participants are required to attend monthly STEM Routes workshops which focus on topics within professional development, career preparation, and research proficiency. At the end of the 8-week Shadowing Period, undergraduate students must submit a 1 page, single-spaced document summarizing the project they shadowed, the skills they learned, and future work.
16-Week Guided Research Period
In order to transition into the 16-week Guided Research Period (either from the 8-week Shadowing Period or directly, in the case of a 3rd-year undergraduate or above), undergraduate participants must have permission from their lab graduate mentor and faculty advisor and must submit a 1 page, single-spaced project proposal. In the 16-Week Guided Research Period, participants are expected to conduct their own research either on an independent project or in support of their lab graduate mentor's project. The project should be decided upon collaboratively by the lab graduate mentor, faculty advisor, and undergraduate participant. Undergraduate participants are compensated with a $2500 stipend for 10–15 hours of research per week for 16 weeks.
Undergraduate participants are required to attend monthly STEM Routes workshops which focus on topics within professional development, career preparation, and research proficiency. At 4–8 weeks into the project, undergraduate participants will present their research as a 3-minute elevator at a regularly occurring STEM Routes Uplift gathering. After 12–16 weeks of guided research, students will present their research either by oral presentation, poster presentation, YouTube video, or podcast (students may propose other media, approval of which is subject to the discretion of STEM Routes mentors).
Faculty: Program Participation
The most important contribution is a guarantee of the $500 stipend for the 8-week Shadowing Period and the $2500 stipend for the 16-week Guided Research Period, a total of $3000 which may come from the lab, department, or combination thereof. Interested faculty can present a position by pledging this funding. Faculty are not required to submit a project proposal right away and may designate a graduate student within their lab as the point of contact for development of the project. The designated graduate student will serve as the mentor for the undergraduate participant and may also draft and submit the project proposal that will appear on the project registry on STEM Routes Uplift website. This project may also be advertised on the lab and/or department website; however, the position must be reserved for students who apply through STEM Routes.
Why Your Funding Is Necessary
You as faculty are crucial in making inclusive excellence at CU a reality. A key part of this work involves a cultural shift amongst faculty toward outreach efforts as a necessary step in dismantling systemic barriers to research opportunities for low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students. By offering funding exclusively for the development of these individuals, you are investing diverse future for your field.
Many first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students may be financially struggling and, therefore, cannot justify working for free. Jobs that cover living expenses often compete with time they can be dedicated to lab work. Guaranteed funding for the 8-week Shadowing Period ensures that students can dedicate time to training for a lab position, while the funding for the 16-week Guided Research Period ensure students do not need to postpone their research or work uncompensated until grants are available. Additionally, students won’t need to stop research if they are not awarded a research grant, though we strongly encourage that students apply for grants that they are eligible for. While we hope to secure funding for this program from organizations within the university, we urge you to dedicate what you can from your grants to supporting students who need it most. A very small percentage of your funding can make a lifetime of difference for a first-generation, low-income, or underrepresented undergraduate.
Participating undergraduate students are required to meet regularly with their lab mentor and at least biweekly with a STEM Routes mentor of their choice. Lab graduate mentors are expected to provide the necessary guidance for the Uplift participant to achieve the goals of the 8-Week and 16-Week programs. On the other hand, STEM Routes graduate mentors are tasked with meeting with the participants to discuss their own graduate school path, guidance on preparing for a STEM career, and cultural mentorship regarding challenges unique to underrepresented, low-income, and/or first-generation students, such as how to thrive in a field that they may not envision themselves belonging to. STEM Routes is currently developing mentorship training programs to teach lab and STEM Routes graduate students culturally competent mentorship skills. Lab graduate mentors are required to either attend a one-hour live training session or complete a self-paced course to ensure they are equipped with skills to support an undergraduate mentee who may not be represented in the lab environment.
Given that this program is new, this pilot version will only have space for approximately 10–15 students. We highly encourage you to explore other research opportunties on campus if you haven't already:
- Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) Assistantships/Grants
- Discovery Learning Apprenticeship Program (DLA)
- Biological Sciences Initiative (BSI)
- McNair Scholars Program
We realize things are very different during the COVID-19 era. That's why we are creating content to train students on how to conduct research remotely. Graduate mentors can share wet lab work or data analysis via Zoom with their undergraduate mentee. Undergraduates can develop simulations to model wet lab results and aid in data analysis and literature reviews. There is more to research beyond wet lab techniques and it's valuable to teach these skills to our undergraduates. Our STEM Routes mentors are happy to support in the development of remote projects for undergraduate students and will continue to train undergraduates in lab and research techniques so they may be prepared for lab research when campus restrictions are lifted. That said, if faculty cannot adapt their program to remote research at this time, they may pledge a project position to be reserved for an open, COVID-free campus in the future.