The Experimental Semester

The GRA Student Scholars program recruits new talent to the field

What's it really like working alongside a world-class scientist? GRA helps undergraduate and graduate students across Georgia explore the answer to that question through the GRA Student Scholars program.

In the program, members of the GRA Academy of Scientists (and select GRA partners) recruit students from the state’s colleges to gain hands-on experience in a university research lab.

Research has shown that teams comprised of people from different cultures, backgrounds and perspectives tend to perform better, including teams engaged in scientific exploration.

But some groups are underrepresented in STEMM field research. (STEMM = science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine). For example:

  • Black, LatinX, and Hispanic people account for 28 percent of all jobs but only 17.9 percent of all STEMM jobs (Pew Research Center, 2021)
  • The 2019 American Community Survey revealed that women comprised just 27 percent of STEM employees, compared to 48 percent of all workers

Students from these underrepresented groups are needed to fill current and anticipated gaps in employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is expected to increase by 10.5 percent by 2030; and in medical occupations, by 16 percent.

In college, Black, Hispanic and White students all declare a STEMM major at roughly the same rate. However, 58 percent of White students actually earn a STEMM baccalaureate degree, compared to 43 percent of LatinX and Hispanic students and 34 percent of Black students (Riegle-Crumb, 2019).

The GRA Student Scholars program seeks to contribute to a solution.

A pilot cohort in 2021 allowed 10 Georgia students to work in the lab of a GRA Eminent Scholar or GRA Distinguished Investigator. See how some students describe that experience >

In summer 2022, the program was expanded to 15 students from across the state. To recruit the second cohort, GRA partnered with The Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, a UGA-led coalition working to increase participation of students underrepresented in STEM fields.

“Our partnership with Peach State LSAMP allowed us to build on the success of our pilot effort for the Student Scholars,” says GRA President Susan Shows. “LSAMP's expertise and network will help GRA extend its reach to offer underrepresented students from across the state real hands-on experience in university research.”

Details about the GRA Student Scholars program

Students who are selected as GRA Student Scholars:

  • Learn and perform protocols and tasks directly related to the research project(s) design
  • Confer with lab colleagues and the lead scientist on objectives, methods
  • Attend meetings and/or conferences pertaining to the research
  • Prepare a scientific poster of the research problem and process worked on (end of summer)
  • Prepare a brief report of the summer experience (in written or video form)

Thanks to the support of private funding partners, GRA provides its Student Scholars with a monetary stipend as compensation and, in some cases, helps offset the cost of attending academic conferences. 

To qualify, students must be:

  • Enrolled in a Georgia university for at least one semester in the current academic year
  • From a group considered to be underrepresented in STEMM work (GRA uses the NIH definition of underrepresented populations)
  • A declared major in a STEMM field (or interested in pursuing a STEMM field)
  • Legally eligible to work in the United States and available to work in the labe 25 to 40 hours per week

For their part, participating (host) laboratories:

  • must engage students in meaningful work in the lab – i.e., participation in funded research projects and inclusion in meetings of/correspondence to the full lab;
  • must employ the student(s) for 25 to 40 hours per week;
  • are encouraged to provide additional opportunities for each Student Scholar to gain relevant experience. Some examples: attending conferences and seminars, contributing to journal articles, creating research posters and other materials and making presentations; and
  • select students who have not previously worked in the host lab.

At the end of each semester, GRA administers a brief online survey to each participating student and host scientist. The information is used to improve the program and provide funding partners with assessments of the experience.