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Merkin Graduate Fellows Program

Established with the generous support of Dr. Richard Merkin, the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program provides UC San Diego graduate students with a novel opportunity to conduct innovative research abroad on topics related to human health and longevity, including in fields broadly related to translational medicine. The interdisciplinary field of translational medicine unites research and practices within the pillars of what the European Society for Translational Medicine defines as the “benchside, bedside and community” to develop new, patient-centered approaches that enhance worldwide healthcare. Merkin Graduate Fellows will work with researchers and clinicians at academic and industry sites across the globe with the goal of driving bold, transformational advances in medical research and clinical applications, and at the same time impact the Fellows’ personal and professional futures.

Merkin Graduate Fellows will have the unique opportunity to design their own education abroad experience, proposing the length of the experience of between 3 and 6 months and the international site(s) at which they will conduct their research. Applicants may propose to work at an institution with which they or their PI/faculty advisor have an existing relationship, or they may propose to work collaboratively with the Merkin Fellowship Program Manager and their PI/faculty advisor to build a new connection that will facilitate their research at that site. Students may submit a proposal for an individual research abroad experience or may propose to participate in the program as part of a group of other eligible applicants.

Merkin Graduate Fellows receive a monthly stipend of $5,000, funding for (one) round-trip airfare to their research destination, and tuition and fee coverage for the duration of their fellowship period. Fellows will be expected to provide regular updates on their research progress and education abroad experience as well as present at the annual Merkin Graduate Fellows Summit.

For more details, please contact: Carrie Daly, Merkin Fellowship Program Manager.

Read more about the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program and our Fellows' travel adventures

For more information about the program and to hear from our Fellows about their tips and experiences, view our webinar:

Eligibility

The Merkin Graduate Fellows Program accepts applications from eligible PhD and MD-PhD students whose research aims to improve human health and longevity, including fields broadly related to translational medicine. Applications are encouraged for eligible students across a wide array of disciplines, including but not limited to graduate programs in the following school and institutes: School of Biological Sciences, School of Medicine, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Jacobs School of Engineering, School of Physical Sciences, and Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute.

Fellows must be registered UC San Diego PhD or MD-PhD graduate students and must also be in good academic standing (GPA of 3.0 or above). For In Absentia eligibility, typically PhD/MD-PhD students must have advanced to candidacy by the time their travel abroad would commence. However, exceptions to this policy can be considered.

Application Process

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis once per quarter. The submission deadline for applications to be considered during the next review in Summer 2024 is Monday, July 1, 2024. Each application should consist of the following documents :
  • Merkin Graduate Fellows Program Application Form
  • CV
  • Research proposal (max. 3 pages) describing the research to be performed, desired research site, length of education abroad (3 or 6 months), and project deliverable the applicant expects to achieve during their time abroad. Proposals should make a clear connection between the research topic and how the work performed will advance research, theory, and/or practice in the field of translational medicine. The research proposal may also indicate whether the proposed research is within the broader scope of the applicant’s overall thesis project. Applicants should pay particular attention to articulating the benefits of conducting their research at an international site, detailing how they expect this will enhance the quality of their research, its impact on medicine and healthcare, and their personal and professional growth.
  • Letter of nomination from the applicant's PI/faculty advisor indicating their support for the applicant's participation in this program. Nomination letters can be submitted via the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program Letter of Recommendation form or via email to the Merkin Fellowship Program Manager.
  • Optional letter of support from proposed host research mentor, if applicable.

If proposing a group research abroad experience (such as among multiple students from one lab who wish to travel together to the same destination), all applicants must be eligible UC San Diego students and submit their own application. Faculty advisors/PIs may submit individual letters of recommendation for each applicant or provide one letter for the group which addresses each student's qualifications.

Applications will be reviewed by a committee of interdisciplinary faculty from UC San Diego with expertise in research broadly related to translational medicine. Fellows will be selected based on the following criteria:

  • The proposal clearly articulates how the proposed work will advance research, theory, and/or practice in the field of translational medicine;
  • The proposal articulates how conducting the research at the proposed international site will strengthen the quality of the research and increase its impact on medicine and healthcare;
  • The proposal articulates how conducting the research at the proposed international site will enhance the applicant's personal and professional growth; and
  • The proposal outlines a project deliverable that is realistic for the proposed time of research.

Program Expectations

Merkin Graduate Fellows will be expected to maintain satisfactory progress with their research and devote their full time to research on the approved topic. Fellows must also maintain regular contact with the Program Manager as well as participate in cohort virtual meetings while abroad. Fellows will be expected to submit a 2-page report outlining: a) the progress they made on the goals set forth in their proposals; and b) the impact of their experience living abroad on the quality of their research and the field of translational medicine, as well as on their personal and professional development. Fellows will also present on their experience at the annual Merkin Graduate Fellows Summit.

The Merkin Graduate Fellows Program award is subject to certain terms and conditions that Fellows will need to agree to upon acceptance of their award.

FAQ

Application and Eligibility

  • When is the deadline to submit my application? 
    • Applications to the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program are accepted on a rolling basis and will be reviewed once per quarter. The submission deadline for applications to be considered during the next review in Spring 2024 is April 8, 2024. The final review date for fellowships awarded during the 2023-24 academic year will be July 1, 2024. Please apply via the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program Application Form.
  • Can my faculty advisor submit a nomination for me?
    • PIs/faculty advisors may nominate prospective applicants they believe would be a good fit for the program by submitting a nomination form. However, an application submitted by the student is required for consideration for the program; nominees will be contacted by the Merkin Fellowship Program Manager to encourage them to apply.
  • How do I determine when I should apply and when I should propose to begin my travel if I am selected as a Merkin Graduate Fellow?
    • Make sure to apply well in advance of, and at minimum one full quarter before, your proposed travel dates. In determining the proposed quarter in which to travel, please account for additional time needed for logistics such as obtaining a visa and other research documentation, and arranging to sublet your housing if you choose to do so (see estimates on a few examples below). Applications will be rated more favorably if there is ample time for the applicant to prepare for their experience abroad.

 Travel planning estimates

*The above are estimates; ranges vary considerably depending on the country you are traveling to and your proposed length of stay. Please note that visa and passport processing may take longer for international students.

  • What duration of time should I propose for my research abroad experience? Can I go at any time of year, including the summer?
    • Funding is provided for one or two full quarters (three to six months) abroad. Fellows should endeavor to align their travel with the start and end of their funded quarter(s), and may travel during the academic year and/or the summer.
  • How do I know that my application has been received? 
    • All submissions on the application website will be directed to the Merkin Fellowship Program Manager, and you will receive a confirmation message upon submitting your application. If you do not receive this after clicking “Submit,” or have other questions about your application, you may reach out to the Merkin Fellowship Program Manager at merkinfellowship@ucsd.edu
  • What documents are required for a complete application?
    • Applicants must submit an application form, their CV, research proposal, and a letter of support from their PI/faculty mentor for an application to be considered complete. Examples of an academic CV template can be found in the NIH OITE's handbook. Including a letter of support from your proposed host research mentor is optional, but would strengthen your application. 
  • Can more than one student (such as from the same lab) propose a group research abroad experience?
    • Students may propose either individual or group research abroad experiences for the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program. For group proposals, all applicants must be eligible UC San Diego students and each student must submit their own application form, CV, and research proposal. Faculty advisors/PIs may submit individual letters of recommendation for each applicant or provide one letter for the group that speaks to each applicant's qualifications.
  • Are there any resources available to me as I’m writing my application?
    • The Writing Hub offers writing workshops and individual consultations, where they can help you with any stage of your writing process and provide feedback on your documents. You can learn more about their resources for graduate students and book a consultation on their website.
    • A sample Merkin Fellowship research proposal is available upon request; please reach out to merkinfellowship@ucsd.edu
  • How can I find an institution or research collaborator abroad to host me as I conduct my research? Can I do research abroad without a host affiliation?
    • All Fellows must have a host country and specific host site identified. The proposed host site may vary and can include universities, laboratories, policy-making organizations, industry, etc.
    • Applicants may propose to work at an academic or industry site with which they or their PI have an existing relationship. In this case, prior to submitting your application, you should contact the potential hosting research mentor to discuss the proposed work and receive confirmation of their support to host you for this opportunity.
    • Alternately, applicants may create a new research partnership in collaboration with your PI/faculty mentor. Conducting a search of existing agreements UC San Diego has with international universities and other organizations on the International Agreements Database may provide some ideas on institutions you may want to partner with. The Merkin Fellowship Program Manager can provide support to you and your PI/faculty mentor in establishing this new research partnership.
  • Can I apply if I will have graduated by the time my travel abroad will commence? 
    • Students who will have had their degrees conferred prior to their proposed date of travel are ineligible for this program.
  • I am an MD-PhD student and have completed the PhD portion of my degree, but not the MD. Am I eligible?
    • At this time, MSTP students are only eligible when enrolled in the PhD portion of the program.
  • What research policies and procedures should I consider as I plan my proposal?
    • Fellows are responsible for following regulations and applicable policies specific to their proposed host site/country, including but not limited to research ethics, intellectual property, and confidentiality practices. It is strongly recommended that you research these guidelines early on, as some procedural arrangements and agreements can take time to secure.
    • General information, policies, and resources on conducting research abroad can be found on the university’s International Research and Engagement page
    • The Office of Innovation and Commercialization provides Guidelines for Conducting International Research with regard to patent and intellectual property protections. If you anticipate any new intellectual property arising from your proposed research abroad experience, or an invention disclosure needs to be submitted for a project you will continue abroad, please contact the OIC.
    • If there will be any material transfers taking place, you must work with your PI/faculty advisor to secure a  Material Transfer Agreement prior to your departure/transfer of materials.
    • If your project will involve human subjects, you must work with your PI/faculty advisor to obtain IRB approval prior to your departure and remain in compliance with IRB regulations as stipulated by the UC San Diego Office of IRB Administration
    • Make sure to review Export Control suggestions and contact their office if their review will be needed.
    • If your proposed site is in private industry, please review the university’s Conflict of Interest policies for graduate students and provide any necessary disclosures.
    • If you anticipate a co-authored publication arising from the research you propose to conduct at the host institution, it is recommended that you create a written authorship agreement with the proposed research mentor early in the process, ideally before your travel commences.
  • I don’t have a passport. Can I still apply?
    • Yes, you are still eligible to apply. However, it can take several months for the State Department to process passport applications, so we recommend that if you need to renew your passport or apply for a new one, you propose a timeline for travel that includes a departure date that is at least 5 months from your planned application submission date. In order to commence travel, awardees must have a passport that will remain valid for at least 6 months plus the total travel time (e.g. if you are proposing a 3 month experience abroad, your passport must not expire for at least 9 months after your departure date).
  • I applied for a Merkin Graduate Fellowship previously and was not selected. Can I apply again?
    • Yes, you may apply to the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program again, as long as you continue to meet the Fellowship eligibility requirements. It is recommended that you meet with the Merkin Fellowship Program Manager prior to reapplying so that you can get feedback on strengthening your application.

Funding

  • What kinds of proposals will be funded? 
    • Competitive research proposals will focus on a topic broadly related to translational medicine and clearly specify the ways in which conducting this research at the desired site abroad will enhance the applicant’s contributions to the field as well as their intellectual, personal, and professional growth.
  • How much funding does the program provide? 
    • A stipend award of $5,000/month for a fellowship term of 3 to 6 months abroad will be provided and is intended to cover all expenses directly related and essential to the proposed research abroad experience, including travel and living costs. The fellowship award will also include funding for the departure and return flight to the destination country. In Absentia tuition and fees will be paid directly by the fellowship. The Merkin Graduate Fellowship stipend counts as taxable income and must be reported to the IRS.
  • Is any additional funding available for Fellows?
    • While the fellowship award is intended to cover costs associated with travel and living expenses during the research abroad experience, cost of living variations per capita and/or other exceptional circumstances may occasionally justify an increase in the stipend level. If your proposed research abroad experience has exceptional costs, you may provide a detailed justification on your application for consideration of a higher stipend level above the default award package.
  • May I participate in the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program if I am already supported by funding from an external training grant or other fellowship/grant funding?
    • Please check with your/your PI's funding agency regarding any policies that may be in place determining whether you can accept the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program award. We also recommend you contact the Merkin Fellowship Program Manager to discuss.

International Students

  • Can international students apply? 
    • Yes, international graduate students are eligible for the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program.
  • What steps should I take if I am an international student and plan to apply to the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program? 
    • International students are encouraged to begin preparing early if they are interested in conducting research abroad as a Merkin Graduate Fellow, and should discuss their plans with an advisor at the International Students & Programs Office. ISPO has additional information on how international students should prepare to study abroad on their website.

Other Considerations

  • I have a disability. What resources are available to Merkin Graduate Fellows? 
    • If you anticipate needing accommodations in order to participate in research abroad, please contact the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) as soon as possible. Contact your disability specialist directly if you are already working with the office. Otherwise, please call 858-534-4382 or email osd@ucsd.edu and schedule an interactive intake appointment with a disability specialist.
  • Who should I contact about additional questions or concerns?

Fellowship Recipients - Pre-Departure

  • How do I make my travel arrangements? 
    • Fellows will be issued a stipend to cover travel and living costs. In general, Fellows will be expected to make their own travel arrangements, including arranging ground transportation and securing lodging/housing, but the Merkin Fellowship Program Manager will work with you to book your flight on your behalf.
    • We recommend that if you need to apply for or renew a passport, you do so as soon as possible, and plan the start date of your travels accordingly. The U.S. State Department as well as passport-issuing agencies around the world are currently experiencing considerable delays in processing applications. If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you can apply for a new or renewed passport at the UC San Diego Passport Office or on the U.S. State Department website. International students should consult with ISPO in their preparation to travel abroad. 
    • In most cases, Fellows will need to apply for a visa to enter and remain in their intended host country as a student or researcher. Apply directly to the nearest consulate or embassy of the country you plan to visit (U.S. passport agencies cannot help you obtain a visa). For more information, see the UCEAP guide to student visas.
  • What steps should I take to prepare to live abroad? 
    • Fellows must participate in a Merkin Graduate Fellows pre-departure meeting prior to arriving in their host country. If this will be your first time living abroad, we recommend that you also complete a short online pre-departure orientation course provided by the Study Abroad as soon as possible, as it provides helpful guidance on preparing to travel and live abroad. More information about the pre-departure meeting and optional orientation course will be provided at the time of your award notification.
    • The Study Abroad Office provides additional pre-departure resources, including those on navigating identities and diversity, that can help you as you prepare to travel and live abroad.
    • It is strongly recommended that Fellows obtain health clearance to travel abroad from UCSD Student Health Services or your private physician.
    • Fellows must retain their GSHIP insurance coverage or choose an insurance plan that qualifies for a GSHIP waiver. Fellows will also be enrolled in the UC travel insurance plan prior to their departure. More information can be found on the UC Travel Insurance website.
    • If you anticipate needing accommodations in order to participate in research abroad, please contact the Office for Students with Disabilities. You may submit an Accommodations for a Disability form directly to them by emailing the form to osd@ucsd.edu with “Merkin Graduate Fellows Program” in the subject line of your email.
    • Please review resources provided by the University of California on travel abroad, including the UC Trip Planner tool.
    • Fellows should review U.S. State Department resources and information, including their Traveler’s Checklist and Travel Advisories. If the U.S. State Department issues a Travel Warning, Fellows should understand the risks and proceed with great caution, and should consider alternative locations if needed.
    • If you live in on-campus graduate housing, you may choose to work with HDH Graduate and Family Housing on arrangements to sublet your housing unit or move out of your unit prior to your departure. For more information, see the HDH Graduate and Family Housing website.
  • How do I maintain my student status during my time abroad?
    • Fellows will work with their graduate coordinator to submit a request to enroll In Absentia for each quarter they will be abroad during the academic year. If your graduate coordinator is unable to assist you, you can submit the request directly.
  • Do I need to speak the language of the country/region in which I wish to do my research in order to participate in this program?
    • If you do not already speak the host country’s/region’s primary language, we recommend that you obtain survival/hospitality level skills in the language before beginning your travels to aid you in the settling-in process and in your daily life outside of your research site.
  • May I take dependents with me on the fellowship?
    • You may take dependents, but the Merkin Graduate Fellows Program provides no additional funding for them. In addition, you will need to arrange for health insurance, visas/passports, international travel, and any other necessary arrangements  for your dependents at your own expense. For information on resources for students with dependents, see the UC San Diego Students with Dependents website.
  • Can I defer my award?
    • If you are unable to travel abroad during the original dates submitted in your application, please reach out to the Merkin Fellowship Manager as soon as possible to discuss possible options for deferral of your fellowship.

Fellowship Recipients - While Abroad

  • What resources will I have access to once I’m abroad? 
    • Merkin Graduate Fellows will register In Absentia, meaning they will continue to be registered students, and as such will have access to the resources provided to UC San Diego students with the exception of those that are necessary to access on campus. 
    • For access to wellness resources provided by the university to those residing outside of California, see the CAPS website. Please note that SHS and CAPS cannot provide clinical services outside the state of California.
    • All Fellows will be enrolled in the UC travel insurance program prior to departure. Travel insurance coverage is detailed on UC’s Students Off-Campus Benefits Travel page. The University of California has additional information about travel insurance and accessing care while abroad on its Student Travel Insurance FAQ page.
    • The Merkin Fellowship Program Manager will be your first line of support for questions and non-emergency concerns; Carrie Daly can be reached during business hours by email at merkinfellowship@ucsd.edu or phone at (858) 534-3979. You may also contact the UC San Diego Police Department outside of business hours at (858) 534-4357 for non-life threatening concerns.
  • What are the research and learning expectations for Fellows?
    • Merkin Graduate Fellows will be expected to maintain satisfactory progress with their research and devote their full time to research on the approved topic proposed in their application. Prior to their return from the research abroad experience, Fellows will submit a 2-page report outlining: a) the progress they made on the goals set forth in their fellowship application; and b) the impact of their experience living abroad on the quality of their research and the field of translational medicine, as well as on their personal and professional development.

Fellowship Recipients - Returning from Abroad

  • What should I consider as I prepare to return to the U.S./UC San Diego?
    • Make housing arrangements prior to your return. If you hope to secure a spot in Graduate and Family Housing, please see the information on their website regarding the application process and estimated wait times.
    • International students: Please review the information on ISPO’s website for students traveling outside the U.S.
    • Register for required coursework and/or research units by the enrollment deadline.
    • Make sure to submit your report to the Merkin Fellowship Program Manager outlining the progress you made on the goals set forth in your fellowship application, in addition to the impact of your experience abroad on your research as well as personal and professional development.