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Some ‘un-conventional’ funding

Funding. The single most dreaded word for any aspiring scientist and one that conjures up a nightmare of thoughts, tangents, and spontaneous sweating. But, it’s something we have to deal with, we have to talk about, and we have to find. Fellow UNdertheC writer, Justin, has complied a great post about Where to find funding for graduate school, listing all the great fellowships available to STEM graduate students. But once you’ve been in school for more than two years, these fellowships start to dry up and become ‘off-limits’. But don’t despair! There are a plethora of other, more ‘un-conventional’ funding sources to check out. For now, I’d like to focus on one, the NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (NSF-EAPSI).


Me, my host PI in China, and a fellow lab mate at the closing ceremony for the 2016 NSF EAPSI program in China.

And yes, the title is long. And yes, it is a rather specific funding source (as are most ‘un-conventional’ sources). And yes, you do have to conduct research in a foreign country and it’s only funding for the summer. Okay, but let’s back up a minute. NSF-EAPSI is a program run and partially sponsored by NSF here in the US. It’s a program open to ALL STEM fields: from astronomy to science education (and marine sciences, too!). It’s (as the name suggests) a summer program, typically lasting about 8 weeks (though some locations, like Japan, are 10 week long programs). And, also as the name suggests, sends graduate students to conduct scientific research in one of seven international localities: Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, or Taiwan. The NSF part of the program pays $5,000, directly to the student, as a summer stipend as well as airfare to and from the research location. The program is jointly sponsored with the equivalent NSF type funding agency in the respective host country. This organization then pays all housing and living costs associated with your in-country stay.

That’s the brief run-down, and as you can imagine, there are some pros and cons to this type of funding. Let’s look at some of them…


  • You get to live, work, research, hang-out, travel, etc. in a foreign country. It’s AWESOME (and really, really challenging) and a pretty sweet once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
  • Because the funding goes directly to you, you’re considered an ‘NSF PI’ which is a pretty cool thing to put on your resume.
  • A lot of times it allows fellows to get access to field sites, data, equipment, collaborations, etc. that they wouldn’t normally have access to being here in the US.
  • It fosters collaboration between the US and international nations.

PRO: At least in China, there’s an opening ceremony where all 40-ish fellows meet in Beijing for lectures about China and a cultural orientation. This included cultural activities like going to the Great Wall!


  • You do have to identify and contact a potential collaborator in the foreign country of interest BEFORE applying (you have to have proof that you’ve interacted, via e-mail, with your potential host in your application). In my personal experience, it seemed like most EAPSI fellows somehow ‘knew’ their host prior to applying. Either their US Advisor knew the host, somebody at the fellows university knew the host, their ex-roommates, sister had a connection with the host…some kind of connection that allowed for an introduction between the proposed host and fellow. This is especially important in Asian countries (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan) where ‘cold-e-mailing’ PI’s likely won’t illicit a response (though, this shouldn’t discourage you from reaching out and trying!).
  • There is no specific research funding available. Of course, technically you can use the $5,000 stipend for research money, but then you start to cut into your own money. In my case, my US lab already had another existing grant with my host lab in China that helped cover my research costs. Other fellows had host’s that helped cover research costs and I think some host countries actually supply research money to your international host (though, this varies by country – check the fine print!). Just something to think about when applying.

Basically, it’s a pretty unique, awesome, challenging experience and is a great example of some ‘un-conventional’ funding sources. And even if this isn’t the ‘right’ funding source for you, just remember that there are hundreds of these types of smaller, more specific funding sources out there. You just have to be a little more creative and a little bit more diligent about your funding research to find!

More specific info. on the NSF EAPSI program can be found at their website. I was lucky enough to participate in the NSF EAPSI program in China this past summer and am happy to try to answer any and all questions about the process and my experience, so tweet me (@Seashells1111) or find my contact info. here. I’m also planning on posting more about my research and experiences in the field, so stay tuned!

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