Living Earth Collaborative Summer Undergraduate Research Award

The Living Earth CollaborativeTM at Washington University in St. Louis is dedicated to advancing the knowledge of biodiversity and to ensuring the future of earth’s species in their many forms. Washington University, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the St. Louis Zoo, and other St. Louis institutions offer a variety of research opportunities to undergraduate students that allow students to study and conserve biodiversity, regionally and around the world. The Living Earth Collaborative Summer Undergraduate Research Award (LEC SURA) Program provides financial support to WashU undergraduates to pursue full-time biodiversity research during the summer.

Participants gain a sophisticated and practical knowledge of the research enterprise. They experience the process of research as a creative intellectual activity and gain a more realistic view of the opportunities and demands of a professional research career.

Program Highlights

  • Student recipients receive an award of $5000.
  • The LEC SURA program supports WashU students working with a WashU Faculty Living Earth Collaborative Biodiversity Fellow or Post-doc who agrees to actively engage in conducting the research project.Students build professional relationships within the research group and the broader research community.
  • Work is carried out over 360 hours (~9-10 weeks full-time) between May 13 - August 23, 2024.
  • Students give an oral or poster presentation at the Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium patterned after a professional conference. Awardees also engage in programming intended to enrich their experiential learning, including attending a required research ethics workshop, giving a lightning talk on their project, and submitting mid- and end-of-award reports.

Application Timeline

(All dates subject to change)

March 1: Application Deadline

April 1: Award Notification

April 8: Award Acceptance Deadline

April 26 - May 1: Award Orientation Dates

May 13: Earliest Summer Research Start Date

Submission Guidelines


  • Open to all continuing WashU undergraduate students
  • Recipients must be able to conduct research for a minimum of 360 hours (~9-10 weeks full-time) between May 13 - August 23, 2024.
  • Students must be conducting research related to biodiversity, its study and conservation, regionally and/or around the world.
  • Applicants must be nominated by their research mentor, who must be a WashU Faculty Living Earth Collaborative Biodiversity Fellow or Living Earth Collaborative Post-Doc. If a student is working with a Biodiversity Fellow who is not a WashU Faculty member, a WashU Faculty member must co-nominate and co-mentor the student.
  • Priority is given to students pursuing their first LEC SURA. Past recipients may seek funding for an second summer research project but are strongly encouraged to develop alternative summer plans, because funding limitations may prevent the OUR from granting second awards.

Application Requirements

  • A basic eligibility check (e.g., are you a senior?) and a student information form (e.g., major, field of research, whether the project involves human subjects or travel)
  • A 2-4 page, double-spaced research proposal, developed in collaboration with your research mentor. Proposal components are described below.
  • Two faculty recommendations, one from your research mentor and one additional reference. Note that recommenders will submit a nomination form comprised of several short answer questions (NOT a traditional letter of recommendation).
  • A project timeline
  • An itemized budget and budget justification for research requiring travel
  • For research activities involving human subjects, nominees must seek and receive approval from the University's Human Research Protection Office prior to beginning their data collection; however, this step can take place after submitting nomination materials.
    • If a project is considered "exempt," the student should provide documentation verifying that status (e.g., IRB approval of exemption, description of conversation with HRPO's SWAT! On-Call Service).
    • On the application, students will be asked to briefly describe their prior experience with and/or planned strategies for connecting with the target research population. This statement should demonstrate that the student has an established network, sufficient cultural fluency, recruitment tools, and/or training in community-based research to meaningfully engage with and gather data from the individuals they seek to include in their research project.

Selection Criteria

  • The importance of the research experience to the student’s development
  • Clarity of research question and methodological approach to address the question
  • Demonstrated ability to place research in the broader context
  • The feasibility of the proposed project within the project period (all proposed summer research activities should be completed by the first day of classes in August) and its contribution to the discipline
  • Mentor’s assessment of nominee’s potential for learning and contribution to the research

Award Expectations

  1. Students who receive a LEC SURA must actively participate in the summer community of WashU undergraduate researchers, including attending a required research ethics workshop, giving a lightning talk on their project, and submitting mid- and end-of-award reports.
  2. Awardees must present their work at the Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium in the semester following receipt of the award.
  3. To faciliate an immersive research experience, students receiving awards for a summer research project should not engage in more than 3 credits of coursework or in additional full-time employment during the project period.
  4. For research activities involving human subjects, nominees must seek and receive approval (or exemption) from the University's Human Research Protection Office.
  5. All awards are considered taxable income by federal, state, and local government. Domestic students should declare their awards when filing annual taxes; the WashU Tax Department will mail a document listing the taxable award amount in late January. For international students, the tax burden can be substantial (up to 30%), and taxes are automatically withdrawn by the WashU Tax Department upfront.

Application Components

WashU Research Mentor Nomination

Awards are based on nomination by a WashU faculty mentor, who must be a WashU Faculty Living Earth Collaborative Biodiversity Fellow or Living Earth Collaborative Post-Doc. If a student is working with a Biodiversity Fellow who is not a WashU Faculty member, a WashU Faculty member must co-nominate and co-mentor the student. The recommendation involves short answers (NOT a traditional letter of recommendation) regarding the following criteria:

  1. Importance: Describe the importance of the proposed research or creative activities to the student’s academic and professional development and progression.
  2. Feasibility: Address the feasibility of the scope and timeline of the project. What potential barriers or constraints could interfere with progression of the project, and how might the student circumvent them? What product or milestone should the student achieve by the end of the research period?
  3. Disciplinary Contribution: Discuss the potential contribution of the proposed project to the relevant field of inquiry. What new knowledge, insights, tools, community impact, etc. might this project generate?
  4. Student Potential: Describe the student's commitment and capacity to undertake the proposed project. What experiences or indicators demonstrate the student's readiness and potential to advance the work? 
  5. Mentoring: Briefly outline your role in the project and how you and/or your research group hope to support the student in reaching project objectives.

Second Faculty Recommendation

Awards are also made based on a second faculty recommendation, e.g., from a faculty advisor or course instructor with some knowledge of the student's goals, skills, and capacity to contribute to a summer research project. As above, this recommendation involves short answers (NOT a traditional letter of recommendation) to the following questions:

  1. How long have you known the student and in what capacity?
  2. What experience or indicators demonstrate the student's interest or aptitude for research?
  3. How do you believe the student would benefit from a summer research experience?

Research Proposal

You are responsible for authoring your 2-4 page double-spaced research proposal, which we strongly advise you share with your prospective mentor. It should include:

  • Goal: State your research question(s)
  • Introduction: The introduction should provide the background and give the motivation for the proposed project. Discuss your project's relationship to your mentor's ongoing work, but also situate the research question(s) within the broader disciplinary context: explain previous studies, concepts, or theories relevant to your research. Given this context, highlight the disciplinary gap the project addresses and what new knowledge or understanding it will contribute. State your hypothesis where applicable.
  • Project Description: This section should specifically describe what you will do and how you will do it. Describe your method of inquiry and outline resources you will need. Explain the overarching methodological approach and your specific responsibilities. This section should outline the rationale and individual steps required to identify, examine and analyze the data/information collected.
  • Expected Outcome: Describe data you expect to collect and possible interpretations and implications.
  • Importance for the student: Identify the academic, personal, and/or professional goals the proposed project will advance. This section should specify how the faculty-mentored project will uniquely contribute to the students’ development of specific academic, personal, and professional competencies.

The proposal may include citations in any standard notation format is acceptable. Write the research proposal such that a reviewer with an advanced degree, but who is not an expert in your specific field, can understand and appreciate your proposal.

NOTE: Some projects may not fit the above format for writing the proposal, BUT will still qualify for support. If you are unsure whether your project is eligible for support, please inquire before applying.

You may ask your research mentor and/or others in the lab to review your research proposal and make editorial and scientific suggestions; however, the proposal must be written by you, the student. Please see the WashU Undergraduate Student Academic Integrity Policy for details on plagiarism and collaboration for guidance as your prepare your proposal. 

Project Timeline

Provide a weekly timeline that outlines the work you will execute to achieve project outcomes and when it will be carried out. This document should demonstrate the project's feasibility and help you track your progress over the summer. Relevant elements of this timeline include:

  • Key preparatory, training and methodological steps of the project
  • Milestones and deliverables (i.e., what you will achieve or produce, such as the ability to conduct experiments with minimal oversight, an optimized protocol for data collection, a lab meeting presentation, etc.)
  • Critical communication points with your mentor (e.g., to obtain feedback)
  • Anticipated project period dates and work hours

Budgets for Travel-Based Projects

For research requiring extensive travel and/or fieldwork, the award amount is not determined by project length, but is budget based. Students can request up to $5000 and should include all applicable project related costs in a detailed budget, including:

  • Transportation (e.g., airfare, ground transportation)
  • Room and board (e.g., lodging, meals)
  • Research supply costs (e.g., archive admission, translation fees)
  • International travel expenses (e.g. visa costs, required health insurance)
  • Stipend for project work outside of travel period (include non-travel project hours in budget document AND timeline; stipend will be prorated accordingly)

Research Supply Supplement (Non-Travel Projects)

A limited number of award supplements will be available to cover consumable research supplies (e.g., chemical reagents, participant incentives, art supplies) for projects that do not involve travel. Students may request up to $500 and must submit an itemized (e.g., specific items and quantity) budget of the resources needed to execute the project. A justification must accompany each proposed cost that discusses how the items/resources are essential to the methodology and goals of the work. Describe how each cost was estimated, addressing these additional considerations when applicable:

  • Any other funding, such as mentor matches, fellowships, etc.
  • How items/resources are otherwise unavailable through WashU (mentor, department, library, etc.) or other avenues at no/lower cost (e.g. renting equipment)
  • For projects involving compensation of research subjects, a rationale for the number of paid subjects is required

Overall, you must convey that the proposed costs are reasonable and necessary to carry out the project. Please note that generally we cannot fund the costs of non-consumable goods (i.e., reusable equipment); however, we will consider such items under $100 with strong justification. Insufficient budget justification will decrease the probability of receiving this supplemental funding significantly.

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Application Opens Soon!

Deadline: March 1, 2024