Undergraduate research funds drop 30 percent

By Cory Ray, @coryray_DE

Research comes in many forms, and for the research department, finding ways to fund undergraduate assistants for spring semester may be its next project.

The university undergraduate research budget is being trimmed by 30 percent, with $300,000 cut from uncommitted undergraduate assistantship funds.

James Garvey, vice chancellor for research, said student researchers are guaranteed hours for this semester, but may see a reduction in employed hours in order to retain all of the current research projects.


When the research department issued contracts, Garvey said he was not sure if some students would be able to continue their research in the spring semester.

According to Garvey, roughly 50 percent of grants received are from the state. The usual average of state grants are anywhere between $40 to 50 million, but up to $20 million of that average is uncertain for this year.

Rachel Fishel, a junior from Arcola studying physiology and Spanish, said her professor warned her she may not be able to work during the spring semester, but she could continue to volunteer. Fishel chose to volunteer in her professor’s lab but when she applied, it was as a paid undergraduate assistant.

Fishel works as a research project assistant who studies various ovarian cancer-causing genes.

Miranda Gibson, a senior from Centralia studying psychology and paralegal studies, is a REACH award recipient employed through two undergraduate assistantships. She uses those positions to pay for her cost of living and save for graduate school.

Gibson uses her REACH award to fund research on the effects different amounts of sleep can have on college students. She also studies treatments for sleep apnea — a condition that affects breathing when sleeping. 

The REACH award is a $1,500 grant awarded to roughly 20 students every year that employs students for 10 hours a week for the entire academic school year.


Gibson said if her hours are cut, it could be a serious burden, as she sometimes spends more than 10 hours a week in the lab, and finding another job would be difficult.

Rodrigo Carramiñana, director of the Center of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, said he considered REACH recipients in the center’s budget. As the university’s most prestigious research grant given, the center will continue to pay REACH awardees 10 hours per week for both fall and spring semesters.

Other undergraduate assistantships are still uncertain for the spring semester. Carramiñana said he will be asking undergraduate assistants to work as volunteers if they do not need the income. He will also ask students to if they are able to reduce their number of hours worked each week.

Carramiñana said he understands some students have financial needs met through university research employment, and he wants to make sure they can continue to be paid if possible.

The cut on uncommitted undergraduate assistantships is nonrecurring — only applicable for this year — and will be reevaluated in following years.

“What we’re trying to do now is figure out how to absorb that $300,000 cut without having a significant impact on undergraduate research,” Garvey said. “We’re going to do some belt-tightening and we will work hard to stretch dollars we have to improve [research] even with this cut.”

Despite the cut, University Spokesperson Rae Goldsmith said it will not affect the university’s status as a research institution.

“We’re still very committed to our research status. It’s a distinguishing point for us,” Goldsmith said. “It won’t affect our status because much of that status is driven by our ability to secure external grants.”

Cory Ray can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @coryray_DE