Graduate student researchers find support through nonprofit fellowships

June 24, 2024

For nearly 40 University of Arizona graduate students last year, fellowship funding from three nonprofits eased financial burden, allowing them to focus on their research and academic achievements

Image
A photo after the Marshall Foundation Dissertation Fellowship luncheon

In addition to their coursework, graduate student researchers must balance multiple responsibilities, including teaching and mentoring undergraduates, after-hours grading, writing a dissertation, and managing daily life.

In addition to their coursework, graduate student researchers must balance multiple responsibilities, including teaching and mentoring undergraduates, after-hours grading, writing a dissertation, and managing daily life. Despite the daunting workload, fellowships from nonprofit foundations help dozens of graduate students successfully cross the finish line each year, defending their dissertation, earning their degree, and beginning the next chapter of their careers.

Sarah Britton, a doctoral candidate studying ecology and evolutionary biology, was a recipient of the Marshall Foundation Dissertation Fellowship last semester. The fellowship, created by the University of Arizona Graduate College with the support of the Louise Foucar Marshall Foundation, provides annual funding and tuition scholarships to help Arizona resident graduate students complete their doctoral dissertations.

Britton’s research focuses on the white-lined sphinx moth, a large insect common across the Southwest. As caterpillars, their coloration varies from low to high melanin, and Britton aimed to understand the environmental factors influencing this variation.

 

Image
Sarah Britton speaks during the 2024 Marshall Foundation Dissertation Fellowship luncheon.

Sarah Britton speaks during the 2024 Marshall Foundation Dissertation Fellowship luncheon.

“I think it’s really cool, the influence the environment has on traits in all organisms,” she said.

At a Marshall Foundation luncheon on campus in April, Britton and several of her peers presented the results of their studies. Britton explained how caterpillars with high pigmentation have a survival advantage in colder temperatures, but the trade-off for the increased melanin comes at the cost of other traits like immune response and adult wing pigmentation. Her findings emphasize the importance of the cost and the benefit of producing melanin when explaining the evolution of plasticity.

“The fellowship gives students like Sarah some financial freedom to prepare to defend their doctoral dissertations and graduate in a timely fashion so they can begin the next chapter of their lives,” said Bruce Burke, president of the Marshall Foundation Board of Directors. “It’s rewarding to hear about the wonderful research that the university conducts through the graduate program.”

“There’s just so much uncertainty in grad school and having these fellowships takes away some of that and gives you the opportunity to focus on all the uncertainty of my research,” said Britton.

Britton is among nearly 40 recipients of fellowships from the Marshall Foundation, the Bilinski Educational Foundation, and the ARCS Foundation last semester. The Bilinski Educational Foundation, tailored to social sciences and humanities, was established by Russell J. and Dorothy (Doro) S. Bilinski, who valued intellectual independence and responsibility, aiming to support students demonstrating academic excellence and moral character. The ARCS Foundation, which stands for Achievement Rewards for College Scientists, focuses on STEM fields, providing financial awards to outstanding US citizen students pursuing degrees in science, engineering, math, technology, and medical research. These foundations supported doctoral candidates at U of A this academic year with more than $760,000 total.

For students like Britton, fellowships offer much-needed stability as they navigate the demands of life as a graduate student.

“As a former graduate student myself, I understand the challenges and demands of pursuing an advanced degree,” said Elliott Cheu, U of A interim senior vice president of research and innovation. “The support provided by these fellowships is invaluable, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunities they afford our students to focus and excel in their studies and research.”

MORE INFORMATION

Interested students can learn more about funding opportunities through the Graduate College here.

Subscribe to the UArizona Impact in Action newsletter to receive featured stories and event info to connect you with UArizona's research, innovation, entrepreneurial ventures, and societal impacts.

Subscribe now