For all; Scottish, penultimate year, undergraduate students the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland’s Vacation Scholarships offers the opportunity to spend a summer undertaking a research project. This post explores two different perspectives on the scheme:

  • Kathleen Stosch, a University of Stirling PhD student whose love for research was sparked by a Summer on the salt marshes undertaking independent research; and
  • Patricia Krus of the Carnegie Trust, giving an overview of the scheme and an insight on how to apply and what makes a winning application.

Kathleen Stosch, PhD Student (Catchment Management), @KathleenStosch, HydroNation Profile

My 2012 Vacation Scholarship from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland allowed me the opportunity to take time off over the summer to do research on grassland sediment dynamics in the Solway Firth with Dr Richard Tipping. My research focused on a salt marsh acquired by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in an effort to protect its conservation value. SNH were concerned that the salt marsh may recede, reducing overwintering habitat for barnacle geese and other migrating birds.

As an undergraduate this was my first experience of carrying out a research project from start to finish. It included designing the sampling strategy, working in the lab, interpreting the results and writing up a paper to submit for peer-review. As well as invaluable preparation for my undergraduate dissertation project the opportunity gave me insights into the joys and challenges of working independently on a research project. Undeterred I went on to complete my dissertation, an MSc project, and I’m now undertaking a PhD project at Stirling.

My PhD project, funded by the Scottish Government’s HydroNation Scholarship Programme, is all about integrated catchment management and how we may balance often conflicting demands from different stakeholder groups. As part of this, using qualitative and quantitative methods, participatory approaches and spatial modelling, I am aiming to devise a strategy to promote collaboration and avoid conflict in managing ecosystem services in catchments. The project also aims to develop a socio-ecological framework for decision-making to optimise landscape-scale ecosystem services delivery in catchments under environmental uncertainty and change.

At the University of Stirling I am part of the research group for Environmental Sustainability and Human Health covering research from microbial pathogens, to water and food security, diffuse pollution, knowledge exchange and integrated catchment management.

If Kathleen’s experience has sparked your interest in a career in research or simply a summer then read Patricia Krus’ insight into how to make a successful application.

Dr Patricia Krus, Administrative Manager, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland

“The summer scholarship has taught me a variety of new skills such as independent working, interview transcription skills and data analysis, which I can utilise in my final year as well as in further work or research opportunities which may arise post-graduation.”  Victoria, Vacation Scholar in Psychology at Stirling (2014)

What’s a Vacation Scholarship?

This competitive scheme aims to encourage the development of research, project management and analytical skills by enabling undergraduate students to undertake a short research project between May and September before their final year at university. It is open to eligible students in any subject studied at Stirling including the social sciences and humanities, psychology, biological and environment sciences, maths and computing, aquaculture, sport science etc. Creative projects are also welcome!

The Scholarships come with a stipend of £225 a week for 6-8 weeks to cover your living and research expenses.

Where can I do a Vacation Scholarship?

Recent alumni have worked on projects in a lab at their own university or at another institution, undertaken field work in another country or spent time visiting archives or libraries, interviewing research subjects and stakeholders, or conducting surveys and focus groups, travelling across Scotland to do so.

Why should I apply?

Many students publish their research results, present posters at seminars or conferences while others develop an app, a learning resource or write a collection of short stories. The type of output depends on the topic but all make a big difference when applying for a place on a postgraduate programme. Alumni also say that the Scholarship experience really stands out on a CV and it’s something specific and unique to talk about during a job interview.

How do I go about applying?

First you will need to think of a suitable topic for a 6-8 week project and find a tutor or lecturer who is willing to provide some supervision and advice. Discuss the proposed topic and methodology with your supervisor. Then you will need to write a short research proposal, explaining the topic and research question, why it is important, and how you plan to carry out the project. Take time to explain the methodology: will you carry out experiments and how?  How will you collect and analyse data? How will you go about selecting and analysing texts or films or interviewing people and analysing their responses?

Another important thing to remember when applying is that the scheme aims to help you develop existing skills as well as acquire new knowledge and skills. So when writing the proposal think about what particular skills you will apply and develop during the project.

What does the Trust look for in application?

When we select projects, we look at the academic ability of the students and how they will benefit from doing a Vacation Scholarship. It’s important for us that the students take a lead role in writing the proposal, and that they clearly explain what they aim to do. We also look at the feasibility of the whether the project looks feasible in the allocated time.

Testimonies from former Stirling students

“In the course of my research project I spent two weeks in Paris, visiting several research libraries and archives. Spending several weeks of intensive research gave me an insight into the possibilities available through other research projects and postgraduate study. Dealing with the practical aspects of carrying out research abroad has taught me valuable lessons which I expect to benefit from in later years of study.” Alasdair, Vacation Scholar in Modern Languages, French at Stirling (2013)

“My summer project in Spain gave me greater insight into the process of planning and conducting field based research for extended periods of time. From observing the browning of leaves within the forest canopy, to the recovery of vegetation in response to mass forest fires, I was able to witness first-hand the negative effects that climate change is having on forest species. This has increased my enthusiasm for becoming involved with similar research in future.” Catherine, Vacation Scholar in Biological and Environmental Studies at Stirling (2016)

The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland’s Vacation Scholarships is currently seeking applications for their Undergraduate Vacation Scholarship scheme. The closing date for applications is 15th March 2017.