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New Fellowship Program Bolsters Research Opportunities for Master’s Students
Partnership Provides Grants to Dozens of Students During COVID-19 Pandemic

Madison Bixler BS'17, who is pursuing a master's degree in supply chain management, received a Master's Research Fellowship Program grant for her project.

The University of Texas at Dallas is broadening the scope of its summer research activity with a fellowship program for master’s students, some of whom are building upon earlier experience while others are getting their first research opportunity.

The Office of Research and the Office of Graduate Education partnered to establish the Master’s Research Fellowship Program (MRFP), which encourages UT Dallas master’s students to engage in research by awarding $1,500 each to 56 students across a wide range of disciplines. While on-campus research engagement is not prohibited, it is expected that most projects will be performed remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“UT Dallas greatly values the master’s students who come from all over the world to our academic village,” said Dr. Joseph Pancrazio, vice president for research and professor of bioengineering. “This program aims to accelerate scholarly engagement between our outstanding international and domestic graduate students and our world-class faculty.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many students in financial difficulty. The fellowship program, which began taking applications in mid-June, not only provides educational opportunities but also a crucial infusion of resources.

“UT Dallas greatly values the master’s students who come from all over the world to our academic village. This program aims to accelerate scholarly engagement between our outstanding international and domestic graduate students and our world-class faculty.”

Dr. Joseph Pancrazio, vice president for research at UT Dallas

“The Master’s Research Fellowship Program has come at the right time, when so many are struggling with the effects of the current pandemic,” said Dr. Juan González, dean of graduate education and the Francis S. Johnson Chair for Graduate Education. “It provides our master’s students an incentive to expand their research activities while pursuing their degrees, and it increases faculty-to-student interactions.”

Madison Bixler BS’17 is studying supply chain management under the mentorship of Dr. Dorothee Honhon, associate professor of operations management in the Naveen Jindal School of Management. Bixler’s project explores the impact of issues like inventory inaccuracy and data mishaps on retailers.

“This grant will allow me to collect some data to formally support my project analyses,” Bixler said. “With the pandemic heavily influencing our community, both faculty and peers, I am thankful for this opportunity to strengthen my research skills and work with the amazing faculty of UTD in the last semester of my master’s.”

Bixler, who has worked full time at the Dallas headquarters of Interstate Batteries while pursuing her master’s degree, said that COVID-19 has impeded her in multiple ways.

“Working and learning remotely has had a learning curve, to say the least,” she said. “I have missed many opportunities to socialize and chat with both faculty and peers. Additionally, the idea of incurring more student loans at such an economically volatile time was intimidating. So it was crucial that I remained on schedule to complete my degree.”

“The Master’s Research Fellowship Program has come at the right time, when so many are struggling with the effects of the current pandemic. It provides our master’s students an incentive to expand their research activities while pursuing their degrees, and it increases faculty-to-student interactions.”

Dr. Juan González, dean of graduate education at UT Dallas

Yile Wang, an applied cognition and neuroscience master’s student from China, is studying computational models of Alzheimer’s disease, hoping to discover biomarkers that indicate whether the early onset of cognitive impairment is likely to develop into Alzheimer’s.

“This funding is the only way I could do full-time research this summer,” said Wang, whose mentor is Dr. Ana Solodkin, a professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “As I prepare to apply for the neuroscience PhD program, this fellowship will allow me to reinforce my training with research experience, along with collaborating with UTD faculty.”

While living and studying far from home, Wang said that concern for his family is mentally draining, as are other aspects of the global pandemic.

“I miss the time when I could walk up to a professor and have a nice talk during a break between classes,” he said. “Hopefully, that chance will come back soon.”

Mechanical engineering master’s student Vignesh Suresh will focus in his project on what he calls “the most complex control system in the universe” — the human brain.

Studying under computer science lecturer Dr. Muhammad Ikram MBA'12, MS'12 in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, Suresh will use mathematical modeling, physical modeling and simulation to try to learn about biological cognition processes such as adaptation and learning.

“The project requires significant investment of time and effort, which are both hard to come by as an international student under time and financial pressures. Acquiring financial assistance from my home country during the pandemic has been especially difficult,” Suresh said. “This program has significantly alleviated this stress with its generous contributions in funding and moral support, which are especially valuable considering the current situation, which has severely limited travel and opportunities in career advancement.”

González, who also is a professor of molecular and cell biology, believes the program can have a long-term positive effect on the profile of students attending UT Dallas for graduate studies.

“The Office of Research should be praised for its timely recognition of the opportunities and help that this fellowship program can bring,” he said. “I hope that it becomes a signature program that will help attract and retain top-quality graduate students from all over the world.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].