Illinois Summer Fellows

Illinois Summer Fellows

Launched in 2018, the Illinois Summer Fellows (ISF) program allows undergraduate students from the University of Oxford to conduct plant science research alongside highly skilled scientists at the University of Illinois. ISF has cultivated an environment where the Fellows have the independence needed to develop as scientists while knowing that they have the support and encouragement of their supervisors. Fellows are paired with a scientist supervisor to assist them with a specific element of a project aimed to increase crops’ photosynthetic and/or water-use efficiency. The program aims to provide a rewarding experience that helps students develop as scientists, and ultimately, to consider pursuing careers in plant biology.

The ISF program is supported by Oxford University in England and the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), an international research project led by Illinois that is engineering crops to be more productive by improving photosynthesis. It is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationFoundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

We accept applications from Oxford students in the first or second year of the Biological Sciences program at the University of Oxford who have an interest in plant physiology, food security, bioenergy, crop phenotyping, genetics, genomics, biochemistry, image analysis, statistics, or associated fields. Selected Illinois Summer Fellows will spend the summer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the U.S. contributing to plant science research, working alongside a postdoctoral researcher mentor. 

Fellows will work full-time from approximately July 1 through September 20. Shorter periods may be considered. Fellows will gain experience with a wide range of techniques involved in the genetic improvement of crops, experimental design, physiological and morphological phenotyping, and environmental analysis. Crops of interest include model crop organisms (tobacco and Setaria) as well as food crops (cassava, cowpea, maize, soybeans, and wheat) and bioenergy crops (sorghum and Miscanthus). Fellows will spend significant periods of time working in the field assisting with the care of plants and collecting measurements. This position requires an ability to work outside amongst insects in hot and humid conditions. Occasionally, you may be asked to work from dawn to dusk as part of the team to acquire time-sensitive data. Depending on the project, you may work in the laboratory to assist with physiological analyses including the measurement of photosynthesis, biochemical analyses, mathematical modeling, data entry, and analysis.

Illinois will provide Fellows with a monthly stipend of approximately $1,840 USD (subject to change) and local accommodations. Illinois will also assist with obtaining the necessary visas. Oxford will provide support for travel to Illinois and health insurance; a list of insurance providers will be included as part of the visa application process. Fellows will be required to provide proof of insurance upon arrival at Illinois as part of their check-in process. Preference is given to applicants who are able to obtain partial support from their college or other organizations.

The application for the 2021 ISF program will open in January. 

Illinois Summer Fellows work on the following projects:

Past Fellows have had the opportunity to work on these research projects:

  • Investigating the genetic variation in canopy architecture and photosynthesis in soybean and cowpea with supervisor Anthony Digrado in the lab of Lisa Ainsworth.

  • DNA assembly and molecular cloning of vectors for the use in plant synthetic biology with Benjamin Haas in the lab of Steve Long.

  • Investigating the natural variation in photoprotection in soybean and cowpea under field conditions in order to breed better crops with Elsa de Becker in the lab of Steve Long.

  • Applying qPCR to study changes in gene expression under dynamic lighting in plants with improved light-harvesting efficiencies with Sarah Hutchinson in the lab of Steve Long.

  • Development of a high-throughput assay for analysis of DNA constructs in plants with Cindy Chan in the lab of Steve Long.

  • Image analysis for parameterization of leaf 3D structure and its impact on photosynthesis with Yu Wang in the lab of Steve Long.

  • Updating global validation of Crop Model BioCro using recently published energy crops data with Deepak Jaiswal in the lab of Steve Long.

  • A reverse genetic screen for mutants with altered photoprotection in Arabidopsis thaliana with Steven Burgess in the lab of Steve Long.

  • Investigating the physiological impact of synthetic pathways to photorespiration in tobacco and potato with Amanda Cavanagh and Paul South in the lab of Don Ort.

  • Biochemical screening of thermotolerant improvements in Rubisco Activase on protein function with Amanda Cavanagh in the lab of Don Ort.

  • Assisting with plant biology field trials from seed to harvest and experience what it takes to maintain experimental plants for research purposes with David Drag, who manages field trials for various research projects. 

Frequently Asked Questions:
  • Where does this fellowship take place?

    This fellowship takes place at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Students will be housed near campus and work on research projects at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. 
  • What funding will I need to secure for this fellowship?

    This fellowship is fully funded; however, preference will be given to applicants who have secured additional funds to support them during this fellowship. Past participants have received support from the Student Support Scheme and travel grants offered by various colleges.
  • Does the “two-year stay-at-home rule” affect Illinois Summer Fellows?

    Illinois Summer Fellows are given a J-1 visa in the student intern category with a 12-month maximum stay. This J-1 category is not related to the two-year home residence requirement and does not affect an individual’s ability to come back to the U.S. on another J program. The two-year home residence requirement only comes into play if the individual wants to change status, apply for H, L, or K visas, or apply for permanent residence.

For more information about this Fellowship or your application, please contact us at