Graduate Assistantships

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For Research on Ancient Biodiversity and Global Change in the New World Tropics

NSF-funded graduate assistantships (for up to three years) are available starting in the 2012-2013 academic year for the Panama Canal Project (PCP)-PIRE (NSF-funded Partnership for International Research and Education, 0966884) for geology and biology students to: 1) study ancient biodiversity and global change as recorded in the geological exposures in the Panama Canal (Panama), and 2) participate in outreach and informal education opportunities associated with the PCP-PIRE. This program also provides opportunities for graduate students to pursue non-traditional theses and/or dissertations containing a broader impact deliverable.

Students will spend their first year of their graduate program in Panama conducting their PCP activities and at the same completing University of Florida coursework through a new eLearning program. Accordingly, while not an initial requirement, students will be expected to demonstrate bi-lingual (English/Spanish) competency by the completion of their assistanship.

PCP-PIRE is a U.S.-Panamanian partnership to document the ancient marine and terrestrial biodiversity and global climate change of the New World Tropics (NWT), preserved in the 25-million-year fossiliferous sequence in Panama and promote international education, collaboration, and exchange. Research foci include the magnitude and timing of diversity change in the NWT; the biogeographic origins, relationships, and dispersal history of the Central American fauna and flora; antiquity of the rainforest; effects of global climate change on tropical biodiversity through time; and other fundamental questions related to the emergence of the Isthmus of Panama and its past on biodiversity.

These assistantships support United States citizens or permanent residents, and include an annual stipend, tuition, health insurance, in-country housing, and project-related travel.

How to Apply

  1. PCP-PIRE graduate assistants must be admitted to a participating M.S. or Ph.D. program at the University of Florida. Participant departments:
  2. At the same time you contact the department of your interest, you should let a PCP PIRE Faculty member know about your intentions to apply to UF. Please be sure to contact the faculty member that matches your research interests. A short email briefing your reserach interests will count as an "application."
  3. Once you have submitted all the required documents to the University of Florida Admissions office, and to the department of your interest, the PCP PIRE will receive copies of your transcripts, statement of purpose, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation directly from the department you are applying to. Therefore, you DO NOT need to send those again to us. A brief email explaining the department you are applying to and the faculty you would like to work with is enough for the PIRE.

PCP-PIRE is committed to diversity in education and encourages the application of women and underrepresented minorities. Key application deadlines for relevant academic programs begin on December 15, 2012.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does admission to the PIRE guarantees admission to UF and vice versa?
No. Admission to UF has nothing to do with us. You are encouraged to apply to the PCP PIRE Graduate Assistantship at the same time you are applying to UF. We will partially review your application, and if admitted to UF, we would make a final decision regarding funding. Admission to UF does not guarantee the PIRE assistantship either.

For research projects do students design/pick their own projects based on their own interests or are they assigned projects based on the Panama work?
Research projects are largely determined by what the student wants to work on. That said, we have many researchers involved in the PCP PIRE, so the project would need to fit into that broader picture in a way that makes sense for everyone.

Should I specify in my application to UF that I am applying to the PCP PIRE Graduate Assistanship?
Yes. The PCP PIRE is an NSF funded graduate research assistantship (not a fellowship). You are free to apply to as many sources of funding as you want. For example: the PCP PIRE assistantship is one, but the department you are applying to might also offer other funding opportunities; they might call them assistantships or fellowships. You need to contact them in order to verify that. This does not mean you can get all of them; it only helps all the departments to asses your funding needs, and to come up with a solution upon revision of the materials you have submitted to UF. They will contact us to let us know that your application is in process and that you have mentioned our assistantship (as explained above).

Is this a Distance Learning program?
This is not a Distance Learning program. This is what we called an eLearning program. Students will spend their first year of their graduate program in Panama conducting their PCP activities and at the same completing University of Florida coursework through the eLearning program. Technically, you will be doing a lot of field work in Panama while taking classes via video teleconferencing. We have this technology set up at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and the Florida Museum in Gainesville at the UF campus. However, the majority of your credits during the first year will be research credits. After a year, you will come back to Gainesville to complete the majority of your credits on campus (not via eLearning).

Is Spanish proficiency mandatory?
While not an initial requirement (although preferred), students will be expected to demonstrate bi-lingual (English/Spanish) competency by the completion of their assistantship.

Can I also apply to the internships offered by the PCP PIRE?
Yes. The benefit to this is that you would get immediate experience with our research project in Panama and give the PIs a chance to see you in action in the field. I could see that as potentially helping with a graduate application (it will be very competative this year). It would also provide you with a truly unique international field experience.


If you have any other questions, contact Cristina Robins.