Fellowship for Exploring Research in Nutrition (FERN)


The Fellowship for Exploring Research in Nutrition (FERN) aims to increase the diversity of students pursuing a graduate degree in the field of nutrition (MPH, RD/RDN, PhD) in the United States by providing US undergraduate students from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations in the fields of nutrition and academia the opportunity to engage in food and nutrition policy research.


Among the most pressing public health problems today are childhood and adulthood obesity, which contribute to chronic health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and can lead to early death. Obesity disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities; yet BIPOC are traditionally underrepresented among researchers working to develop, research, and evaluate food and nutrition policies to address obesity. Currently, the field of nutrition is overwhelmingly comprised of white researchers. Increased BIPOC representation in food policy research is critical to developing effective, equitable, comprehensive, and culturally competent policies that address nutrition-related health disparities.

About FERN

FERN is a 10-week paid research fellowship opportunity for BIPOC undergraduate students hosted by the Global Food Research Program (GFRP), located within the Carolina Population Center (CPC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). GFRP collaborates with partners domestically and globally to evaluate food policies and develop rigorous and innovative methods to reduce nutrition-related health disparities and prevent obesity.

FERN provides a unique opportunity to undergraduate students interested in exploring research in food policy. No previous research experience is required. Fellowships are not limited to UNC-Chapel Hill students — students from any college or university are welcome to apply. Potential fellows must express an interest in exploring food and nutrition research and potentially pursuing a career in food policy research.

During the program, fellows will develop research skills, engage in professional development workshops, and receive individual one-on-one mentorship from leaders in the field. Research skills training will include conducting literature reviews, interpreting results, drafting manuscripts, as well as additional skills as needed. Weekly professional development workshops will expose fellows to a variety of topics, including resume/CV development and visual research presentation skills. Furthermore, each fellow will be paired with a GFRP researcher and receive coaching during and after the summer fellowship.

With support from GFRP researchers and graduate students, FERN fellows will gain a deeper and broader understanding of critical methodological skills used in food policy research. This unique experience will also strengthen their scientific oral and writing competencies while improving their knowledge and network base in food policy research, both domestically and globally.

Program benefits

  • $7,500 stipend, paid in three installments
  • Additional funds up to $1,000 to engage in professional development opportunities (e.g., attend a conference, participate in The Odum Institute research workshop)
  • Weekly professional development workshops
  • Leadership role on a research project
  • Opportunity to gain foundational research skills
  • Opportunity to become part of a global network focused on food policy research
  • One-on-one coaching and mentorship from leaders in the field, both during and after the fellowship
  • Resources necessary to complete the program, including a laptop and workspace during the summer fellowship


Students who wish to apply to FERN must meet all the following criteria:

  • Undergraduate students with 1st, 2nd, or 3rd year academic standing in Spring 2022
  • Racial/Ethnic background of Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC) that is historically marginalized in academia and the field of nutrition in the United States
  • Expressed interest in food and nutrition research
  • Expressed interest in pursuing further education after completion of undergraduate degree

Reminder: No prior research experience required.

Program dates

FERN Fellowships begin in May and end in August.

How to apply

Application for the 2022 fellowship closed February 18, 2022. Applications for 2023 fellowships will be available in late 2022.

Application components: 

  1. Demographic information 
  2. Essay questions 
  3. Resume/CV 
  4. Unofficial transcript 
  5. 2-3 references we can/may contact 

Contact us

Questions? Please email us at gfrp-fern@unc.edu.

FERN logo

Poster describing FERN program. Text content repeats what is listed on the FERN website.