FERN: Fellowship for Exploring Research in Nutrition


The Fellowship for Exploring Research in Nutrition (FERN) aims to enhance the diversity of the nutrition research workforce in the United States by providing opportunities to engage in food and nutrition policy research to US-based undergraduate students, including those from groups that have been shown to be underrepresented in health-related 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 Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and other historically marginalized communities; yet people from these communities are traditionally underrepresented among researchers working to develop, research, and evaluate food and nutrition policies to address obesity. Increased representation in food policy research is critical for developing effective, equitable, comprehensive, and culturally competent policies that address nutrition-related health disparities.

About FERN

FERN is a 9-week, 40-hour/week paid research fellowship opportunity for 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, with the long-term goal of increasing representation from groups historically underrepresented in nutrition research. 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 have demonstrated an interest in exploring food and nutrition research and potentially pursuing a career in food policy research.

During the program, fellows will become active members of the GFRP team, 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 mentor and receive coaching during and after the summer fellowship. GFRP will continue to be a resource for fellows after the conclusion of the fellowship.

With support from GFRP researchers and graduate students and from interacting with each other, 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

  • $19 per hour wage
  • Housing at UNC-Chapel Hill’s on-campus apartments, Ram Village (paid for by GFRP)
  • 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 assigned access to a laptop and workspace during the summer fellowship
  • Ongoing career development support, such as graduate school application advice and letters of recommendation


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

  • Undergraduate students with 2nd– or 3rd-year academic standing in Spring 2023, who will graduate later than June 2023
  • The successful applicant will demonstrate how their participation in FERN will increase diversity along all dimensions in the field of nutrition. We particularly encourage first-generation college students and other students from historically underrepresented backgrounds to apply.
  • Expressed interest in food and nutrition research
  • Expressed interest in pursuing further education following completion of undergraduate degree. Applicants should be interested in pursuing advanced degrees or credentials in public health or nutrition — e.g., Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Science (MS), Registered Dietitian/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD/RDN), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Public Health (DrPH). This opportunity is specifically for applicants interested in graduate school, not medical school or other health professional schools.

Reminder: No prior research experience required. If you are unsure about your eligibility, please email us at gfrp-fern@unc.edu.

Program dates

FERN fellowships begin May 29, 2023, and end in July 28, 2023.

How to apply

The application for 2023 fellowships opened December 9, 2022 and closes February 24, 2023, at 11:59 pm EST.

Application link: https://redcap.link/fern2023

Application components: 

  1. Demographic information 
  2. 4 required essay questions and 1 optional essay question
  3. Resume/CV 
  4. Unofficial transcript 
  5. Contact information for 2–3 references (including at least one academic reference)

Contact us

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

FERN logo 2023