FERN: Fellowship for Exploring Research in Nutrition


The Fellowship for Exploring Research in Nutrition (FERN) aims to strengthen the future nutrition research workforce in the United States by enabling and encouraging broader participation by all. FERN provides opportunities for US-based undergraduate students to engage in real-world 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 type 2 diabetes, and can lead to early death. Obesity disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), low-wealth, rural, and other historically marginalized communities; yet people from these communities are traditionally less common among researchers working to develop, research, and evaluate food and nutrition policies to address obesity. Increased participation 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 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 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 and is committed to expanding the opportunities in nutrition research to people of all racial, ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities and to persons with disabilities. 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

  • $20 per hour wage
  • Housing at UNC-Chapel Hill’s on-campus apartments, Ram Village (paid for by GFRP)
  • 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 2024, who will graduate later than June 2024
  • The successful applicant will demonstrate how their academic background, strengths, and lived experiences might contribute to nutrition and/or food-related research.
  • 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

2024 FERN fellowships will begin on Tuesday, May 28 and end on Friday, July 26.

How to apply

The application for 2024 fellowships closed February 4, 2024. Interviews will take place in mid to late February. Selected candidates will be notified by the first week of March.

Contact us

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

FERN logo 2023


FERN fellows 2023, photographed outdoors
2023 FERN fellows
2022 FERN Fellows standing on steps outside GFRP office; from left: Tiffany Williams, Emerald Izuakor, and Sydni Wright
2022 FERN fellows