IRES in Swaziland

Information on how to apply, including requirements, can be found at the bottom of this page. Please read the information on the course, feel free to inquire, and make sure you apply!

The goal of the National Science Foundation’s IRES program is ‘to provide high quality educational experiences for small groups of U.S. students through active research participation in collaboration with foreign researchers at an international site… and provide students with international collaborative research training and a personal network on which to build future collaborations.’ This is a competitive program, and selected students will receive 1) plane fare, 2) fully-funded 3 week study abroad course, 3) a 6-week paid internship, 4) food and accommodation at the research camp. This is our 3rd and final cohort (2018) which will consist of 5 students to be selected in January.

As part of this education and training experience, students will undertake individual research projects at a biodiversity hotspot and test hypotheses regarding how land-use change and agricultural intensification influence biodiversity and ecosystem services.

This winter (Nov 2017 -Jan 2018), we will select 4-5 undergraduate students from the US and 3 Swaziland students who will be mentored by faculty from the University of Florida (UF) and the University of Swaziland (UNISWA). Before traveling to Swaziland, successful applicants will be responsible for attend (via distance learning) meetings and workshops  to foster their understanding of the scientific methods needed for their success prior to the initiation of their educational and in-country program training. Participants will then spend nine weeks in Swaziland conducting independent research and increasing their proficiency with research methodologies, ecological theory and Southern African culture. In Swaziland, students will be based the Savannah Research Center (-26.134635°, 32.004482°), established by UF to facilitate undergraduate research. The center is located in the Mbuluzi Game Reserve (www.mbuluzi.com), located in eastern Swaziland within the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Biodiversity Hotspot, and surrounded by a mosaic of intensive and rain-fed agricultural production.

Pre-Departure Activities

To prepare participants for successful research experiences, students will meet during the spring semester prior to departure. In 2018 there will be scheduled modules participants will be responsible for completing, consisting of basics in data management using R environment including basic multivariate statistics, and genetic data analyses. Meetings will also be used to provide information on the cultures of southern Africa, health issues, regional ecology and basic language training. Students selected from universities outside UF will be expected to participate remotely (e.g. via Skype).

In-Country Activities
Foundational activities. As part of their training, students will engage in a study abroad course. The course will include series of lectures, readings, discussion and debates on conservation, ecology and culture. These activities will help students untangle the complexities of the social and ecological drivers of eastern Swaziland’s agricultural mosaic. In addition, students will partake in field exercises to learn identification and sampling procedures for local flora and fauna communities.
Cultural experiences. Participants will live and work alongside Swazi students. They will tour Swazi villages, receive further language training and engage in ongoing discussions with Swazi students and mentors on the intricacies of Swazi culture. Additionally, throughout the IRES we will take regular excursions to interact with land managers, community members and chiefs.
Cohort-specific training. Each year students will engage in lectures, exercises and discussions specifically designed to provide them with the tools and approaches they need to successfully conduct their research. To ensure they have the skills and background to conduct their research, each participant will receive individual instruction from their mentors.
Data collection. Students will work together to collect biodiversity data to be used for IRES projects. These data will include quantification of floral and faunal communities, tissue samples and ground truthing.
Research project. Students will receive group and individual instruction on data analysis methodologies. Each student will analyze their data under the close supervision of mentors. We will develop student’s technical writing skills through instruction and feedback. Each student will produce a written proposal, report draft and final report. Similarly, we will provide students with instruction, feedback and opportunities to improve their oral presentation skills. Students will present weekly updates to their peers and mentors and their final finding to mentors, peers and local stakeholders.

Application information

To apply: Navigate to the CONTACT link where you can inquire about the program and/or upload your application material*.

You will only be eligible for the 2018 cohort if you are starting their junior or senior year at the time of the course (May 2018), and those who have taken at least 3 credits of general ecology. The program is intended for students that have not completed degree requirements, so those wishing to participate after the end of their senior year will not be considered. We will consider students graduating in December 2018.

Anticipated dates for the start of in-country activities for 2018 are the last week May (approximately May 28th), and an end of IRES in-country activities at the end of July (somewhere between the 26-31). However, applicants will expected to be available from between May 15 and July 31, 2018.

Interested students must submit, using the ‘contact us’ tab, the following materials as one PDF file in order to be considered*. We will begin reviewing applicants on Dec 2, 2017, and anticipate interviewing candidates and making offers in early January 2018  — please have your materials in by Dec. 2 at the latest, after that we may no longer have open positions!:

1) A 1 page (single spaced) motivational statement detailing why this international experience in Swaziland will be beneficial to your academic and career goals.

2) A curriculum vitae that includes relevant research and educational experience, related volunteer activities, courses, hobbies, etc.

3) Also include a writing example from an assignment that you have done during your academic career (indicate the course and faculty associated with the course).

4) A copy of academic transcripts (unofficial is acceptable for initial application, with formal copy available upon request).

5) We require 1 letter from a reference who can speak to your academic and work ethic (professor preferred). In addition, contact information (email and phone) for two additional references who can speak to your academic work ethic and suitability for this program. Three references total. We will likely contact references if you are short listed.

*Note: Application material (items 1 to 3) should be sent as a single pdf document with the title “<your_last_name>2018_application.pdf”.  The letters of reference (item 5) can be included, or sent directly from your reference to the same email address (please have them add your name to the subject line; e.g. “Ima Genius reference letter”). Applicants will be informed once their applications have been received in full (application and reference letter). If your combined pdf is too large (you get an error) then email directly to uf.ires.inquiry@gmail.com.