AMHERST, Mass. – The economic and research hardships stemming from the global COVID-19 pandemic have strained campuses around the country, including UMass Amherst. Especially hard hit are graduate students in the sciences, as their research opportunities and funding trajectories have been greatly reduced by COVID-19 public health restrictions.
In response, the university’s College of Natural Sciences (CNS) created the Graduate Student Fellowship Fund this fall to provide additional funding to graduate students who need to extend their work for another year, and to make available innovations in data collection for those who are unable to conduct in-person experiments.
The largest gift to the fund so far has come from alumni and long-time supporters Richard (’55) and Barbara (’55) Mahoney, who contributed $100,000 in early December 2020. The contribution has sparked additional donations from donors who recognize the value of graduate student research in the college and want to support those students.
“Our graduate students are central to our research and our industry partnerships,” says Dean Tricia Serio. “We are grateful to the Mahoney family for their ongoing support of our students. All of our donors know that graduate students make science happen and contribute to our collective wellbeing through their work.”
Graduate students are at the core of the research enterprise on campus, putting in thousands of hours to run experiments, collect data and analyze findings. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many graduate students have lost the opportunities they previously had to spend much-needed time in labs or out in the field. There are more than 1,000 graduate students working toward degrees across CNS.
CNS graduate students have played major roles in ground-breaking research including capturing the first image of a black-hole for the first time in history, creating an app to help farmers more efficiently grow crops, and finding new species of animals.
“Graduate students are the lifeblood of a leading research university like UMass Amherst,” says Richard Mahoney. “COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of all of our students, but the graduate students have taken a double hit. They not only lose out in classroom research but also in their field work, which is disrupted because of travel restrictions. This disruption has frequently meant a loss of grant dollars that support their work. We can help students individually protect themselves against the virus, but collectively through the CNS Graduate School Fellowship Fund we can begin to fight back.”
Mahoney added “Barbara and I are privileged to be able to help in this important support campaign in getting our graduate students through this crisis until we return to some semblance of normalcy.”
The challenges faced by CNS graduate students reflect national trends. A recent study by the Network for Research and Evaluation in Education reports that 35.5 percent of STEM doctoral students delayed their graduation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 67 percent reporting delays of more than four months. To learn more about how CNS graduate students have been affected and to offer your support, please visit cns.umass.edu/giving.