SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Grants help students attend meetings in other countries

Aug. 10, 2008
OSA Foundation travel grants allow undergraduate and graduate students working or studying in developing nations to attend meetings in other countries

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It is increasingly important for optics students to have the opportunity to interact with the global science community. For students from developing nations, however, finding the funding to travel to international conferences and meetings can be a challenge. To address this, the OSA Foundation (OSAF) through its Global Action Fund offers travel grants Global Action Fund to undergraduate and graduate students working or studying in qualifying developing to attend meetings in other countries. Applicants are encouraged but not required to be OSA members and to submit a paper for oral or poster presentation.

"The Optical Society is a global organization, and our student population reflects this," says Meredith Smith, OSA Foundation director. "A majority of our student members are based outside the U.S.; many reside in economically developing nations. These young people are the future of the profession and of OSA. It's imperative that they all have equal opportunities to participate and to contribute."

Applicants are asked to submit a short resume or CV, proof of enrollment in an accredited undergraduate or graduate program in a qualifying developing nation, an approximation of anticipated expenses for attending the meeting, a letter from the faculty advisor demonstrating need and stating the benefit for attending the meeting, and a copy of the paper or description of the poster to be presented, if applicable. While OSA will send a letter of invitation for U.S. meetings, applicants are responsible for applying for necessary visas. Students are also asked to submit a post-meeting report summarizing their experiences.

Since the program's inception in 2004, over 100 students from 28 countries on five continents] have received travel grants. While their trip reports are as individual as the students themselves, grant recipients agree on the benefits that they've derived from their participation in international meetings: exposure to cutting-edge science that enhances local curricula and opens up new frontiers for study; the opportunity to meet prominent scientists from other countries that may lead to future collaboration; developing a network of friends across the globe; international exposure and presentation experience; and enhanced self-confidence.

Peeter Piksarv, an undergraduate physics student at the University of Tartu, Estonia, attended the conference on Digital Holography and Three-Dimensional Imaging in St. Petersburg, FL, U.S. in March, 2008. "[The conference] gave me the first experience of immediate international scientific communication and provided me with some hints for continuing my research. It was a good way to compare my studies to that of other students," he says. "The meeting offered me a great overview of subjects that are not covered in such detail in my current curriculum, but are essential for fulfilling my scientific ambitions in my areas of interest. Thank you very much for the support that made it possible for me to attend this meeting and have the wonderful experience of visiting the States for the first time."

Sergül Aydöre, working toward his Master's degree in biomedical signal processing at Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey, writes, "If I did not receive this grant, attending this conference would be impossible for me. I am just a student and my only income is a fellowship from the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, which is not enough to supply both travel and hotel expenses." With the assistance of a travel grant, Aydöre was able to attend BIOMED 2008 in St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S. in March 2008.

Edward Harold Bernhardi, an undergraduate student at the University of University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, presented a paper on "Investigating Thermal Stresses in Quasi-CW Pumped Tm-YLF Laser Crystals" at ASSP (Advanced Solid-State Photonics) 2008, held in January 2008 in Nara, Japan. Berhardi reports, "This was the first international conference that I have attended. Presenting my work at the ASSP meeting was a really great boost for my confidence as a scientist. I think this puts me well on the way to achieve a very good MSc degree. The interaction with other leading laser scientists from around the world was very inspiring. I have exchanged contact details with quite a number of them, which makes future collaboration a reality."

The OSA Foundation, created in 2002, is dedicated to supporting programs that advance youth science education, provide optics education and resources to underserved populations, provide career and professional development resources, and support awards and honors that recognize technical and business excellence. Contributions to the Foundation, a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, are deductible as provided by law. All donors receive special recognition and acknowledgments, unless they request to be anonymous. Donations to the OSA Foundation are matched dollar-for-dollar by the Optical Society. For more information, please contact the OSA Foundation staff via telephone: +1.202.416.1421 or e-mail: [email protected].

GRACE KLONOSKI is the senior director, Foundation and the Member & Education Services, for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036; email: [email protected]; Web site:

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