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Aiken Fellowship

Aiken Graduate Research Fellowship

Apply for up to $7,000 of funding for a water-related research project that includes two project advisors: a CU faculty member and a USGS scientist in the Boulder/Denver area.  Funding can be applied to tuition, salary, and research expenses (not including equipment).

Application deadline

The deadline is not yet set.  It will likely be announced by 01 November 2021, with funding to begin Fall semester 2022. Funding duration is for one year.


You must be a current or incoming Masters and/or PhD student at CU Boulder in one of the following departments and programs

  • Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences
  • Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering
  • Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • Environmental Studies
  • Geography
  • Geological Sciences

Your university advisor must be a faculty member at CU Boulder. Your USGS advisor must work within the Boulder/Denver area.

Your proposed project must be a future project. Funds cannot be applied retrospectively to a past project with a USGS collaborator.

Contact us

For questions about this funding opportunity, please email

Fellowship mission

The Fellowship honors George R. Aiken (1951-2016), who made significant contributions to our understanding of aquatic ecosystems during his 40-year career as an organic geochemist with the U.S. Geological Survey.  This fellowship aims to support collaborative research for advancements in water and earth science that contribute to the wise and sustainable management of Earth’s natural resources within the context of current environmental challenges.

Finding UCB & USGS project advisors

You may collaborate with any CU Boulder faculty member and any U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist working within the Boulder/Denver area. To find a USGS mentor, talk to your graduate advisor, visit USGS websites, email specific scientists, or contact Sarah Spaulding.

Review process

The review committee will evaluate your application based on the criteria below and point-based scoring of your application materials.

The applicant should demonstrate:

  • A desire and ability to work collaboratively to answer clear, scientifically relevant questions and deliver high-quality research outcomes.
  • Academic excellence and strong ability to contribute to successful earth science research.
  • A financial need for Aiken funds. In addition, your advisor will need to state that sufficient additional sources of financial support are available to assure your well being.
  • A reasonable use of Aiken funds for Masters or PhD research.
  • How the project fosters the relationship between UCB and USGS.
  • That the applicant’s USGS project advisor works within the Boulder/Denver area.
  • Thoroughness by including all required materials in the application packet.

Award administration

The award will be administered through INSTAAR, including all purchases and any contracts with USGS. If you are awarded the Fellowship, your tuition and salary support funds will be deposited into your CU Bursars account.

Reporting requirements

If you are awarded the Fellowship, you must contribute content to a news article about your project. At the end of the funding period, you must submit a project report to INSTAAR.

Meet previous Aiken Fellows

Get to know the 2019 Fellows in this archived news story.

Application materials and scoring

Click here to see the instructions and materials


Assemble the ten required materials. Combine them into one PDF file in the order discussed below, using the same numbering. Name your PDF file as YourLastname.pdf .

Upload your file before the deadline via the Aiken Fellowship submission form (URL will be added later).

Scoring (100 points)

Your application will be scored on a scale of 100 points, with your 10 materials totalling 96 points. 

The remaining 4 points will be assessed for your overall potential for success, scored as follows

  • 4 - Relevant experience, great support from advisors, good potential for success.
  • 3 - Limited relevant experience, good support from advisors, good potential for success.
  • 2 - Limited relevant experience and questionable potential for success.
  • 1 - No relevant experience or support from advisors.

Ten required materials (96 points)

  • 1. Basic information (2 points)
    • Download the Aiken basic information form (PDF), complete it, and attach to the top of your application PDF.
    • Scoring of basic information (2 points)
      • 2 - complete information
      • 1 - incomplete information
  • 2. Statement of interest (8 points)
    • Explain why you are dedicated to your proposed research project and how it fits with the mission of the Aiken Fellowship. Describe how your project contributes to informed and effective resource management within the context of current environmental challenges. Describe how it helps build the CU/USGS relationship (1-page maximum)
    • Scoring of statement of interest (8 points)
      • 8 - Shows how the project closely connects with the Aiken Fellowship mission. Excellent explanation of CU/USGS relationship being built. Contributions from each unit are clearly explained. Demonstrates the project will cultivate a long-term relationship.
      • 6 - Project addresses problems that are mostly relevant to the Aiken Fellowship mission. Good explanation of CU/USGS relationship being built. Contributions from each unit are explained. Suggests the project will likely cultivate a long-term relationship.
      • 4 - The project's relation to the Aiken Fellowship mission are questionable. Poor explanation of the CU/USGS relationship being built. Suggests the project will likely not cultivate long-term relationship.
      • 2 - Relevant problems are not connected to the Aiken Fellowship mission. Does not acknowledge the CU/USGS relationship being built. Suggests the project will not cultivate long-term relationship.
  • 3. Project description (16 points)
    • Write a detailed description of your proposed project (3-page maximum)
    • Scoring of project description (16 points)
      • 16 - Clear, concise, and well justified. The proposed project contains original aspects. Explains how the project addresses practical and relevant problems. Project reflects an understanding of current research in the field.
      • 12 - Justifiable with a few points that need more clarity. Project reflects an understanding of current research in the field.
      • 8 - Has gaps in its justification and lacks clarity.
      • 4 - Not clearly stated or practical. Relevant problems are not addressed. Project reflects no understanding of current research in the field.
  • 4. Methods (16 points)
    • Outline your methodology, including key measurements and analyses  (1-page maximum)
    • Scoring of methods (16 points)
      • 16 - Sound and complete. No significant flaws. Resources required are reasonable and within budget and allowable expenses. Reflects understanding of current research in the field.
      • 12 - May contain some non-major flaws.
      • 8 - Has one major flaw, lacks clear evaluation of current research in the field.
      • 4 - Not workable, does not align with budget requests.
  • 5. Work plan (8 points)
    • Document your work plan and timeline, include contributions from CU and USGS (1-page maximum)
    • Scoring of work plan (8 points)
      • 8 - Detailed and clear explanation. Indicates expected collaboration with USGS. Explains how time between campus and USGS facility will be managed. Timeline is suitable for all activities described.
      • 6 - Explanation of how workflow is unclear in a few spots.
      • 4 - Lacks an explanation of how workflow at the USGS fits with studies. Their time management and timeline raises questions about accomplishing all activities described.
      • 2 - Confusing and not suitable for the activities described.
  • 6. Deliverables (16 points)
    • Discuss your most significant deliverables/products/results (1-page maximum)
    • Scoring of deliverables (16 points)
      • 16 - Clear and fit within the timeframe. Products of significant impact and value.
      • 12 - Clear and fit within the timeframe. Products of moderate impact and value.
      • 8 - Unclear and raise questions about the timeframe.
      • 4 - Missing or unreasonable given the timeframe.
  • 7. Budget (8 points)
    • Maximum of $7,000.  Your application will be disqualified if you exceed the limit.
    • List costs in a detailed budget.
    • Only request funds within the following allowable expenses:
      • Academic Support – Aiken award can support tuition and salary up to the equivalent cost of one semester of tuition.
      • Research Support – Aiken award can support travel, conference registration, publication costs, research training at the USGS, lab analyses, and disposable/consumable lab and field supplies. Any research supplies that are not disposable/consumable are an ineligible request. INSTAAR will not fund the purchase of any small equipment, lab or field instrumentation or capital equipment. If new equipment and/or instrumentation are necessary for the project, the applicant and their advisors will need to find other sources.  If the applicant seeks support for research training at the USGS, both their USGS and UCB advisor need to justify the expense.
    • Required elements: start and end dates, total amount requested is less than $7000, source and purpose of outside supporting funds, use of funds with allowable expense.
      • If you ask for funding beyond the one-year duration, you will not be eligible for funding.
    •  Funds cannot be used to offset costs for a federally sponsored project; No exceptions.
    • Scoring of budget (8 points)
      • 8 - Complete and clearly explained.
      • 6 - Complete but not clearly explained.
      • 4 - Raises questions or is missing one of the elements.
      • 2 - Not appropriate for the activities proposed. Is missing multiple elements. Asks for funds outside allowable expenses.
  • 8. Budget justification (2 points)
    • Describe the use and purpose of each budget item.
    • Scoring of budget justification (2 points)
      • 2 - All items fully justified
      • 1 - Some items not justified
  • 9. Applicant CV & Graduate transcript (8 points)
    • If you have prior graduate coursework, include your graduate transcript (do not include undergraduate work).
    • Submit a professional CV
    • The CV and graduate transcript should show experience, competence, and responsibility.
    • Scoring of CV and graduate transcript (8 points)
      • 8 - indicates exceptional experience, competence, and responsibility.
      • 6 - indicates reasonable experience, competence, and responsibility.
      • 4 - is sloppy and/or indicates limited experience.
      • 2 - is not present or indicates a very unqualified applicant.
  • 10. Letters of support (12 points)
    • CU Boulder faculty member must justify financial need and indicate additional sources of financial support that ensures the well-being of the student applicant.
    • The USGS scientist must agree to serve as a co-advisor to the project. If the USGS is financially supporting the applicant in any way, that support must be explained.
    • Scoring of letters of support (12 points)
      • 12 - Demonstrate confidence in the student and their background, demonstrate CU faculty/USGS scientist relationship development, justify financial request and fully demonstrate other sources of financial support.
      • 9 - Demonstrate confidence in the student and their background and justify financial request and fully demonstrate other sources of financial support. It does not demonstrate development of the CU faculty/USGS scientist relationship.
      • 6 - Demonstrate confidence in the student advisor mentorship, further justify financial request but cannot demonstrate other sources of financial support for student.
      • 3 - Does not demonstrate financial need OR poorly justifies financial request and cannot demonstrate other sources of financial support for student.

George Richard Aiken (1951-2016)

George R. Aiken was a distinguished organic biogeochemist and long-time researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey's National Research Program. Over a career that spanned forty years, George's research took him from the Dry Valleys in Antarctica to the Yukon River in Alaska, from the Florida Everglades to the Sacramento River Delta. George earned his undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Rutgers University in 1973 and joined the U.S. Geological Survey in 1976 while he was a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder. He received his M.S. in Analytical Chemistry from CU Boulder in 1979 and completed a Ph.D. in Applied Chemistry with a minor in Geologic Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines in 1991.

George was a national and international leader in the study of dissolved organic matter. His colleagues could always count on him for a good conversation about environmental science; as one of them said, "He never completely shut off his inner scientist." The conversation was even better if it took place over a good pizza. His work influenced many areas of inquiry, including the cycling of mercury in aquatic ecosystems. He was one of the first researchers anywhere to recognize that the methylation of mercury and its bioaccumulation in the aquatic food web was inextricably linked to the presence of dissolved organic carbon.

George believed in the power of collaboration to solve complex environmental problems. He generously shared his enthusiasm and ideas with colleagues and students alike and his generosity helped forge the careers of many young scientists. Over the course of his career with the U.S. Geological Survey, George advised over 20 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. He sat on numerous thesis committees, served as an editor for peer-reviewed journals, and published 148 peer-reviewed journal articles which have been cited over 11,000 times (and counting). The outstanding quality of his work and his many fruitful collaborations earned him the respect and affection of colleagues around the world and of the many graduate students he employed in his capacity as a National Research Program Project Chief.

As a USGS scientist, George valued scientific integrity above all else. In 2001, he received the Department of Interior's Meritorious Service Award in recognition of his dedication to the USGS and his unwavering commitment to advancing earth science in the public interest. His mission in life was to share his exploration of biogeochemical processes, his passion for environmental science and his commitment to good stewardship of Earth's resources. He was, a friend observed, "a stellar curious being, full of big ideas and questions and light." George lived joyfully on the planet and marveled at its natural wonders every day.