STEP-UP Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Coordinating Center (CC)?

Students are assigned to a coordinating center after they are accepted into the program. A CC serves as the STEP-UP student’s primary contact for any administrative or programmatic needs during the summer research experience. The coordinating center will provide direct oversight for all student activities.

I do not live close to any of the coordinating centers. Can I still participate in the program?

Yes. Students do not have to live near one of the seven coordinating centers. Students can and are encouraged to conduct research at institutions near their homes or wherever they will be residing during the summer. Students DO NOT have to conduct their research at the coordinating center.

Where do I conduct my research?

Students work with their CC to identify and secure a research institution and research mentor. We recommend that students conduct research at institutions within commuting distances of their homes. Undergraduate students who are interested in conducting research at an institution not in proximity to their home must make their own housing and transportation arrangements.

I do not live close to a college or university. Can I conduct my research at another location?

Yes. Students can conduct research at institutions other than colleges or universities. For example, students can conduct research at hospitals, departments of public health, private research institutions, etc.

Is housing provided?

No. All housing costs must be paid for by the student. STEP-UP does not provide a separate housing stipend.

I cannot afford to commute to the closest research institution. Are transportation stipends offered to cover the transportation cost to and from my research institution?

Students can use funds from their research stipends to cover commuting cost. However, transportation specific stipends are not offered to cover commuting expenses to and from the research institutions.

Are vacations permitted?

No. Vacations are not permitted during the 8 - 10 week research experience. All vacations must be taken before or after the program start and end dates.

Can I take classes or work in the evenings during my research experience if it does not interfere with my time or my research?

Students are expected to conduct research full-time (equivalent to 40 hours per week) in a supervised laboratory or clinical facility. Participation in outside activities and the establishment of a work schedule must be determined by your research mentor.

What are the start and end dates for the program?

The start dates for both the high school and undergraduate program are determined by your coordinating center and research mentor; however, high school students must begin the program no later than 6/08/2020. All students are expected to have a minimum of eight weeks of research experience.

Does my research have to match the NIDDK’s core mission areas?

No. However, we strongly recommend that students pursue research within the NIDDK mission areas of diabetes, endocrinology and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases and nutrition; or kidney, urologic and hematologic diseases. Staff at CC will attempt to match students with research mentors within NIDDK core mission areas before matching students with research mentors outside of the NIDDK core mission areas.

Will my research experience match my research interest?

Not necessarily; however, we will do our best to match your research interest with a research mentor and institution related to your interest. If there is a research mentor and/or institution that you are interested in, we strongly recommend that you speak with staff at your assigned coordinating center.

Can I apply if I am not a citizen, permanent resident or non-citizen national of the United States?

No. Only citizens, permanent residents and noncitizen nationals of the U.S. are eligible to apply to this program.

What is a non-citizen national?

Non-citizen nationals are persons born in American Samoa, Guam, Saipan certain former citizens of the former Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and certain children of non-citizen nationals born abroad. Please visit for additional information.

Do I have to prove citizenship prior to the program?

Yes. All students are required to submit a copy of a U.S. passport, U.S. birth certificate or a government issued photo identification document to their coordinating center once accepted into the program.

I am currently a senior scheduled to graduate at the end of the school year. Am I eligible for the STEP-UP?

Yes. High school students who are currently in their senior year of school are eligible to participate in the program. If you are a graduating high school student please apply to the high school STEP-UP Program. Undergraduates who will have graduated at the end of the school year prior to the start of research in the summer of 2017 are not eligible.

What constitutes an Underrepresented Minority (URM)?

Individuals from racial and ethnic groups that have been shown by the National Science Foundation to be underrepresented in health-related sciences on a national basis (see data at and Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering). The following racial and ethnic groups have been shown to be underrepresented in biomedical research: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders.

What is the definition of "disadvantaged background?"

An individual from a disadvantaged background is defined as an individual who comes from 1) a social, cultural or educational environment that has demonstrably and recently directly inhibited an individual from obtaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to develop or participate in a research career and/or 2) a family with an annual income below established low income thresholds. For individuals from low income backgrounds, the institution must be able to demonstrate that such participants have qualified for federal disadvantaged assistance or they have received any of the following student loans: Health Professions Student Loans (HPSL), Loans for Disadvantaged Student Program, or they have received scholarships from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Scholarship for Individuals with Exceptional Financial Need.

Do my parents have to submit financial data for me to be considered economically disadvantaged?

No. However, students must self-report family income levels if they apply to the program on the basis of being “disadvantaged.” The following income levels determine what constitutes a low-income family for determining economically disadvantaged students:

Family Size (includes parents and dependents) Annual Family Income (AFI)
1 $21,780
2 $29,420
3 $37,060
4 $44,700
5 $52,340
6 $59,980
7 $67,620
8 $75,260

What constitutes an individual with a disability?                

According to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), disability means, with respect to an individual, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.

If I have a disability, will reasonable accommodations be granted?

Reasonable accommodations will be provided to selected applicants with disabilities unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the coordinating centers or research mentors. Selected applicants must request the need for reasonable accommodations prior to beginning his/or her summer research experience. Accordingly, whether a particular accommodation will impose an undue hardship to the coordinating centers or research mentors will always be determined on a case-by-case basis. In all cases, individuals supported under this program must, with reasonable assistance, be able to contribute to the research conducted by the research mentor.

Is there a minimum GPA to participate in this program?

Students must have an overall GPA of at least 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale).

Do I have to prove that I have health/medical insurance prior to the program?

Yes. All students are required to submit a copy of their health/medical insurance policy to their CC. If you do not have insurance prior to the start date of the program, you can inquire from your CC on how you can obtain a short-term insurance policy. Exceptions will be made for students residing in certain U.S. territories.

Is there a deadline for submission of applications?

Yes, the application deadline is 2/15/2019 for high school applications and 02/01/2019 for undergraduate applications. Note: Partial applications that are not completed by the deadline will not receive further consideration. The STEP-UP application is available online from 10/15/2018 through the respective end dates.

Can I update my application from last year?

No. You will need to reapply and request new letters from your references.

How late will you accept applications?

All applications and supporting documents must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST (Eastern Standard Time) on 2/15/2019 for high school applications and 11:59 p.m. EST (Eastern Standard Time) on 2/01/2019 for undergraduate applications.  After the respective deadlines applicants will not be able to submit an application. 

Is there a deadline for receipt of my reference letters?

All letters of reference must be uploaded to the Student Portal by the respective deadlines. Hard (paper) copies of letters will not be accepted.

How do I submit my transcript?

All students must upload an unofficial or official transcript through the online application system on or before the application deadlines.

Does my transcript have to include my fall 2018 grades?

Yes. Transcripts must reflect all earned credits and grades through December 2018.

If I do not have access to the Internet, how can I apply?

The STEP-UP application is web based and not available in paper form. Visit your local library to access the Web or inquire if your school has a computer that you can access before and after school hours.

How often should I check the status of my application?

You should check the status of your application at least once a week until it has been marked “COMPLETE” or “REVIEW IN PROGRESS.” You can check the status of your application in the Student Portal by viewing the “Status” column under the “My Applications” tab.

How will I know if my application is complete?

Applications are reviewed by the STEP-UP staff. If your application has been deemed complete, the status of your application will read “COMPLETE.”

How will I know if my application has been submitted to the review committee?

After your application is marked “Complete”, STEP-UP staff will review it and send it to the review committee. Once your application is sent to the review committee, the status of your application will read “REVIEW IN PROGRESS.” Once the review is completed, the status of your application will be changed to “REVIEWED.”

My application is “incomplete” what does this mean?

If your application is marked “INCOMPLETE” it means that we have not received your transcript and/or letters of recommendation. Incomplete applications will not be reviewed. Contact STEP-UP staff if your application is marked “INCOMPLETE” In error.

How will I be notified if I am selected?

You will be notified by the NIDDK STEP-UP Director via email. Notifications are typically sent out 1-2 weeks after the review committee meets.

When will I hear whether I am accepted into STEP-UP?

The NIDDK STEP-UP Director will begin notifying applicants of acceptance into the STEP-UP program by email on March 15, 2019, this will continue until all available spots are filled. Accepted applicants will be required to confirm their participation within one week of notification.

Who do I contact if I have any questions regarding the STEP-UP Program?

Rob Rivers, Ph.D.

NIDDK Staff Contact

Rob Rivers, Ph.D.