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McNair Program

Ronald McNair portrait on black background


"I am so incredibly grateful for my experience as a McNair scholar. Coming from a low-income family as a first generation college student, I firmly believe the McNair program was responsible for putting me on my path to graduate school and ultimately brought me to my position as a research leader."

- Megan McLean, McNair 2014, UX Research Manager

About Ronald E. McNair and the McNair Program

  • Ronald Ervin McNair was born on October 12, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina, where he graduated as valedictorian from Carver High School in 1967. He attended North Carolina A&T University where he earned a bachelor's degree in physics, magna cum laude, in 1971. In 1976, he received his PhD in physics from MIT.
  • Dr. McNair was nationally recognized for his work in the field of laser physics. He was selected by NASA for the space shuttle program in 1978 from a pool of ten thousand applicants. In addition, he was a sixth-degree black belt in karate, an accomplished saxophonist, and the recipient of three honorary doctorates and a score of fellowships and commendations. 
  • McNair first flew as a mission specialist on the space shuttle which launched from Kennedy Space Center on February 3, 1984. Ronald E. McNair died on January 28, 1986, in a fiery explosion nine miles above the Atlantic along with six other crew members aboard the space shuttle Challenger. He was married and had two small children at the time of his death. After his death, the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program was funded by Congress. The goal of the program is “to encourage low-income and first-generation college students, and students from historically underrepresented ethnic groups to expand their educational opportunities by enrolling in a Ph.D. program and ultimately pursue an academic career. This program is dedicated to the high standards of achievement inspired by Dr. McNair’s life.”  (Learn more here)

The McNair Application is closed for 2023-2024.

Informational Session

Program and Application Dates

Current program dates

The McNair Program runs from winter quarter through the summer. The current cohort runs from January 8, 2024 through August 16, 2024.


2024-2025 Application

Information regarding the 2024-2025 application will be posted around mid-September. 


  • Mentored research experience: Conduct research mentored by a UC San Diego faculty member
  • Research credit: 4 units of 199 independent study credit during winter, spring, and summer quarters (for a total of 12 units). The summer units are paid for by the program.
  • Professional development: A series of workshops on writing, researching, and applying to graduate school
  • Graduate school application waivers: Application fee waivers from many graduate schools (Application Waiver List (Excel File))
  • Conference presentation and networking experience
  • Conference travel funding: By participating in the McNair Program, you qualify to apply for URH's conference travel funding.
  • Fellowship: During the summer, students will receive a $2,800 fellowship
  • Housing: During the summer, students will receive free on-campus housing or a housing stipend (at least $1500)

Requirements and Exclusions

Pre-Winter quarter

  • Prior to the start of the program, find a faculty mentor.
    • If you have done research prior to participating in this program (not required), you can continue working with a faculty research mentor you are currently working with or have worked with in the past. You can also choose to find a new faculty research mentor for this program.
    • For tips on how to find a faculty mentor, visit our How to Find a Research Mentor page
    • The program coordinators are also available to help you find a mentor
  • Faculty mentor expectations - When meeting/contacting potential faculty mentors, share this list with them so they are aware of their expectations before agreeing to be your mentor.
    • Understand that the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program seeks to prepare students for graduate and professional school and inspire them to pursue careers as researchers and college professors.
    • Know that the student research assistant is required to work at least 10 hours a week on research activities which I will assign.
    • Will provide at least one hour a week of individual supervision.
    • Agree to sponsor the student research assistant in a 4-unit 199 Independent Study during winter, spring, and mostly likely summer quarters (students can opt out of receiving credit but must contact the Program Coordinator to do so).
    • Will provide a reading list of literature in my field and training in research techniques as appropriate for the student’s project.
    • Understand that the student is required to write a research proposal and paper on some aspect of the project. 
    • Agree to provide comments and suggestions for improvement on the proposal and paper.
    • Understand that the student research assistant will present his/her/their research paper an URH spring conference.
    • Agree to approve the student’s abstract and poster or slide presentation.
    • Understand that McNair Scholars in good standing are invited in April to participate in our 8-week Summer Research Program, and that although most students continue to work with the same faculty mentor during the summer as during the academic year, the winter/spring faculty mentor is not obligated to serve as the student’s faculty mentor during the Summer Research Program.

Winter quarter

  • Conduct mentored research at least 10 hours a week
    • Students may join a project a faculty member has already developed, continue working on a project you have been a part of (as part of a team or as an individual), or may develop a new individual project based on their research interests.
  • Write and submit a research proposal
  • Attend McNair Program workshops and meetings
  • Be enrolled full-time at UC San Diego
  • Exclusion: not participate in another research program

Spring quarter

Summer (8 weeks)

  • Continue research from winter/spring quarters; Conduct mentored research for at least 30 hours a week
  • Write and submit a research paper
  • Attend Summer Research Program orientation and workshops
  • Attend McNair cohort orientation and weekly meetings
  • Write and submit and abstract to register for the Summer Research Conference
  • Present summer research at the Summer Research Conference
  • Exclusion: During the summer quarter, students cannot work, take classes (other than program required 199), or participate in any other summer research program.


Thirty McNair scholars will be selected annually on a competitive basis. You are eligible to apply if you meet the following criteria: 

  • Are a UC San Diego undergraduate student
  • Have at least 90 units by the time the program starts (this includes any transfer/AP units)
  • Have at least a 3.0 grade point average
    • GPA requirement can be achieved by the end of the spring quarter in which you are in the program.
  • Are a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident
  • Are a first-generation college student who is low-income OR a member of a group underrepresented in graduate study (African American, Alaskan Native, American Indian, Chicano, or Latino)
  • Have an interest in pursuing a Ph.D.

There are no major requirements. All majors are welcome and encouraged to apply. 

Application Process

There are 4 items required to apply to the McNair Program:

1. Applications

  • General Application and Undergraduate Application (When you finish the general application, you will be automatically directed to complete the undergraduate application).
  • McNair Application (After you finish the previous two applications, you will be given the opportunity to choose to complete the McNair application.)

2. Personal statement

  • Word count requirement: 750 words or less
  • State your purpose in applying to the McNair Scholars Program at UC San Diego. 
    • Topics to cover: your research interests, experience, educational goals, career objectives, and how participation in the UC San Diego McNair Program will help you attain your educational and career goals. 
    • This is also a good opportunity to explain the development of your educational and career goals, and how you overcame obstacles, achieved academic goals, and/or conditions that may have adversely impacted your academic advancement in college. 
  • Be sure to proofread and edit your personal statement many times before submitting. It is also advised to have someone else review it and provide feedback. 
    • In addition to spelling, grammar, and punctuation, review your personal statement for clarity, flow, and continuity of points. 
    • Remember to use paragraphs to separate main points. 

3. Letter of recommendation

  • Don't wait! We strongly advise that you contact your letter writer as soon as possible to ask whether they will write a letter on your behalf. 
  • Who can write a letter of recommendation: It's generally best to obtain a letter from a faculty member (professor) who knows you, although the letter-writer doesn't need to be a professor. Most applicants receive a letter from a UC San Diego professor or from a professor at a college or university they attended previously (students who have recently transferred to UC San Diego usually obtain a letter from someone at their previous institution). Whether or not the letter-writer is a professor, he or she should know you and be familiar with your intellectual ability, quality of previous work, ability to work independently, promise of productive scholarship, and graduate school potential. 
  • Submitting the letter of recommendation: Applicants will provide the name and email address within the McNair application of one person from whom they are requesting a letter of recommendation. Once an applicant saves the information about their letter-writer within the application, an email is automatically sent to that person asking them to login and upload the letter.
  • Directions for letter of recommendation writer: These are suggestions that will help create a letter that is informative for us, but they are not required elements. One of the things we are interested in is how well the applicant fits with the goals of our program (conduct research to prepare for doctoral study).
    • State your relationship to the applicant. Include how long and in what capacity you have known him/her.
    • If you taught the applicant, state the course title(s), the applicant’s academic performance and how the class was evaluated.
    • Comment on the applicant’s intellectual abilities. Compare the applicant’s academic performance and potential to that of his/her peers, and to that of others you know who have sought graduate or professional study.
    • Indicate if you have explicitly spoken with the applicant about his/her academic plans, including requirements to get a BA/BS, plans for graduate school, plans to take time between undergraduate and graduate school, and so forth.
    • Relate the applicant’s experience and characteristics to his or her chosen study area, desired position, or career aspiration.
    • Mention the applicant’s potential to succeed in the degree program or desired career field, his or her fitness for the stated career objective, and promise in the chosen field.
    • Comment on the applicant’s academic and personal strengths. Evaluate his or her particular skills and characteristics.

4. Copies of transcripts

  • If you are an incoming transfer student (You do not have a UC San Diego GPA):
    • A copy of your unofficial transcript(s) from previous school(s) (community colleges, other universities, etc.)
  • If you have attended UC San Diego for at least 1 quarter:
    • If you completed coursework prior to attending UC San Diego (e.g., transfer credits), they will appear on your UC San Diego transcript. You do not need to upload transfer transcripts.

McNair Community and Statistics


McNair Alumni Statistics Infographic - Former McNair students succeed! Check out stats on how many have become professors, received PhDs and more!




McNair 150 signMcNair 150 Celebration - On April 23rd, 2022, we celebrated the McNair Program reaching a significant achievement: 150+ PhD alumni! The event featured individual alumni speakers covering topics such as the meaning, impact, and legacy of the McNair program. Click above for photos, recordings, and more!


Challenger Paper Series LogoChallenger: McNair Paper Series - This Series aims to further the access and representation of underrepresented students through the dissemination of research produced by McNair Scholars at UC San Diego. The purpose of this publication is to organize, implement, and maintain a scholarly research journal that represents diverse perspectives across multiple fields of study.


McNair Applications

The application for the 2023-2024 McNair Program is closed. Check back in September 2024 for the next application cycle.


McNair Program Contacts

Undergraduate Research Logo

Coordinator: Tom Brown, PhD


To make an appointment: