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The McNair Program

Learn about UC San Diego's McNair Program, which helps low-income, first-generation college students prepare for doctoral study.

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About Ronald E. McNair

Ronald E. McNair

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 Ph.D. in physics from MIT.

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. 

The McNair Program nationwide

The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program was created by Congress in honor of the physicist who was among the first African Americans in the U.S. space program. Through hard work teamed with mentoring, McNair rose from modest circumstances to earn his doctorate, and his name has become a symbol of academic excellence.

The objective of the McNair Program is to provide low-income, first-generation college students, and students from groups underrepresented in graduate education, with effective preparation for doctoral study.

Today, more than 130 universities throughout the nation have received grants from the U.S. Department of Education to administer McNair Programs. See a list of McNair Programs around the nation.

In addition, many graduate schools now offer McNair-specific fellowships for graduate study and waive their application fee. Review the fellowships and waivers listings on the McNair Program website for more information.

The McNair Program at UC San Diego

As one of the original 14 institutions to receive a McNair grant, UCSD has administered a McNair Program since 1989.

Program dates

UCSD's McNair Program is a rigorous program of scholarly activities. The program begins with an orientation in November and involves research activities in the Winter, Spring, and Summer.

Program activities

McNair Program activities include:

  • A two-quarter, 10-hour-per-week academic-year research placement
  • An 8-week, full-time summer internship as a research assistant on a faculty mentor's project
  • Training in how to write and present a scholarly research paper
  • The opportunity to present a paper at a minimum of two research conferences
  • Monitoring of academic performance
  • Guidance in applying to graduate school and obtaining fellowships
  • Preparation for the Graduate Record Examination
  • Training in library research skills
  • Seminars presented by faculty

Program benefits

As a McNair scholar, you will work closely with a faculty mentor in your discipline. The opportunity to work one-on-one with a professor will give you a unique insight into the world of academia.

Program commitments

Students are required to make a commitment to:

  • Work as a research assistant at least 10 hours a week during the Winter and Spring quarters and 30 hours a week for 8 weeks during the summer.
  • Write a research proposal and paper, and present your paper at a minimum of two research conferences.
  • Attend all program events.

Eligibility requirements

Thirty McNair scholars will be selected annually on a competitive basis.

You are eligible to apply if you have at least a 3.0 grade point average and an interest in pursuing a Ph.D.

In addition, you must be:

  • A U.S. citizen or a permanent resident
  • A junior or senior (all majors)
AND either:
  • A first-generation college student who is low-income
  • A member of a group underrepresented in graduate study (African American, Alaskan Native, American Indian, Chicano, or Latino)

How to apply

Online application

Letter of recommendation

  • All McNair applicants must have a letter of recommendation submitted on their behalf.
  • Consider your prospective letter-writers as soon as possible, to make sure your letter is submitted before the deadline, or in any case no later than October 20.
  • Applicants will provide the name and email address (within the McNair application) of one person from whom they are requesting a letter of recommendation. We strongly advise that you contact your letter-writer as soon as possible to ask whether they will write a letter on your behalf. Once an applicant saves the information about their letter-writer within the application, an email is automatically sent to that person.
  • 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.

Application deadline

  • October 20, 2019


Students receive 4 units of 199 independent study credit during both the Winter and Spring quarters.

During the Summer, students will receive a $2,800 fellowship, free on-campus housing, and an additional 4 units of 199 independent study credit (for a total of 12 units).

Faculty members / potential mentors

Members of the UC San Diego faculty who are interested in mentoring a McNair Scholar should contact the McNair Program office. Your willingness to participate and to encourage your colleagues to become faculty mentors will make a significant contribution to our program.

If you know of any students who would benefit from our services and meet the grant qualifications, please encourage them to stop by the Academic Enrichment Programs office at Student Center Building B, 2nd Floor East and/ or to visit the AEP website.

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