Damon Runyon-Scholars Program for Advancing Research and Knowledge

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Program Description | Funding | Eligibility | Reporting | Terms of the Award
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Program Description

Damon Runyon wants to ensure that the best young college students and recent college graduates are encouraged to pursue rigorous scientific education and to commit their talents to tackling longstanding challenges in cancer research. We recognize that these emerging scientists will come from a variety of backgrounds. To provide those with the talent, passion, curiosity, and determination to pursue a career in cancer research with an opportunity to do so, we are introducing the Damon Runyon Scholars Program for Advancing Research and Knowledge (SPARK).     

SPARK seeks to accelerate representation and success in biomedical graduate programs of scholars who are interested in research. We strongly encourage all applicants to apply, especially those who come from backgrounds that are typically underrepresented (UR) in the sciences. During their one-year SPARK internship, SPARK Scholars will develop and hone their research skills by working in a cancer research lab with a mentor who is a Damon Runyon scientist. They will begin their training to become highly skilled researchers, with the goal of transitioning to competitive biomedical graduate programs following the completion of their post-baccalaureate research. In addition to rigorous scientific training and comprehensive mentorship, SPARK Scholars will receive support with graduate school applications. The goal of the program is to encourage and train our brightest, most creative young minds so that they are prepared to pursue professional degrees that lead to careers in cancer research and enable them to join the effort to eradicate cancer. 

In summary, the year-long SPARK program identifies outstanding scholars who are committed to inclusivity initiatives and have the potential to become leaders in cancer research and provides them with scientific training and a network of mentors to support their next career steps. At Damon Runyon, we fund high-risk, high-reward cancer research. We identify and enable young scientists who are brilliant, brave, and bold enough to go where others haven’t.  

Program Highlights

SPARK Scholars will each be matched with a current or former Damon Runyon scientist at one of seven partnering academic institutions across the United States. Scholars will be embedded into the host labs and have access to all the benefits afforded to post-baccalaureate researchers at that institution.

To ensure community among the Damon Runyon-SPARK program participants, and to foster a connection within the Damon Runyon network, the program will include a combination of virtual and in-person programming:

  • Welcome Meeting: Scholars and participating Damon Runyon scientists will meet for a day of scientific programming to kick off the start of the program either in person at a satellite location (TBD) or virtually.
  • Virtual Quarterly Scientific Communication Series: Damon Runyon scientists will lead sessions on the following topics – manuscript writing, grant writing, preparing oral and poster presentations, and others.
  • Virtual Preparation of Biosketch and CV: Scholars will be given instructions on how to draft a NIH-style Biosketch and CV. A team of Damon Runyon Fellows will review and provide feedback on these documents.
  • Damon Runyon Catalyst Webinar Series: Scholars will be invited to attend the series, which engages and encourages young scientists to continue pursuing careers in STEM.
  • Damon Runyon Fellows’ Retreat: Scholars and their mentors will attend and participate in the 3-day Retreat. Each Scholar will present a poster at the retreat and network with current Fellows.

Selection and Review

The Damon Runyon SPARK Committee will review applications and select awardees for approval by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation’s Board of Directors.

At the beginning of each review session, the following biases statement is read aloud:

As an organization, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation seeks to promote gender equality and increase diversity, in all of its forms, throughout our programs. Studies have demonstrated that often subtle and unconscious biases can dramatically affect outcomes in review processes and that by simply acknowledging that unconscious biases exist, we can combat their potential negative impact. To that end, please be aware of your potential unconscious biases when reviewing, scoring, and discussing candidates and applications throughout the review process.

The following primary criteria guide the committee’s evaluation:

  1. Passion for Research and Pursuit of Knowledge: Applicants are evaluated based on their demonstrated commitment to a future in research and thirst for knowledge. We pay special attention to the personal and career statements submitted as part of the application package. These statements should reflect a deep passion for exploring new horizons in research and a clear articulation of how SPARK aligns with the applicant’s short and long-term educational and professional goals.
  2. Academic Excellence: Strong academic performance is a fundamental aspect of research. We understand that some applicants may have faced challenging situations that negatively impacted academic performance. Applicants may explain these challenges in the personal statement.
  3. Letter of Recommendation: A letter of recommendation provides valuable insights into an applicant's character, work ethic, and potential as a future researcher. We request letters from individuals who can speak to the applicant's academic achievements, research aptitude, interpersonal skills, and commitment to professional growth.


Annual Stipend

Up to $50,000

Annual Living Allowance

Up to $8,500

Travel to Scientific Meetings and Damon Runyon Annual Fellows’ Retreat

Up to $2,500



Awards (Stipend/Travel allowance) are made to the host institution in support of the designated Scholar. Scholars should consult the institution about tax liability. The total stipend should not exceed the level of support for other individuals at the same level of training in that institution. If the full $50,000 is not to be expended as salary, the balance may be applied to Fringe Benefits.

Damon Runyon will forward any qualified living allowance directly to the Scholar. Damon Runyon will withhold the required taxes on the living allowance and remit to the IRS.

An award/living allowance does not constitute an employer-employee relationship between Damon Runyon and the recipient.

An additional allowance of $1,500 will be given to the Institutional program director of post-baccalaureate training and is to be used for community building events.

No part of this award can be used for indirect costs or institutional overhead.


Application for a Damon Runyon SPARK Award is open to current college seniors and those who have graduated with a bachelor’s degree within the last 36 months who meet the following criteria:  

  • Candidates from all backgrounds are welcome to apply. We strongly encourage applications from candidates who are from a racial, ethnic, or other group underrepresented in biomedical fields, including first-generation college students, those from economically and/or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds as defined by the Notice of NIH's Interest in Diversity, and those with disabilities; 
  • U.S. citizen, permanent legal resident, or DACA recipient who is eligible to legally work in the United States; and  
  • Strongly committed to a future career in research, advancing inclusivity in the field, a curiosity for cancer research, and planning to pursue a PhD or MD/PhD degree following completion of post-baccalaureate research.   

Terms of the Award

All SPARK Scholars must adhere to the terms of our award statement.

Please note: Damon Runyon will not modify the terms of its policies at the request of individual institutions. Policies have been approved by our Board of Directors, and we do not have the resources to negotiate separately with the many institutions that receive our support.

All awards are made to the host institution for support of the designated Scholar. An award does not constitute an employer-employee relationship between Damon Runyon and the recipient.

Damon Runyon SPARK awards are intended for full-time research.

Damon Runyon SPARK Scholars are not permitted to hold another position or pursue additional degrees during the award period.

Confidentiality Agreements

Scholars may not enter into confidentiality agreements that prevent or delay them from publishing and/or presenting their Damon Runyon-supported research.


Scientific Reporting

At the completion of SPARK, the Scholar must submit a detailed progress report that includes:

1. A summary of research performed during the period of the program and evaluation of the results. The summary should be technical but targeted to a general scientific audience. It should be sufficiently detailed such that the Scholar's research activities over the award period are clearly articulated. Figures and references may be included if appropriate. The report must be signed by both the Scholar and the Mentor. The report should not exceed three pages.

2. Two abstracts (one lay and one scientific) of their accomplishments over the term of the award.

3. If applicable, a bibliography of all publications resulting from the research (submit pdf copies of publications).

4. A list of conferences and seminars attended, and presentations given during the award year.

5. A brief description of collaborations and partnerships related to the Damon Runyon-funded research, with either academic and/or industry scientists. Please identify your collaborator(s) and their academic/industrial affiliation(s).

6. A brief description of your participation in any community-based educational mentorship program (e.g., STEM or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives).

7. A statement indicating how SPARK made a difference to the Scholar.

8. A statement of future plans.

9. An up-to-date curriculum vitae.

10. A letter from the Mentor assessing the Scholar’s scientific progress and professional development.

Financial Reporting

The institution's financial officer must maintain a separate account including receipts for each award, and this account must be available for audit by representatives of the Foundation. Upon termination or expiration of the award, a final report of expenditures, with the refund of any unexpended balance, must be submitted within 60 days. Pre-award spending is not allowed.

Financial Expenditure Report Preparation Guidelines:

Please use the Damon Runyon SPARK Scholar Financial Expenditure Report form.

To report travel expenses, please provide the following details:

a. name and location of scientific meeting or conference attended.

b. dates of meeting/conference

c. use of funds; restricted to registration fee, lodging, meals, transportation (if by train or plane, must be coach class ticket only).

Publications, Presentations, and Websites

Publications (including abstracts of presentations at scientific or clinical meetings) resulting from projects supported by the Damon Runyon must carry the following acknowledgment: "[Name of Awardee] is a Damon Runyon SPARK Scholar supported by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation (SPK-# [___])." Contact awards@damonrunyon.org if you do not know your SPK #.

Awardees should identify themselves as Damon Runyon SPARK Scholars, particularly when presenting their work at professional conferences and on their websites. Download a copy of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation logo for inclusion in Power Point presentations, posters, and on your website.

Contact Information

Award Programs | awards@damonrunyon.org