About the Program

Established in the spring of 2022 with funding from the National Institute of Aging, the Get Experience in Aging Research Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) supports undergraduate students from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds through a 15-month immersive mentored research experience in Penn’s broad community of aging-related health care researchers.

This joint venture between the Population Aging Research Center (PARC) and the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI) aims to enhance the diversity of the research workforce in the demography and economics of aging, health, and health care.

GEAR UP provides undergraduates with an opportunity to grow their skills in research, enrich their network of mentors and colleagues, and become more deeply involved in research that addresses the nation’s aging-related biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research needs. The program includes formal and informal activities and incorporates online components during the academic year to accommodate students outside of Philadelphia.

The 2024 GEAR UP program will run for 15 months, beginning May 28, 2024 through August 15, 2025.


We aim to enhance the diversity of the research workforce in the demography and economics of aging, health, and health care. This new program provides students the opportunity to grow, enhance their technical capabilities, enrich their relationships with mentors and colleagues, and develop a passion for research along with a desire to pursue graduate studies.

Norma Coe

Norma Coe, PhD

Co-Director of PARC and GEAR UP

Aging in America is not going as planned. COVID-19, declining life expectancy, Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD), and a large and aging Baby Boomer population at risk for ADRD present the potential for a looming long-term care crisis. In all these areas, motivating researchers from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue research careers will bring desperately needed new talent and creative solutions to the field.

Hans-Peter Kohler, PhD

Co-Director of PARC and GEAR UP

Racial and ethnic minorities remain underrepresented in aging-research-related professions, including biomedical, clinical, health services, demography, and economics. For instance, in health services research (HSR), which studies the organization, financing, and delivery of health care and provides an evidence-base that is central to addressing issues of care quality, access, affordability, and equity, Black and Hispanic researchers account for only 6.9% and 3.7%, respectively, of the workforce.

Rachel M. Werner

Rachel M. Werner, MD, PhD

Penn LDI Executive Director and GEAR UP Co-Director

How to Apply


Program participants should have an interest in health care and strong quantitative skills. Candidates from groups that are underrepresented in the field of health services research (African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander), first-generation college students, individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, individuals with disabilities, and individuals who identify as LGTBQIA are particularly encouraged to apply. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to be considered for GEAR UP.

Prospective participants do not have to make a commitment in advance to attend graduate school to be accepted into the program, but an academic or research career should be something they are considering.

Application Instructions

Apply for the GEAR UP program via this online form. When prompted, indicate your specific interest in GEAR UP.

Interfolio/Dossier is the platform through which you will upload various parts of your application and allow you to track the progress of your application to GEAR UP. If you have not already signed into or created your Interfolio/Dossier account, use this link to do so now: https://account.interfolio.com/login(If you are creating a new Dossier account, make sure to select the free option.)

In addition to the application form, we also require:

  • A resume
  • An unofficial college transcript
  • A headshot
  • Two confidential letters of recommendation

Upload your unofficial college transcript, resume, and headshot to Dossier.

To request letters of recommendation through Dossier, go to the Letters tab. In the upper right corner, click on “Request a Letter” and fill out the contact information for your two references (you may have to “Add New Contact” for each of the references).  Some helpful hints regarding your letters of recommendation include:

  • Make sure you request a confidential letter or evaluation.
  • You will be asked to set a due date for your recommenders to send in their reference letters. We recommend that you request for your letters to be submitted at least a month before the application deadline.
  • In your message to the recommender, you may want to reinforce that the letters should address something important about you, including a description of your academic and personal characteristics, especially related to research aptitude.

Application Deadline

The application deadline is February 1, 2024.

Application Review Process

A committee of Penn faculty selects each year’s GEAR UP scholars from a competitive applicant pool. To be considered, all application materials must be received by the deadline. Applicants will be selected and contacted for a scheduled phone, virtual, or in-person interview. A final admission notice will be sent to interviewed applicants within two weeks of the interview and to non-interviewed candidates at the time of interview decisions.

Please contact GEARUP@pennmedicine.upenn.edu with any questions.

Program Details


GEAR UP aims to foster students’ passion for research and their desire to continue to graduate studies in research, thereby enhancing the diversity of the research workforce.  We do so through targeted activities in three areas:

  • Career socialization, leadership, and networking
  • Research and academic skills development, including mentored research and training
  • Presentation and writing skills development

Focus Areas

To leverage the strengths of PARC’s and Penn LDI’s research, GEAR UP focuses on five themes, which are closely aligned with the research themes and networks of both PARC and LDI. Those themes are:

  • Health Care and Long-Term Care at Older Ages
  • Cognition and Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (AD/ADRD)
  • Health Disparities in Aging
  • Early Life Conditions and Older Adult Health, Behavior, and Well-Being
  • Global Health and Aging

GEAR UP training in these five themes is further enhanced through existing research networks that are supported by PARC and LDI. These networks are designed to foster interdisciplinary and innovative aging research, not only at Penn but nationally and internationally, with activities and resources that encourage and nurture development of younger researchers.

GEAR UP Curriculum

Summer 1

In their first summer, all GEAR UP Scholars participate in the curriculum and activities of the Summer Undergraduate Mentored Research Program (SUMR) from late May to August.  GEAR UP Scholars are fully integrated into that year’s SUMR cohort and have the opportunity to immediately build a broad peer network. In addition, GEAR UP Scholars participate in supplemental aging-focused curriculum once a week.

For more information about the SUMR program, please visit the SUMR website.


GEAR UP Scholars continue skill-building, cohort-building, and interest-building in aging-related research throughout the academic year from September to May. Students will participate in activities that will allow them to interact with fellow GEAR UP Scholars and other members of the academic community. These activities will occur once a month and focus on research skill building. All Scholars will be encouraged to participate in a research study involving analyzing existing data sets under the guidance of experienced researchers during the academic year, with the goal of a co-authored publication.

Summer 2

Summer 2 will run from June through August of the second summer. Scholars will work on one research project for 12 weeks, providing an opportunity to build on the research skills and knowledge formed in Summer 1. It will also give students a chance to take on a more in-depth project, play a role in leading that project and, if desired, conduct that work internationally. Scholars also will also participate in workshops, panels, and social events during the summer.

Please contact GEARUP@pennmedicine.upenn.edu with any questions.



Can I apply through Handshake?

No, please fill out the full application using the link in the “How to Apply” section above. Applications received through Handshake will not be accepted.

Will I receive a confirmation that all pieces of my application have been received?

Yes, you will be notified as soon as you submit your application that it was received.

How many letters of recommendation are required?

Two, as specified under “How to Apply.”


Is housing provided?

No, but GEAR UP provides discounted housing near campus.

How do we go about finding housing?

There are many affordable housing options available during the summer in Philadelphia. We recommend utilizing our provided housing, so you are housed with other GEAR UP Scholars, however, you can search for summer sublets through off campus housing sites, Facebook groups, or rooming with other GEAR UP scholars.

Will GEAR UP pay for transportation costs to the University of Pennsylvania?

No. We suggest that you request a stipend from your university if transportation will be an issue.


What is the difference between SUMR scholars and GEAR UP scholars?

  • GEAR UP focuses specifically on research that addresses the nation’s aging-related biomedical, behavioral, economic, and clinical research needs.
  • SUMR runs for 12 weeks, while the GEAR UP program runs for 15 months.
  • GEAR UP offers a sustained experience, focusing on formal and informal activities, including online components during the academic-year.
  • You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to be considered for GEAR UP.

What time commitment is necessary, and how are GEAR UP scholars compensated?

GEAR UP scholars earn $15/hour during the summer months for a time commitment of 40 hours/week. Students work with their mentors to devise their summer schedule. GEAR UP programming will occur at least twice a month and consist of lunches, dinners, workshops, and panels. Scholars should expect to spend between 6-10 hours each month to maintain good standing status in the program.

Can I take a summer class while participating in GEAR UP?

No. GEAR UP is a full-time position during Summer 1.

How can I learn about current and past GEAR UP Scholars?

Visit our GEAR UP Scholars page to learn about current and past cohorts.

Who should I contact if I have other questions?

Please contact GEARUP@pennmedicine.upenn.edu with any questions.

Current and Former GEAR UP Scholars

For Current and Former GEAR UP Scholars: Apply for the supplemental GEAR UP Scholarship

Penn’s GEAR UP program provides a scholarship opportunity for current and former GEAR UP Scholars. Scholars are eligible for up to $3,000 to enhance their research and professional skills. This could include training opportunities or travel for academic presentations.

If you have any questions about the scholarship, please contact us at GEARUP@pennmedicine.upenn.edu.


Current and former GEAR UP Scholars are eligible to apply. Priority will be given to those enrolled in undergraduate or graduate studies with a population aging focus.


  • Importance of proposed research (including quality and rigor of proposed research), training opportunity, or travel opportunity
  • Potential impact on one’s research and professional skills and development
  • Credentials and promise of the investigator in aging-related research


Applications are on a rolling basis and can be submitted here.

Candidates will be notified if they have been selected within one month of applying.


Applicants must complete and submit the following required documents:

  • Proposed research, training, or travel opportunity (up to two pages, single-spaced, 11-point font minimum one-inch margins) which contains the following sections:
    • Overall objective and significance (For research proposal include specific hypotheses to be tested; for training opportunities include specific skills to be learned ~0.5 page)
  • Research plan and methodology (one page)


  • Training plan (including description of curriculum, training materials, and expected outcomes; one page)


  • Travel plan (including description of conference or event of planned travel, role in conference or event, and expected outcomes; one page)
  • How this research endeavor will support the GEAR UP mission (~0.5 page)
    • A description of the applicant, including career objectives, and how additional GEAR UP support would help achieve those objectives
  • Project Budget
    • Proposals must include an itemized budget of up to $3,000.
    • An accompanying budget justification should clearly describe and justify the specific items to be funded by the grant.
    • A budget template can be accessed here.
    • Funds can support research expenses, travel, equipment and/or supplies as appropriate.
  • Applicant’s current Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  • Mentors’ abbreviated Biosketch(es) with selected relevant experience and publications (not to exceed two pages)

Please contact GEARUP@pennmedicine.upenn.edu with any questions.

For LDI Senior Fellows and PARC Fellows: Mentorship Opportunities

Faculty involvement is a crucial element of GEAR UP.

If you are a Penn faculty member and interested in mentoring and collaborating with a GEAR UP Scholar on a specific project, please send a brief summary of the project and how much effort it would require to GEARUP@pennmedicine.upenn.edu. Mentors are recruited annually and abstracts are due by March 1.


Norma Coe, PhD

Co-Director, PARC and GEAR UP

Hans-Peter Kohler, PhD

Co-Director, PARC and GEAR UP

Joanne Levy

Joanne Levy, MBA, MCP

Director of Student Initiatives and Founding Director, SUMR Program

Rachel M. Werner

Rachel M. Werner, MD, PhD

Executive Director, Penn LDI and Co-Director, GEAR UP

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