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Summertime lab fun

12/8/2017 3:44:26 PM

With the shorter days and colder nights, you already may be daydreaming of summer. (I know I could use a little sun and warm sand between my toes right about now.) But if you’re an undergraduate student, you also should be thinking about getting your applications in for summer-research programs. Most deadlines are coming up early in the spring semester, but as soon as mid-December, for the programs I ran across.

 

A summer-research project is a great way to do some hands-on science, learn new skills and test out whether you are interested in a research career or grad school. Plus, many of these programs also pay a stipend. (Yes, it’s like a real job.)

 

And some of these opportunities may even put you on the beach or a boat. For example, the University of Delaware has a summer-research program in marine sciences at its campus located in the Lewes beach community (see listing below). As UDel faculty member Jen Biddle‏ (@subsurface_life) noted on Twitter, “Bring your flippy floppies, while your friends are stuck makin‘ copies.” (If I were an undergrad again, I’d be sold.)

 

Are you wondering where to start looking for summer-research opportunities? First, check with the science departments, undergrad-research office and/or honors college at your school to see if they maintain a database of undergraduate-research opportunities both on and off campus.

 

But don’t worry if your school doesn’t have such a database because there are many universities that keep updated and publicly available websites with this information. Look up the websites of relevant departments or offices at most any large university and you’ll find related info. Here are a few examples.

   
  • The undergraduate research office at the University of Missouri keeps a list of research programs on its website and also hosts a Summer Research Internship Program across a variety of STEM fields. The program includes a stipend and on-campus housing. Check out the website for details. Applications are due Feb. 14.
 

Other places to look are the websites of professional societies and organizations that maintain this information as a service to its members and the science community to encourage undergrad-research involvement. Here are a few to check out.  

 
  • The Council on Undergraduate Research keeps an updated listing of student-research opportunities with links to programs at various research institutions.  
   
  • The ASBMB has a wide variety of resources to help students locate research opportunities, including the summer-research programs database that lists out programs by state and with application deadlines. Other resources include several blogs you can follow that post news relevant to students (i.e., The Substrate and ENGAGE).
   

A number of government-research agencies (and affiliated institutions) either fund or host summer-research programs. Here are some resources to locate these research opportunities. 

 
  • The National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program funds summer-research opportunities through institutions that are designated as REU sites. You can search for REU sites across a wide variety of disciplines on the website. (Note: Applications are made directly to the REU site and not to the NSF, so you will need to look up each program for eligibility and application deadlines.)
   
  • Oak Ridge Associated Universities manages the application process for a number of undergraduate-research programs embedded within various government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Energy national laboratories. Open opportunities are searchable on the Zintellect platform. A search on this site at the undergraduate level and with the keyword “summer” generated 70 results. Application deadlines for some programs are as soon as Dec. 15.
 

If you need to stay close to home for the summer, you can reach out to professors who are doing interesting work at nearby institutions to ask about new projects. If you’re staying close to campus, see if you can continue a project already started during the school year.

 

It also helps if you can bring some of your own funding by applying for fellowship and grants available, such as through your university, professional-science societies and honor societies. Some of these grant programs require that you and/or your research supervisor be members of the organization, so it’s not a bad idea to join an organization in advance (and suggest your supervisor does too) to be eligible for such research grants. Here are a couple of examples.

 
  • The ASBMB Undergraduate Research Award provides funds for research supplies for an undergraduate student working in the lab of an ASBMB member during the summer. The student also must be a member of a student chapter. The application deadline is March 5. 
   

Another effective way is to ask around and see if anyone knows about research programs and let people know you are interested. I reached out to the #ScienceTwitter community for this post, and here are some interesting research and funding opportunities I learned about.

 
  • ASBMB Public Outreach Manager Danielle Snowflack (@drsnowflack) alerted me to the Summer Undergraduate Research Program within the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. A stipend, housing and travel expenses are included. The application deadline is Feb. 1.
 
  • Olivia Wilkins‏ (@LivWithoutLimit) curates an impressive list of undergraduate-research opportunities across astronomy fields on her website. She points out that many of these programs look for students with all scientific backgrounds and include research in areas like astrobiology.
       
  • Kleo Pullin (@resolvingdust) shared that the Microscopy Society of America is accepting applications for its undergraduate-research scholarship, which provides funding for students to conduct research with an MSA member in any area of microscopy. Funds can be used for a stipend, supplies and/or some travel expenses. The website provides an email contact if you need help locating an MSA member. The application deadline is Dec. 31.
 
  • Last but not least, I want to give a shout out to Undergrad in the Lab (@youinthelab) for the recent reminder on Twitter about summer-research deadlines coming up. If you haven’t yet, seriously check out UndergradInTheLab.com or the Twitter account for useful pro-tips to successfully survive your undergrad research experience.
   

Author’s final note: To be honest, it may not always be possible to get paid for undergraduate research, especially if you are located at a smaller teaching or liberal-arts college where research is not the primary focus, because the funds are just not there. But I guarantee you that doing research really does pay off in the end. Such an experience boosts your profile for grad-school or job applications and makes you more likely to get future scholarships and research funding, thus increasing your earning potential down the line. And overall it’s an extremely satisfying and enriching experience. 

Donna Kridelbaugh is the ASBMB careers blogger. Connect with her on Twitter (@science_mentor) or at her website (sciencementor.me).

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