New Year’s resolutions and summer research applications!

Published January 05 2017

Man in lab

As an undergraduate student, the new year might include making self-improvement goals such as getting better organized, more sleep (and less Netflix), and attending office hours to make meaningful connections with professors. But if you also include exploring your summer research options before the semester is in full swing, you won’t lose out on an incredible opportunity simply because you miss an application deadline.

The spring term is time to explore summer-program and fellowship opportunities, even if your institution doesn’t have the specific experience you want or if you’re interested in an off-campus adventure. Many programs have application deadlines months before the start date. Some require a combination of personal essays and recommendation letters. It’s easy to underestimate the time needed to identify the right experience and to put together a professional application packet. An early start will be the insurance policy you need.

Before you outright dismiss the idea of a potentially expensive summer away from your home campus, know that many positions include a stipend, room and board, or both. You won’t get rich by participating, but, if the stipend is substantial enough, your summer away from home might be quite affordable.

Fellowship and internship opportunities are available at colleges, research centers, government laboratories and industry. Basically, there is no one-size-fits-all summer research experience. You’ll want to consider the requirements and advantages of each program during your selection process.

To start, check with your campus office of undergraduate research and ask about known programs. Next, do an online search using terms such as “paid summer undergraduate research programs,” “undergraduate research national lab” or “undergraduate research internship.” Of course, you also could include your field of interest in your search, such as “undergraduate summer research chemistry.”

For many programs, it won’t take long to determine if you should pursue the possibility or move on to the next search result. First, read the program overview. If you’re genuinely interested in the science, go straight to the eligibility requirements. If you meet them, put the application deadline on your calendar. Then make a list of what you need to complete the application so you can check off each item as you complete it.

Some programs, however, will take longer to consider, because you may need to apply to work on a specific project or in a specific laboratory. This will require reading several project descriptions to determine which one you connect with the most. You should not underestimate the importance of this task. Thoroughly reading the project descriptions will help you choose the right position and write a compelling personal statement about why you want to devote your summer to the program. Mentors want to work with students who believe in the science and the project. Plus, you’ll be much happier if you choose a project that is meaningful to you.

After you’ve selected the programs you want to apply to, put a target date for submitting your application on your calendar three weeks before the due date. Don’t wait for that target date to start the application process, but instead consider it your final warning to complete it. Be sure to follow up with recommenders who have not submitted their letters.

A summer research experience can be one of the most challenging and rewarding adventures you have as an undergraduate. It would be a shame to miss out on this adventure because the application deadline passed before you even considered applying.

Click here for a listing of summer-research openings in the U.S.

David G. Oppenheimer David G. Oppenheimer is an associate professor in the department of biology at the University of Florida and co-author of the book “Getting In: The Insider’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Undergraduate Research Experience.”