December 2010

ASBMB Introduces Website for Summer Undergraduate Research Programs

To assist undergraduate students in finding summer research programs and vice versa, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has created a website for the cumulative listing of summer undergraduate research programs.


Internship Website

The ASBMB summer research program listing includes information on application deadlines and links to the programs’ websites.

Most bioscientists first experience laboratory research as undergraduate students, and many look back on this experience as an important factor in their decision to pursue a career in science. Some departments incorporate independent research or research theses into the required curriculum, but at many institutions, undergraduates are left on their own to find research opportunities. Many routes are available for finding part-time research positions at one’s home institution during the academic year, often on a volunteer basis or for academic credit. Finding a paid position for the summer can be more challenging. This especially is true for undergraduates who seek positions outside of their home institutions, such as students at primarily undergraduate institutions with limited research opportunities and out-of-state students who need to return home during the summer.

Students looking for summer research opportunities outside of their home institutions should consider applying to some of the many summer undergraduate research programs hosted by institutions throughout the country. Most of these programs are advertised through websites at each institution, but finding them can be tedious. To assist undergraduate students in finding summer research programs and vice versa, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has created a website for the cumulative listing of summer undergraduate research programs. We hope that this will prove to be a useful resource for both students and host institutions.

The Website

The summer research program listing resides within the Careers & Education pages of the ASBMB website. Programs listed on the website have been self-identified through a request sent to all ASBMB members this past September. The response has been strong, with more than 120 programs in approximately 40 different states listed so far. The completeness of the list relies entirely on the participation of program representatives at host institutions. It is not too late to have your program added to the list.

Visitors to the website will find summer undergraduate research programs organized by state and will include the name of the institution, the 2011 application deadline and, most importantly, a link to the program’s website where specific details about the program and the application procedure can be found.

Summer Research Opportunities

Summer research internships provide an excellent opportunity for students to pursue research on a full-time basis. This complete immersion is extremely valuable, especially for students who are just beginning to do independent research. Following experiments from start to finish provides a clearer and deeper understanding of research than can be gleaned from a few hours interspersed with classes during the academic year. Additionally, daily repetition of procedures allows for quicker assimilation and mastery of technical skills. Thus, a summer research experience can significantly increase the productivity of part-time research pursued in subsequent academic years.

Looking for a summer research opportunity?
• Visit the ASBMB 
website: If you are looking for a research opportunity outside of your current academic institution, our web-based resource can help you find programs throughout the country.

• Start early:
Most programs have application deadlines in February or March, but some are as early as January. Positions in individual laboratories usually are filled long before summer begins.

• Submit a competitive application:
Whether applying to a program or an individual laboratory, provide a complete and professional application. This might include a curriculum vitae, transcripts or a summary of coursework and GPA, a digest of any relevant experience and a statement about your interest in the specific research pursued by the laboratory.

• Research the research:
Check out individual laboratory websites to find research that is especially interesting to you. Your application to an individual laboratory will be stronger if you are familiar with the research pursued in the laboratory.

• Network:
Ask your mentor, adviser or instructor at your current institution for help in finding a summer research position. A letter, e-mail message or phone call from another principal investigator can be a very helpful introduction.

• Be persistent:
Apply to multiple programs or laboratories and do not get discouraged by rejection. A negative response often simply indicates lack of space or funds rather than dissatisfaction with the applicant’s qualifications.

There are two basic routes for summer research experiences: independent arrangements with an individual laboratory or participation in an organized summer research program. For students already working in a research laboratory or for those who plan to continue working in a laboratory at their home institutions throughout the academic year, individual arrangements are a logical choice. For students seeking summer research opportunities outside of their home institutions, formal programs offer some advantages.

Program Benefits

Summer research programs vary greatly from one institution to another, but all are designed to make research opportunities more accessible to students. Programs usually provide access to many different laboratories through a single application, eliminating the need for students to initiate multiple contacts to individual laboratories. Furthermore, stipends provided by the program often enable research in laboratories that would otherwise be unable to fund undergraduate research fellows. In addition to an individual laboratory research experience, programs typically offer activities aimed at providing an orientation to the campus environment, an overview of different research projects and development of research and career skills. Importantly, programs bring together undergraduates working in different laboratories to discuss research as peers, to network with students from other institutions and to promote camaraderie that creates an enjoyable and memorable summer experience.

Summer research programs also benefit host laboratories and institutions. Undergraduates can make valuable contributions to research programs. Their perspectives are fresh and unconstrained by knowledge of how difficult a project might be. They tackle projects with enthusiasm and optimism, occasionally producing results that have eluded more experienced researchers. Additionally, guiding an undergraduate can be a rewarding training activity for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, providing an important— and often first— mentoring experience. Summer programs are also a great way to showcase the research and graduate programs at an institution to undergraduate students who have an interest in research and future graduate studies.

As this year draws to a close, it already is time to start thinking ahead to the summer of 2011. Start exploring options now for an exciting summer research internship, and check out the ASBMB website if you are looking for a program outside of your home institution to enhance your research experience.

Ann Stock (stock@cabm.rutgers.edu) is professor of bio­chemistry at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and associate director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine.

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