Soooo... What Are You Doing Next Summer?

01
Nov

Soooo... What Are You Doing Next Summer?

—from the PI's desk

Waiting might mean missing out on an incredible opportunity

I know—it seems way too soon to be thinking about what you'll be doing several months from now. But here’s the thing: If you even think that you might want to participate in a full-time summer research experience next summer, you need to consider your options sooner rather than later.

If you’re planning to stay in your current lab, confirm with your research mentor that it will be possible to do so, and ask what the summer requirements will be because they might be different from the school year. For example, during the summer, it would not be unexpected for a research mentor to require a substantial weekly time commitment, attendance at a scientific conference, or require to you to apply for a fellowship if one is available at your institution.

If you wish to participate in a summer research experience elsewhere, and return to your current lab in the fall, speak with your PI soon to confirm that this will be possible. Keep in mind that your PI might not put your project on hold during the summer, and she might assign you a new project when you return. Either way, if you learn new techniques or skills during the summer, it might lead to an advanced or independent project when you return in the fall.

If your institution doesn’t have opportunities for undergrad researchers, or you're interested in a specific program, you’ll need to explore your options soon because the deadlines for submitting applications are looming. Many programs have application deadlines months before the start date, and some applications require a combination of personal essays and letters of recommendation.

What are the options?

Fellowship and internship opportunities can be found at universities, centers, government labs, and in industry. Many positions include a stipend and some also cover room and board. Some include course credit, cover the cost of travel to meetings, or transportation costs to and from the research site. Fieldwork might be substantial or non-existent as might attendance at a scientific conference either to present your work or to simply learn from others. Basically, there is no one-size-fits-all summer internship/research experience, so you’ll want to consider the requirements and advantages of each program individually.

To start, check in with your campus office of undergrad research and ask about known programs. Next, do a web search for “paid summer undergraduate research programs” for an extensive list of possibilities, or “undergraduate research national lab” or “undergraduate research internship.” Of course, you could also do a basic search such as “undergraduate research chemistry” which, depending on your field of interest, might return numerous opportunities to explore.

Narrowing the possibilities

For many programs, it won’t take long to determine if you should pursue an opportunity or move on. Use this simple strategy to get it done: First read the program overview. If you’re genuinely interested in the science, go straight to the eligibility requirements. If 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 each item off as you complete it.

However, some programs will take longer to consider because you’ll need to apply to work on a specific project in a specific lab. This will mean reading a few different project descriptions to determine which you connect with the most and believe will be the most meaningful use of your time. Definitely take the time to read through the project descriptions carefully because it’s important to choose your research position wisely.

After you’ve selected the program(s) you want to apply to, put a target date for submitting your application on your calendar two weeks before it’s due. Don’t wait for that target date to start the application, but consider it your “final warning” that you need to prioritizing getting it done, and following up with recommenders who have not submitted your letter yet.

Before you ask for a letter of recommendation

If you’ll need a letter of recommendation for your application, update your CV or resume, and download a copy of your unofficial transcript before you ask your research supervisor/mentor. You’ll also want to create an email template or word document with website links to: 1) the program description; 2) candidate qualifications section; and 3) instructions intended for letter writers, if available. Make sure to put headers in your document—don’t make your letter writer guess what each link is or the document will not be as helpful.

And try to ask for the letter six to eight weeks before the deadline—asking at the last minute is never a good strategy for getting a yes.

On some applications, you'll have the responsibility of including contact information for your references. It might sound obvious, but double-check that all contact information is correct before you hit submit. And don't forget to use their professional title!

Further reading

On why it’s so important to Choose Your Position Wisely.
And 10 Things to Expect in a Full-Time Summer Research Experience When you read “10 Things” pay close attention to #2, #6, #8 and #9—those are some of the reasons I hope you consider a full-time summer research experience during your undergrad career.

A version of this article appeared in ASBMB Today