why would i want research experience?
If you are at all interested in the sciences, I strongly suggest that you consider doing at least one, and preferably two research experiences while an undergraduate. There are several reasons why I think a research experience is a good idea:
- It's fun. Research is interesting,
exhilarating, frustrating, and exciting. A research experience can
be a good way to meet some interesting people and possibly see some
new parts of the world. You usually get room and board and a modest
stipend. You won't get rich, but you can usually make a little
money and have a good experience.
- It might turn out, of course, that research isn't fun. If so,
this is a good thing to figure out sooner rather than later. There
are many, many different styles of science and it might take a
little while to see which, if any, are right for you. Some research
is done with large teams, others almost independently. Some
research is outside in the field, some is inside in a lab or
office. Some research is very experimental, other is theoretical
or computational. Some research is product-driven (developing a
particular medicine or piece of hardware or software) and other
research is more basic or fundamental. So getting one or two
different sorts of research experiences can help you sample these
different styles of research and help you figure out what sort of
work you want to do in graduate school and beyond.
- It can help you make the most out of your subsequent classes.
In the process of doing your research you will likely come to
realize that you don't know all the things you need to know and
don't have all the skills you wish you had. (This is normal. It
happens to experienced researchers all the time.) You can then use
this to help you figure out what classes to take, and how to
approach them. For example, you may discover that you need to
improve your writing, or your knowledge of statistics or genetics or
differential equations. Having hit a wall in a research experience
provides a very powerful motivation for subsequent learning.
- Having at least one research experience is very helpful for getting into most science graduate schools. I don't have any data on this, but I suspect that few applicants to PhD programs who have no research experience get accepted. Having two experiences is even better. PhDs are research degrees. Yes, you need to take classes and then usually pass some sort of comprehensive exam in your discipline. But PhDs are really about research, so admissions committees are looking to see that applicants understand this and have some research experience. A letter writer who can speak to how you did in the lab or the field is a big help.
how do I find research opportunities??
There are many, many programs designed to give undergraduates research experience. Most of these are fairly structured. A department or institute will host a bunch of students, each of whom will work on a project with a faculty mentor. There will also usually be activities and seminars that all undergraduates will participate in. The vast majority of these programs take place in the summer. Here are some thoughts on how to find them.
- The U.S. National Science Foundation funds Research Experiences
for Undergraduates (REUs). "An REU Site consists of a group of ten
or so undergraduates who work in the research programs of the host
institution. Each student is associated with a specific research
project, where he/she works closely with the faculty and other
researchers." You can search for an REU
There are lots and lots to choose from.
- The NSF does not include most medical research, which is funded
by the National Institutes of Health. I don't know if there is an
NIH version of the REU program.
- A huge, searchable listing of summer research experiences can be found here.
- A list of summer research opportunities for physics and
astronomy graduate students can be
- Go the the departmental website of another college and search
their resources. For example, if you are interested in chemistry,
do a little googling and find the chemistry department websites for
a few colleges with good undergraduate programs in chemistry.
(Schools to try include Carleton, Middlebury, Amherst, Swarthmore,
Haverford, etc.) Often these departments will have good lists of
research opportunities. For example:
- Haverford's Department of Biology has a good list of student resources. A few are only for Haverford students, but most are available to all.
- Carleton College's Department of Physics and Astronomy has a good list of summer REUs and internships. (The page says 2008, but it's actually for 2010.)
- Carleton's Biology Department has a good list, too.
- Barnard has a huge and well organized list covering multiple scientific fields.
- There are announcements of opportunities emailed out via COA
email from time to time. If you are interested in working at
either The Jackson Lab or MDIBL, contact Chris Petersen.
- I would recommend against doing generic google searches for
internships. You'll turn up a lot of stuff, but it might not be the
most efficient use of your time.
- Talk to faculty member(s) in the sciences and see what they
- If you are not a U.S. citizen finding a research experience in the U.S. can be a lot harder. Many, but not all, internships are limited to U.S. citizens. However, there are some other opportunities out there. Start searching early, and talk to faculty for help and advice.
applying for research internships
- You should probably apply to between 5 and 10 internships. Some are
fairly competitive, so you want to be sure to apply to a bunch.
- Work with a faculty member to help you prepare your research
statement and CV. We can offer valuable advice.
- The application process can be a pain, since the applications
aren't quite standard. Programs will often want slightly different
things in their applications. So brace yourself.
- Talk to other students who have gotten research experiences and
ask them for advice.
- Work with the writing center, especially if you are an English language learner or struggle with writing. A poorly written application will almost surely be unsuccessful. Your application does not need to be a great piece of literature, but it does need to read ok and be grammatically correct.