Compared to tips and advice about how to obtain an internship position with companies, how to compete for research opportunities is a bit different. There are many differences between research intern and company intern, including purpose, method of selection, funding, payment, etc. The goal of going to a research program in summer is to accumulate research experience and facilitate graduate school applications. Meanwhile, interning in a company can make you more qualified for a desired full-time job after graduation. Research applications are associated with essay writing and recommendations while company internship applications emphasize resumes and interviews. The following discussion about research programs is exclusively for undergraduate science and engineering research in summer from my perspective.
First, it is very important to clarify your plan after graduation. If you are looking for graduate studies for science and engineering, then doing research in the summer can be very helpful to equip you for graduate school. It is generally known that the admissions committee members value research experience. You can choose to stay at your own school for research or participate in research programs funded by National Science Foundation (NSF) or companies at other universities, which are more formal. Doing summer research at your own school means that you can continue the work you did during school year and spend plenty of time on one single project, which can be long enough for you to get concrete results or actual achievement. However, even if it is considered full-time in summer, this kind of research job may not be paid and housing is not guaranteed. NSF funded research programs are generally called Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs, which are commonly paid summer research programs. A list for REU sites can be found on NSF website. There are also a small amount of research programs, which are built through gifts from companies. They are usually better paid and offer more benefits in terms of housing facility, travel compensation, site visits opportunities, and so on. Participating in REU programs and company supported research programs normally mean housing and higher stipends than just staying at one’s own school.
For formal research programs, the eligibility for these programs is usually as simple as pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in STEM fields and being a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Sometimes there is also a GPA requirement. The application mainly includes essays, one of which must be a purpose of statement, recommendations, application forms, transcript, and resume. The request for interviewing and the opportunity to talk to recruiters are rare. Rather than being stressed by hour-long interviews, research intern applicants need to put more time to polish their essays and get good references. Prior research experience is not required but preferred. Excellent performance on coursework is also important in obtaining a desired research opportunity.
The application period for a summer research program is usually from December to February of next year and the results come out in March or April. One program can include 5 to 15 undergraduate students. Participants are expected to do a research project culminating in a presentation or poster and complete a research report at the end of the program. There are always graduate mentors to assist these projects. Besides doing research, there are also fun activities built into the program summer.
- Jackie Yang, McMurtry Peer Career Advisor