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A laptop computer with the screen open. A coffee cup to the left of the computer and a stack of scientific magazines to the right.

—from the PI's desk

No matter if your long-term career goals include research, medicine, or using your STEMM degree primarily for science communication, policy, or another direction, participating in an undergrad research experience is a unparalleled opportunity. This is in no small part due to the personal and professional development you gain from the exposure to in-depth, experiential learning--especially one that takes places over the course of a summer.

In addition to learning new research skills, communicating your results, and making a discovery to solve a problem or answer a question, you have the opportunity to earn a recommendation letter to support future applications for grad, medical, or professional school, and graduate fellowships.

However, if you are early in your undergrad career, you may not need that letter until a few years after your summer research experience. Sure, you could come back to your mentor after that time and request a recommendation, but that approach has some major disadvantages. Most importantly, the more time that passes between when you leave the lab and when you ask for a recommendation letter, the fewer the specific details about your strengths and successes your mentor is likely to remember—and it’s those specific details that can turn a strong letter into an epic one.

 A list of 10 things that are split between two columns. The first column lists 1. Fatigue. 2. Rewards. 3. Frustration. 4. Elation. 5. Hofstadter's Law. The 2nd column lists 6. New and deeper connections. 7. Incomprehension. 8. Personal growth. 9. Feeling like a real researcher. 10. Resenting the return of the semester.

— from the Lab Manager's bench

For some undergrads, this summer will be spent lounging on the beach reading and hanging out with friends. Days will be spent blissfully sleeping until a parent annoyingly insists that it’s time to get up and do something.

But alas that’s not for you.


If Only Choosing a Career Path Was This Easy

a tape roll in different colors with different suggestions industry, teacher, grad/med school, sci-comm, editor, analyst

—from the PI's desk

Not knowing exactly what you want to do with your life doesn't mean that you're doomed to fail in your career path.

If you're struggling to answer questions such as, "Should I choose medical school? Graduate School? Pursue an MD-PhD?" or "What I can use my undergrad degree to do if I don't want pursue another degree?" or "What if I'm already set on a path is it too late to change my mind?," know that you're not the only one.

Rest assured that for many who are undecided finding the right career path is a process that takes more effort and time than expected. And although we hope that you chose your major in part because you enjoy the subject matter and want to use that information in your career in some way, sometimes the broad scope of potential paths are overwhelming. For example, you might decide to use your undergrad STEMM degree as the foundation for additional degrees—such as an MD, MSC (master's of science degree), or PHD. Or you might decide on a career where your BS degree is all that is necessary to be successful.

a sandy beach

—from the Lab Manager's bench

Should I stay, or should I go?

For most researchers, working in the lab over a holiday break is somewhat different from working in the lab during the rest of the year. For example, if an experiment has flexibly, it can be started or stopped when it's convenient for the researcher instead of planned around seminars, classes, and campus parking issues.

In addition, some researchers take a vacation, adopt unconventional work hours, or hide in their office to work on a manuscript and only visit the lab to search for inspiration, a snack, or a temporary distraction.


Your Guide for Considering a Gap or Personal Year

—from the Lab Manager's bench and the PI's desk

Exploring the Process

Figuring out if you should take a year off between finishing your undergrad experience and enrolling in a graduate, medical, or professional program isn't always an easy path. So, if you're feeling stressed out about the uncertainly of it all, know that it's part of the process. Deciding what to do, wondering if taking a break will be worth it, if you should even consider it, (or feeling frustrated because a gap year wasn't part of your 10 -year plan) is stressful.


New Years Resolutions and Summer Research Applications

A photo of microscope lenses and a side on the microscope stage

—from the PI's desk
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.