summer research

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.


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.

Tip #10 for Full-Time Summer Researchers: Expect to Resent the Return of the Fall Term

Wrapping up a full-time summer research experience is exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. But sometime during the first few weeks of the fall semester, a harsh reality will become evident: You don’t have as much time for research. Not near enough time. What would have taken you part of a morning to do in the summer, will now take a week or more to complete. Those long blocks of summer research time will have evaporated along with your increased productivity.

Tip #9 for Full-Time Summer Researchers: Expect to Feel Like a Scientist

Arguably, this is the best part of an epic summer research experience.

After a summer of long hours dedicated to making a contribution to science and overcoming challenges in the lab, you’ll finally feel like a real scientist.

Tip #8 for Full-Time Summer Researchers: Expect Personal Growth

When you spend the better part of a summer engaged in full-time research you’re bound to experience substantial personal growth. Perhaps you’ll refine your critical thinking or organizational skills. Maybe you’ll develop a sense of self-reliance or self-discipline that you didn’t know was missing.