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Jul 25, 2012
It is essential to participate in research summer programs throughout the undergraduate years to present a competitive application to graduate schools. In addition to learning how to conduct research, a sustained period of full-time research allows you to see the ups and downs of research, and teaches you how to cope with the failures and to celebrate the successes of your experiments and projects. When you participate in a summer program in an institution away from home you are exposed to new topics, new techniques and new equipment. You will gain confidence that comes from success in a new and unfamiliar setting. In other words, summer programs can give you the confidence to become a graduate student and subsequently a scientist.
Undergraduate Summer Research Programs “Some people dream of success, while others wake up and work hard at it.” Unknown It is essential to participate in research summer programs throughout the undergraduate years to present a competitive application to graduate schools. In addition to learning how to conduct research, a sustained period of full‐time research allows you to see the ups and downs of research, and teaches you how to cope with the failures and to celebrate the successes of your experiments and projects. When you participate in a summer program in an institution away from home you are exposed to new topics, new techniques and new equipment. You will gain confidence that comes from success in a new and unfamiliar setting. In other words, summer programs can give you the confidence to become a graduate student and subsequently a scientist. Sometimes, it can be difficult to get accepted into the top summer programs if you have no prior research experience so it is advisable to get some experience at your home institution as early as possible. During your freshman year, you should approach faculty to get into their laboratory during the academic year and for the summer after your freshman year. You should then apply to other institutions for the subsequent two summers. In addition to the research experience you will gain, your summer mentor will be an important recommender for your graduate school application. Summer research experiences lets you integrate classroom learning with practical experience in the laboratory and learn to think critically and analytically. And you will bring back the knowledge and skills you gain during the summer to your home institution laboratories. Summer programs give you: Hands‐on research on cutting‐edge projects in which you can become intellectually immersed Problem‐solving and critical analysis skills A look into the life of a graduate student Scientific confidence and maturity Knowledge and skills on how to be a scientist (such as experimental design and techniques, analyzing data, record‐keeping, etc) Networking opportunities Interactions with graduate students and other undergraduate students at the institution Interactions with faculty who are scientific leaders in their fields Faculty who will provide your letters of recommendation for graduate schools and fellowships applications Opportunities to learn about the institution (and other nearby institutions) and the city Opportunities to learn how to present your research (poster and talks) Professional competencies workshops It is important to identify and apply to several summer programs for each summer during your undergraduate career. Similarly to when you will investigate graduate schools, you look at institutions that are excellent in your areas of interest. The process will give you a mini‐preview of the application process for graduate school. You should apply to programs in schools that you may be considering for graduate school because you will get Page 1 of 2 ©Excerpt: A Guide for Individuals Considering Graduate School in the Biosciences, C Gita Bosch
an insider’s look at the institutions which will help when you make your list of graduate schools to apply to. You will also learn about the city where the school is located to determine if you want to live there during your tenure in graduate school. You should speak with your faculty advisors and other students who completed summer programs about where they went and their experiences to help you decide which summer programs to apply to. Getting into and participating in a summer program is not sufficient to help you get into an excellent graduate program. You must excel in the summer program. As mentioned above, the letter of recommendation from the summer mentor is very important for a competitive graduate school application. So how do you excel in a summer program? The key is to become intellectually and technically immersed in the project you are working on. Although the research and techniques may be new territory for you, do not allow it to overwhelm you. Self‐learning is a great competency to master. You should do a lot of background reading about the project and the research. You need to understand the key questions of the project, understand what is going on and why the laboratory is moving in a particular direction with the project, as opposed to following a different direction. But you should remember you are not alone in this, ask the mentor, graduate students, postdocs and technicians in the laboratory about what you should read and then ask questions about those things you do not understand. Usually, one person in the laboratory will have been assigned to supervise you so it is good to develop a strong mentoring relationship with that individual. But be careful about being too needy, that person has their own work to do in addition to supervising your work. They will expect you to ask a lot of questions at the beginning of the summer, but you should be working towards independence on your project as the summer progresses. If you run into a problem in your experiment, try to figure it out yourself before you ask for advice. You should make sure you attend and participate in the laboratory meetings. Be prepared for the meetings so that your mentor can see your commitment to the project and your intellectual growth as the summer progresses. The message you want to send is that you are dedicated, love science and the discovery in research, get along well with others in the laboratory, and that you are a hard worker. It can be very tempting to want to use the summer program as a vacation, especially if you are in a big city with a lot of things to do and places to see. You must resist the temptation to plan too many social activities; the primary reason you are there is to participate in the summer program, not vacation! A ten‐week summer program is not a very long time so you must optimize your time there. Summer programs are not nine‐to‐five jobs, they are a commitment to the laboratory and you are expected to fulfill that commitment. You should plan to make the most of your time in that laboratory and that institution. You should make sure you meet and talk with faculty in all the areas of research that you may be interested in. And you should definitely make sure you meet and talk with the program leaders. You should also visit other schools nearby and talk with the faculty and program leaders in those schools. This does not mean that you should not take advantage of the social offerings of the city while you are there. But you must be able to manage your activities so that you do not neglect your obligations to the laboratory/program. And you should be sure to take advantage of all the offerings of the program and institution, such as seminars, professional development skills, organized social activities, etc. You are there to develop your scientific knowledge, gain insight into the research process and mature your scientific communication skills. This is also an invaluable opportunity to expand your network of professional and personal colleagues. Page 2 of 2 ©Excerpt: A Guide for Individuals Considering Graduate School in the Biosciences, C Gita Bosch